2015 has seen the rise of emojis; some deem it as the death of the English language and hindering verbal communication, whereas others view it as a step up, the future of communication. Emojis have actually been around for a while now, gaining real popularity in the last few years with the rapid development of smartphone technology. According to Mark Davis, co-founder of the Unicode Consortium, which is the group that monitor and standardise the symbols used, the origin of emoji symbols go back to a Japanese cell phone company in 1999, and is credited to Shigetaka Kurita. Today, they are everywhere. Grown like some sort if digital cancer, only to cover a variety of topics and arenas, expanding to racially diverse faces, festivals and foods; you can easily end an argument by giving someone the middle finger, and we even bore witness to an emoji being named the word of the year. There were legitimate tears on our part when we heard this news, just not of joy.
The question remains, however, if we can have emojis for turkeys, swords, paper clips and a smiling pile of poop, is Durex asking for a condom emoji crossing the line? In November, Durex launched an international campaign that called for the addition of the contraceptive symbol, as a way to promote and start a dialogue regarding safe sex practices. A very popular male contraceptive company, Durex, initiated on their Twitter the #CondomEmoji to encourage people around the world to persuade Unicode to add it to the official list in time for World AIDS day, that falls on December 1st.
“Emojis of this sort will enable young people to overcome embarrassment around the discussion of safe sex, encourage conversation and raise awareness of the importance of using condoms in protecting against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS,” Karen Chisholm, Durex’s marketing director, was quoted as saying by Mashable. Well, December 1st came and went, and the condom emoji was not included. In fact, it takes over a year for an emoji to be approved and actually come up on phones for us to use. Durex’s campaign was definitely well-intentioned, the research undertaken by the company claims that approximately one-third of people aged 16-25 don’t care about practicing safe sex, and close to half don’t believe that getting infected with HIV is a possible reality for them and their peers; eight out of ten young people feel more comfortable talking about sex in emojis, which have been compared to non-linguistic social cues that ease communication regarding uncomfortable topics.
Sex is definitely an uncomfortable topic in India. The existence of sex is unacknowledged and safe sex is hardly ever spoken about, and the negative consequences of this are only growing. Asurvey conducted with 500 college students showed that only 21% of the males and 12% of females in the group had use a contraceptive during their sexual encounters. Sex education in schools is a highly fraught terrain, unwanted pregnancies are increasing among the urban youth and abortion, be it voluntary, remains a label of shame. Knowledge regarding sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and reproductive health among male adolescents is low. According to Anees Ahmad’s study, 51.3% knew about AIDS but a low 9.2% of the participants had knowledge about diseases and infections. Aresearch project conducted at a higher secondary school to assess the knowledge and attitudes of students regarding contraception, found that majority of students, 94.4%, were aware of contraceptives and their easy availability, however, few of them knew the proper method to use them; 60% of them thought condoms to be an emergency contraceptive. There is a lot of misinformation, if any, floating around, which can have dire consequences for many people, and it’s with this in mind that the efforts made by Durex’s campaign seem necessary. Whether the existence of a condom emoji will actually increase and promote the use of condoms is debatable, but the fact is that it brings up a topic for discussion that does need to be addressed.