At a time when the debate around reproductive rights and access to birth control is playing out on the national stage, the marketing around contraceptive products can seem woefully out of touch. Anti-abortion legislation might be limiting women’s access to health care in the real world, but on TV birth control is marketed toward women in the same patronizing, pastel-hued ways as low-calorie desserts or yogurt.
It’s a disparity that graphic designers Erin Knutson and Ria Roberts became concerned with in 2014 while graduate students at Yale School of Art. Eager to explore how ads for contraceptives could incorporate both the personal and the political issues that surround them, the pair sent out a call to designer friends to create their own versions. The brief was simple: design a full page ad, in whatever style you want, for the contraceptive method of your choice.
The responses varied widely. Everything from freezing eggs to abstinence to pulling out were covered, in ways that ranged from poignant and flippant to lighthearted. Struck by the way they highlighted the complexity of the discussion around contraception, Knutson and Roberts collected the ads in a magazine called Methods, now on its third issue. The proceeds from the magazine go toward Planned Parenthood of New York City, and this year it features interviews with PPNYC director of development, Abigail DeAtley, as well as artist, activist and Planned Parenthood supporter Marilyn Minter.
The partnership not only benefits PPNYC monetarily, it also broadens the audience for the magazine and connects activists with likeminded designers. And as the magazine has matured, the submissions have also taken on a different tone. “The ads in this coming issue are much more poetic and much more sincere,” says Roberts. One features an email exchange that includes a blog post about a birth control “hack” for people who don’t have access to the morning after pill. Another is a blank page with “Sabbatical 2015-2016” printed in the top left corner. Others are more overtly political, depicting Trump or a call to vote.
In the two years since Methods launched, reproductive rights have been at the forefront of public attention for things like the undercover Planned Parenthood videos and the HB2 anti-abortion law in Texas (recently overturned in a Supreme Court decision).
The magazine’s content and the speculative ads have reflected the trajectory of these current events, closing the gap between the commercial side of contraception and the political side. “The main issue we have with contraceptive ads was that its so psychotically disjointed with what’s at stake,” says Roberts. “On personal level, in terms of women’s bodies and choices they have, but also what that means on political, national, and international level and in the way that reproductive justice effects our lives and our economy.”
Methods is available at Leisure Press for $20 each.