After decades of protecting the public from prophylactics, advertising regulators have confirmed there are to be less stringent rules governing condom ads on prime-time television.
A change in the advertising code allowing the contraceptive to be advertised before the 9pm watershed was included as part of efforts to cut Britain's high rate of teenage pregnancy. Under the biggest shake-up of TV advertising rules for decades, several other products may be promoted on television for the first time including betting tips, herbal medicines and pornographic films and magazines – although the latter can only appear on "adult" channels protected by pin code.
The changes are the result of a review by the advertising industry of 400 pieces of legislation, which produced a series of proposals last May. The most controversial of these was a plan, revealed in The Independent, to allow the advertising of abortion services, which has since been postponed.
The decision to allow condoms to be advertised during breaks in daytime soaps and dramas is arguably the biggest change unveiled. The new measures will come in to force on 1 September, allowing advertisers five months to ensure their campaigns comply with the new rules.
Instead of being banned before 9pm, adverts for condoms will now be allowed at any time provided they are not screened during programmes popular with children under the age of 10 and they comply with strict rules on taste, decency and socially responsible advertising.
The ban was relaxed in response to advice from the Government's advisory group on sexual health, which pointed out that the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and rising rates of sexually transmitted infections.
"Prevention is better than cure when dealing with sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancies. Relaxing the watershed is another positive step in getting safe sex messages to the public," said Baroness Gould, chairwoman of the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV.
Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, added: "It makes sense that condom adverts will be allowed to be shown in the early evening at the same time as soaps, such as Hollyoaks, which include storylines about sexual relationships and HIV."
However, the move was unpopular with conservative organisations, which claimed the advertising industry had commercial motives. The Church of England said it was "especially disappointing to see a relaxation of the rules on targeting condom advertising at under-16s". A spokesman said: "The Church supports the sensitive use of media to offer unbiased and authoritative information to young people, but educational and commercial objectives should not be muddled."
MediaWatch, an organisation which campaigns for "decency and accountability" in broadcasting, said: "This is not about promoting health messages, it's about shifting a product, pushing up sales."