by Mary Harrington
Monday, 11
July 2022
Reaction
10:05

Meet the new ethics teacher: Canesten thrush cream

'Lessons in female anatomy' in state schools are sponsored by the brand
by Mary Harrington
Screengrab from a Canesten advert

The buried lede of the year award must surely go to a headline in yesterday’s Times, that ostensibly reported new ‘lessons in female anatomy’ launched in schools to combat the pervasive ‘unreality’ propagated by the widespread consumption of pornography.

The lesson plans, the Times tells us, will encourage teachers to show children aged 11 and up photographs of normal female vulvas to underline the fact that many natural variations in genital appearance exist. Right at the end of the article, we then learn that the lesson plans are sponsored by Canesten, a brand of thrush cream, as part of a PR campaign titled ‘Truth, Undressed’. In effect, then, this is what the marketing industry calls an ‘advertorial’: that is, content crafted on the client’s behalf to resemble an editorial, then placed in a magazine read by your target audience in the hope that this will drive positive associations with your brand.

Generating this kind of content usually means a PR flack getting in touch with someone in the immense ecosystem of ‘experts’ for hire and creating content shaped not so much to be true as to be true enough. And in this case the distinction between ‘true’ and ‘true enough while not risking any negative association with my brand’ results in a lesson plan that has nothing whatsoever to say about the malign influence of pornography.

An unambiguous position of this nature might trigger a backlash or negative associations with the commercial sponsor, who (let’s not forget) is flogging thrush cream. Rather, Canesten simply implies that porn is like the weather — something that just is — and concludes limply that the pornographic firehose of distorted, commercialised images of naked women may be mitigated (as a brand-building exercise for thrush cream) by showing children slightly less distorted and commercialised images of naked women.

But alongside the moral cowardice you’d expect from a brand sponsor, we also shouldn’t forget that in this case they’re not paying to place the resulting content in an industry sector magazine or employing some harried twentysomething to sell it into a newspaper. They’ve found a captive audience: children legally obliged to attend compulsory education in schools.

When did it become so normal for children’s schooldays to be colonised by advertorials that a newspaper mentions it only in passing? As the Times notes, this isn’t the only corporate-sponsored lesson plan out there. Barclays sponsors a “Life Skills” programme and Dove sponsors a school workshop called “Confident Me”. All of these are, in effect, moral instruction: lessons in how to live, whether that’s financial prudence or vague messages about body confidence, created by brands with the core governing motive of promoting the brand itself.

Most of us have at one time or another met the kind of egotist who offers life advice ostensibly with the aim of helping, but ultimately to make themselves look good. Most people sense the hypocrisy at work in such cases. What kind of moral framework is implicit, for schoolchildren, in discovering that this kind of self-serving hypocrisy is structurally baked into their lesson plans?

Much is made of the endemic cynicism and nihilism of Gen Z. No wonder, then: this is a generation for whose elders the suborning of school-endorsed moral advice as a commercial brand-building exercise seems wholly unremarkable. Given this, the conclusion is that in truth Gen Z is not cynical or nihilistic enough — and that the fault lies with everyone who might have objected to the colonisation of idealism by commerce, and who instead simply shrugged and cashed in.

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Clare Webber
Clare Webber
1 month ago

This article is so transphobic, I’m literally shaking.
😉

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Webber

Seriously, could you point to the transphobic part or aspect of the article?

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
1 month ago

Check out the emoji at the bottom. Clare Webber is doing a Titania McGrath, rather well.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Webber

Isn’t that a good thing?

Jamie B
Jamie B
1 month ago
Reply to  Clare Webber

Hilarious!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

Oh gawd – being shown images of vulvas by adults.

These people really want to embarrass kids to the point of trauma. Who needs trigger warnings about Enid Blyton stories? I’d be running, screaming from the man/woman/thing that insisted I had to look at these images. There’s nothing more ugly than human genitals to children.

Great form of grooming though, to get kids to participate in mandatory sex discussions with weird adults. PIE eat your heart out!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Given the commercial interest, i was wondering if the lessons might include how to apply cream to a red, itchy vulva to best effect? Surely that would at least have some pragmatic value, including for boys who might want to help their future female partners?

Jp Merzetti
Jp Merzetti
10 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Just this: is what makes me wonder what the hell happened to actual adult parents who can take charge, who a kid can trust to look after their best interests. I grew up in a (moderately) dysfunctional family, and even I had the aforementioned in spades. But that was a time also when teachers just taught me stuff I wanted to know, and left the rest up to me. Parents across the land are still a vast majority, and a great bunch of them have political and economic as well as social power. No better cause than the welfare of their children, to exercise this invaluable resource!

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 month ago

Nowhere, I suspect, will it be mentioned that if you use tampons enriched with lactic acid bacteria — which restores your natural ph balance, such as https://ellen.se/en/produkt/ellen-probiotic-tampon-medium/ you won’t be needing any thrush cream.
Really amazing Swedish invention that needs to be more well known.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago

Can’t you just squirt some sour milk in there?
Serious question.

Last edited 1 month ago by William Shaw
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 month ago
Reply to  William Shaw

For many people that is sufficient (but yoghurt is better). However, there is a large number of people for whom it is not, or others for whom you would need you to do it 8 times a day, every day or some other large inconvenient number of times. It turns out that what bacteria you need to culture varies between different populations of women, (and it doesn’t seem to be genetic, but based on geography and other social factors which we don’t know) so in order to go into mass production you need to make tampons with a mix of cultures. Working out what should be in the mix was the hard part of the invention.
At any rate, I am one of the people who went from being in mild-to-not-so-mild pain, most of the time to having no pain at all. So I have been happy to ship the stuff to people I know if other countries who are currently suffering. Every so often, when you try something that appears to be ‘too good to be true’, because ‘why not?’ you end up with a pleasant surprise and a reason to not be habitually cynical.

Last edited 1 month ago by Laura Creighton
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

Aw c’mon, it’s bad enough that they talk about periods at the tennis and footie; on adverts with graphic mechanical detail; and in every programme on tv. Please not Unherd too! Leave me with just one safe space…..

Jamie B
Jamie B
1 month ago

And yet when I show pictures of genitalia to kids, they call the cops.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jamie B
Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago

I could get on board with all of this if the schools were rigorous in ensuring that the content is appropriate and there is no marketing included. And then many content generators in the education system could be downsized and the savings could be passed on to the taxpayers. But I’m willing to bet that 1. The content is not rigorously screened, and 2. No savings will be found even though there was less work for them to do. But honestly, I find the idea of commercial influence on the curriculum much less sinister than the social engineering that the bureaucrats engage in. Of course that assumes the commercial influences don’t jump on the social engineering bandwagon, which of course they have.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jim R
Alan B
Alan B
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

A distinction without a difference (here in the USA at least).

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

Those Canesten kids will be well-prepared for Brawndo the Thirst Mutilator University. Does “It’s Got Electrolytes” have a Latin translation?

Ali W
Ali W
1 month ago

id est sal

Putting that on the family crest

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago

Objections are pointless because the intended recipients will still watch porn and that will determine how they think they should look and behave. The covert message: “buy our product” will be lost in the noise; swamped by idealised imagery.
Adults can complain and campaign all they want, it won’t make any significant difference.

Last edited 1 month ago by William Shaw
Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
1 month ago

Nothing new here, the pharma industry has been doing this for many decades in the universities to train doctors vets etc: they teach them how to use their drugs. Very clever…. many in the medical fraternity do not realise that they do not know the influence of the industry of illness has of the type of mainstream medicine we currently enjoy. (The total effect of the use of medicines in the west is negative in relation to the overall health of the population..)