Talking About STIs Without Shaming People
One of the first safer sex messages I ever heard was the line about how if you have sex with someone, you’re having sex with everyone they’ve ever had sex with, and everyone those people have had sex with, and so on. While that makes for a great soundbite, it’s not actually true since even the most contagious STI isn’t transmitted 100% of the time. And it doesn’t say anything about the sexual acts your partner might have done with those other people, or what their safer sex practices were. For that matter, it doesn’t say anything about the sex acts you’re engaging in with this person or the safer sex choices you’re making. It’s a fear and shame tactic, which rarely creates useful behavioral changes when it comes to sex.
There’s also a way in which that sort of thing reinforces the idea that having an STI makes you dirty, and by extension, not having one means you’re clean. It’s amazing to me how often people who think that STI = dirty don’t think twice about coming to work with the flu, or sneezing into their hand and then holding the handrail on a train or bus, or don’t bother washing their hands after they go to the bathroom. But then, my partner is a public health nurse, so I know more about how people practice personal hygiene than most folks.
At least they didn’t just go with a woman. But even so, when I see these kinds of images, I see a few different things.
First, when we send messages that the reason to use condoms is that your partner has had more than X number of sexual partners, we often send the unintended message that if your partner says that they haven’t had many partners, condoms aren’t necessary. Second, we create a disincentive for people to be honest about their sexual histories, which only makes that worse. And third, we make it seem as if knowing how many partners someone has had gives you all the information you need to make an informed decision about safer sex.
While I’m glad that some people are looking for innovative ways to get the word out about safer sex, I wish they could do it with an awareness of these sorts of consequences. Though in all fairness, since this was a campaign in Finland, I don’t know how people there saw it.
What do you think about these photos?