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An Open Letter to Zac Efron: "Get'cha Head in the Game" and Be a Safer Sex Advocate

By Becky Allen

March 27, 2012

my desk

So here's the thing: I might have a very slight, teeny tiny, not at all age-inappropriate fondness for the High School Musical (HSM) franchise. And by "might" I mean "definitely" and by "teeny tiny" I mean "Yes, that picture is of my workspace here at TheBody.com, and yes, that is a High School Musical 2 poster hanging above my monitor." I choose to think of this as one of my adorable quirks. I suspect my coworkers might describe it differently, but they can keep their opinions to themselves, thankyouverymuch.

Anyway, I swear there is a reason I'm writing this for TheBody.com, and it starts with Zac Efron's recent red carpet moment. At the Feb. 19 premiere of his most recent film, The Lorax, a condom fell out of his pocket as he was walking the red carpet. Whoops. Matt Lauer asked him about it on The Today Show, he admitted it, and laughed awkwardly when Lauer noted, "Better to be safe than sorry."

Better safe than sorry indeed. But I don't get what's with the embarrassed giggles, because this isn't even the first time something like this has happened to him. Way, way back in the days of yore (by which I mean three years ago, practically a lifetime for a teen heartthrob) he and then-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens were photographed in what seemed to be a sex shop -- which led to his mother filling his Christmas stocking with condoms a couple of weeks later.

All of which leaves me with three points:

  1. Well done, Zac Efron's mom. Aside from giving him fodder for an endearing-but-adult anecdote to share as he was attempting to distance himself from his Disney persona, the lesson must have stuck. Your son is responsible enough to carry condoms with him, which is good because ...
  2. Even though he's not as famous these days as when HSM was at its peak, Zef is still young, attractive, and getting plenty of work -- and nowadays, he's single. His sex life is none of my business and wow do I not want to know, but it seems reasonable to assume he has one. Good on him for planning to use protection. But ...
  3. The honest truth is, instead of awkwardly laughing about condoms, Zef could be an awesome advocate for their use. If being public about condoms is going to be his thing anyway, why not?
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Because here's the thing: Ours is a culture that is really, seriously, ridiculously uncomfortable with sex. In the grand, political scale, we're talking about a country where a bunch of dudes feel free to debate whether women should have access to birth control at all and whether Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides millions of women access to reproductive care, should be granted federal funds. And at the more individual level? It's a culture in which abstinence-only sex education is common, but doesn't tell anyone anything useful. It's a culture that assumes birth control is a woman's responsibility, but one in which women get called "tacky" for having condoms on hand, leaving plenty of girls in need of tips on how to convince their partners to wear condoms. And thanks to all of this, our teens have the worst sexual outcomes of any developed nation -- the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies, STDs and HIV infections. (See, I said this was going to be on topic eventually.)

So clearly, ours is a culture that needs someone to step up and talk about sex and why it's important to do it safely. And do you know who we, as a culture, value and listen to? Young, attractive, famous guys.

I'm just sayin': Zac Efron, if you really want to pull a Leo DiCaprio and transition from adorable teen heartthrob into respected adult actor, why not let everyone know you're a grownup by talking frankly and maturely about sex? Instead of sticking to the status quo, you could make this the start of something new!

Maybe just say that hey, yeah, you like having sex -- and that when you do it, you do it safely, and every guy out there should, too. It's a little message that would go a long way: It wouldn't just reassure the girls who used to have your picture in their lockers, letting them know it's OK to insist on condoms during sex, but it would also be a message for their boyfriends. Very few young men are openly involved in this screwed up cultural conversation about sex, which means other young men aren't getting the message that they need to take responsibility for their sexual health and safety, too. And they need to hear it.

So why not from you? Come on, Zac. Your mom would be so proud.

Becky Allen is the site manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Becky on Twitter: @BeckyAtTheBody.


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