Hanky Panky breast cancer awareness panties… perhaps not the right time (or piece of apparel) for “awareness”?

Normally I really like the Hanky Panky brand of women’s underwear. I also like b boutique in Bloomington, Indiana and the way that they always send out photos of their recent acquisitions so you can decide whether you need to make an immediate trip to their store to get a new dress, top or skirt before everyone else beats you to it. But recently, I was a bit puzzled by the Hanky Panky pink breast cancer awareness thong for sale (the above image is from an email that bboutique sent out). Yes, awareness of breast cancer is important… but do we have to put the pink ribbon on everything? At what point does the commercialism dilute the message? Consumer groups have warned that the presence of an awareness ribbon does not always mean that a company is donating proceeds (let alone sizable proceeds) to an organization (check out this article for more information).

Here, another issue is important too – the fact that not everyone wants to be thinking about breast cancer when they are trying to feel sexy. Perhaps when one is about to make out with a partner or have sex with them, it is not the time when they want a visual reminder of a type of cancer that is expected to kill more than 40,000 women in 2008 alone (according to the National Cancer Institute, more than 180,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer during 2008 as well).

Cancer survivors commonly experience sexual problems following treatment for cancer – problems (depending on one’s gender and the extent of treatment) such as vaginal dryness, genital pain, decreases in libido, difficulty with orgasm/ejaculation, etc. Then there are women and men who are healthy but have had family members struggle with cancer. I’ve heard from women and men, for example, who found that they would get distracted during sex (and turned off by sex) if they were touching their female partners’ breasts and then were reminded about how their mom had breast cancer; or those who said that they would be stimulating their male partner and then reminded about their father’s battle with prostate cancer. 

This is serious stuff! I think awareness is so important… but I do question the placement of the sequinned ribbon on pink "awareness" thongs. Did they really have to go there? 

What do you all think? Am I being too critical or oversensitive here?  

To learn more about breast cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute’s web site. To learn more about how Pure Romance (disclaimer: a company I’ve worked closely with and received funding from for research/education) has created programs related to cancer and sexuality, visit their Sensuality, Sexuality, Survival web site. In Wisconsin, A Woman’s Touch also provides – upon request – workshops related to cancer and sexuality. You can also learn about cancer and sexuality from the American Cancer Society.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • http://www.hankypanky.com/ Lida Orzeck

    Yes, breast cancer is serious stuff indeed! That’s why Hanky Panky chose to partner with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to bring continuing visibility to the issue. Hanky Panky’s legendary “world’s most comfortable thong” was the obvious choice for an “awareness” item that would maximize fundraising for Komen. It is true that Hanky Panky’s thongs are sexy (as well as comfortable) but we envision the pink ribbon as a symbol of sisterly solidarity on what is now considered an everyday panty. I also want to point out that companies involved in cause-related marketing promotions such as this one are required to meet legally regulated standards and are closely monitored. The issues you raise are indeed valid and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to address them.
    Lida Orzeck, CEO
    Hanky Panky Ltd.
    Breast Cancer Survivor

  • http://www.hankypanky.com Lida Orzeck

    Yes, breast cancer is serious stuff indeed! That’s why Hanky Panky chose to partner with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to bring continuing visibility to the issue. Hanky Panky’s legendary “world’s most comfortable thong” was the obvious choice for an “awareness” item that would maximize fundraising for Komen. It is true that Hanky Panky’s thongs are sexy (as well as comfortable) but we envision the pink ribbon as a symbol of sisterly solidarity on what is now considered an everyday panty. I also want to point out that companies involved in cause-related marketing promotions such as this one are required to meet legally regulated standards and are closely monitored. The issues you raise are indeed valid and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to address them.
    Lida Orzeck, CEO
    Hanky Panky Ltd.
    Breast Cancer Survivor

  • http://www.susanmillerplaywright.com/ Susan Miller

    I consider HANKY PANKY, run by two women, to be a socially conscious company, as well as a trend setter. They are doing a service in employing the pink ribbon by connecting with the Komen foundation and continuing awareness. Women everywhere buy their amazing thong and talk about it. Maybe they will talk about this one in a special way. I had breast cancer more than 20 years ago. The distractions during sex to which your article refers have nothing to do with symbols or fashion bearing the pink ribbon. Reminders of cancer are personal, idiosyncratic, fleeting, undefinable, and surely if people are distracted when touching another’s body because they remember someone who had prostate cancer or breast cancer, then pink ribbons are the least of it.

  • http://www.susanmillerplaywright.com Susan Miller

    I consider HANKY PANKY, run by two women, to be a socially conscious company, as well as a trend setter. They are doing a service in employing the pink ribbon by connecting with the Komen foundation and continuing awareness. Women everywhere buy their amazing thong and talk about it. Maybe they will talk about this one in a special way. I had breast cancer more than 20 years ago. The distractions during sex to which your article refers have nothing to do with symbols or fashion bearing the pink ribbon. Reminders of cancer are personal, idiosyncratic, fleeting, undefinable, and surely if people are distracted when touching another’s body because they remember someone who had prostate cancer or breast cancer, then pink ribbons are the least of it.