A screenshot of the writer Maeve Marsden in the 'Closer' video.
I didn't want to write an article about censorship. I wanted to write an article about how a group of feminist cabaret singers of diverse sizes and sexualities filmed themselves making sweet love to a bunch of tropical fruits with the aim of promoting same-sex attracted women's health. I wanted to tell you that in the Sydney Women and Sexual Health Survey 40 per cent of lesbian and bisexual identified women said they had never had an STI check; that so many myths persist about women's health and sexuality, most women don't even know how to have safe sex when it doesn't involve a penis; and that I am incredibly proud to have collaborated with ACON's women's project, Claude, to create a music video that celebrates women's sexuality in all its forms.
Unfortunately, 24 hours (and nearly 10,000 views) after we shared our not-quite-safe-for-work comedy reinvention of 'Closer' by Nine Inch Nails, it unceremoniously disappeared from our Facebook page, without notification or explanation. The video, which you can read about on Claude, is a playful reinvention of the 'condom on banana' safe sex demonstration you may remember from your school days. Having not received a report we aren't sure which Facebook community standard we violated, though I presume the fact we are swearing, wearing latex gloves and suggestively fondling fruit may have something to do with it. I'm not here to say we didn't break any rules; indeed, I don't know if we did because I didn't get an explanation. The thing is, the rules are unreasonable, and inconsistently policed.
Aggressively misogynistic, racist and homophobic posts, profiles and pages have been allowed to remain on the platform. Music videos of songs with sexist lyrics are allowed to remain and comedians can post super sweary diatribes attacking minority groups without punishment. Advertisements for condoms appear on the fan pages of Ansell, Durex and other brands, many of which have highly sexual content. Yet our video, created to promote the use of latex gloves to avoid STIs, has disappeared.
In case you didn't know, latex gloves and lube can prevent small cuts or tearing to the vagina during sex; these cuts can increase the risk of contracting STIs. Unfortunately, the benefits of using gloves aren't common knowledge or represented widely in the media. While it's normal to see movie characters whipping out that familiar square packet, I've only ever seen gloves used in niche queer porn.
The fact that pregnancy or HIV - the most likely unwanted outcomes from unprotected sex with a penis – are so serious, shouldn't mean that the lifelong impacts of STIs that can arise from lesbian sex, like human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes, should get sidelined. Indeed, HPV can have very serious long-term consequences, but a lot of exclusively same-sex attracted women don't even realise they need to get regular pap smears.
The ubiquitous image of the phallus shaped prophylactic, the condom, has come to be a universal symbol for safe sex practices; for Mardi Gras, ACON unrolled a giant pink condom on a monument in Hyde Park. This latex signifier of "I take care of my sexual health" came to universal prominence thanks largely to the AIDS crisis; effective safe sex education championed by the gay community made the condom an instantly recognisable accessory to protect not only your sexy bits, but your entire being.
I only have sex with women, yet I know how to apply a condom to a male sex organ... thanks in part to that banana-on-the-condom demonstration (and the fact that condoms are an important consideration when sharing sex toys!). The same can't be said for the bulk of the community knowing how to have safe lesbian sex; hell, there's a running gag querying how women even 'do it'. While our little video is definitely not a sex-ed how-to, I've already seen conversations started about the need for more research and funding, chats about various approaches to safe sex for women who sleep with women and, perhaps most importantly, whether mangos or figs are the sexier fruit.
I'm not an expert in women's health, lesbian, bisexual, straight or otherwise, I'm just a person with a platform who wants to direct you to those with more knowledge. I encourage everyone to check out the information on Claude. Not only do they cover same sex attracted women's health, there's great advice for those into kink or BDSM as well.
One of the most frustrating things in cases like this is that the censorship rather than the message becomes important. Our being silenced is more sensational than our right to equitable health care and sex education. The thing is, LGBTQI advocacy isn't always about palatable love hearts and big white weddings. Sometimes it's about messy things like diseases and discharge and how we actually f--k. Claude takes a sex-positive, pleasure-focused approach to women's sexual health, placing our desires, humour and creativity at the heart of sex education. Surely this is something to be celebrated, not something to be censored.
A quick note on the fact that the song is a cover because a few people have suggested our video might have been removed for copyright reasons:
When a video is removed for copyright you get a notification explaining that this was the case.
Lady Sings it Better's work can be categorised under the fair dealing exception for parody or satire