Photo via Catherine Lane/Getty Images (Licensed)
Not everyone buying lube is planning for a family.
One openly gay man has a bone to pick with the outdated terminology we use to describe sexual health products. He argues “family planning” is an exclusionary name because it ignores LGBTQ people’s sexual experiences—and his argument has some merit.
Anthropologist Dr. Jamie Lawson, who focuses on sex and sexuality over at the University of Bristol, headed over to his local Sainsbury’s supermarket to grab some condoms and lube when he noticed that the section was labeled “family planning.” He quickly turned to Twitter, arguing that the sign is “unfit for purpose and excluding.”
— Jamie F. Lawson (@drlawson) June 13, 2017
“I am a gay man; the sex I have is non-reproductive by definition,” Lawson told Mic. He argues buying in the aisle makes him feel “self-conscious in a way that heterosexual people [aren’t]” because his sexuality is different from heterosexual people’s love lives.
Of course, the situation peaked Lawson’s curiosity, and he began looking into other local grocery and drug stores, figuring out how major chains label their sexual products. He found “family planning,” “sexual well-being,” “sexual health,” and simply “health” were most common.
Lawson began contacting various corporations about their language, but most prefer to use the word “family planning” because it doesn’t immediately suggest anything sexual about the section. Lawson, on the other hand, prefers a more inclusive term like “sexual well-being.”
A thing I am doing re "Family Planning" signs on condoms, lube etc. pic.twitter.com/3s6WeHcuh8
— Jamie F. Lawson (@drlawson) June 15, 2017
— Jamie F. Lawson (@drlawson) June 20, 2017
This isn’t just a problem in the U.K., either. The U.S. also has similar issues with sexual health.
Mic’s Claire Lampen investigated a Duane Reade and CVS in Brooklyn as well as a Rite Aid in Manhattan, and she found similar signage at all three stores: CVS called its section “family planning.” Duane Reade placed “family planning” and “sexual wellness” alongside each other, with erection boosters and lube sitting inside the “family planning” section. And Rite Aid used “family planning” and “feminine needs” as coded words to talk about sexual health.
So while “family planning” remains a mainstay across drug stores in the U.S. and the U.K., Lawson’s point seems to resonate in both countries—what condoms and lube have in common is “sex,” not “planning for families.” But not everyone is interested in changing the wording. Some find it to be a frivolous problem.
How's about he turns such energy to something that matters.
— Steven Heipel (@steven_heipel) August 13, 2017
All I can say to this guy is, grow the hell up.
— Jonathan Marble (@JonathanMarble2) August 14, 2017
Self righteous virtue signalling at its worst. These people are an embarrassment to the LGBT community. https://t.co/kC98lk0JtS
— Faolan (@TheCoffeeSnolf) August 13, 2017
But others supported Lawson, pointing out how “family planning” is pretty exclusionary against LGBTQ couples that can’t (or won’t) reproduce through sex.
I don't see him "demanding" anything of the sort. A discourse is all that has been requested and rightly so.
— Andy Thompson (@andybitesdog) August 13, 2017
Like actually calling the condom aisle "family planning" is ridiculous. Why not use real language. https://t.co/6KNCkkp7aJ
— Benali Hamdache (@GreenBenali) August 13, 2017
— Will (@Littlecub647) August 13, 2017
I think his point was more to find a term that accepts sexuality as an activity of diverse interest not just to avoid homophobia.
— 50+ Gay (@4skinhot) August 13, 2017
Either way, Lawson thinks small changes can lead to bigger, long-lasting effects on the way people think about sex and sexuality.
“If you make little, small changes like this, to start to introduce the word sexual into public discourse… that would be really good, to gently introduce the idea that sex might be fun into public discourse,” Lawson told Mic.