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UK Government launches new sexual health media campaign

November 11th, 2006

Dr Petra

Today sees the launch of a television; radio and online public information campaign aimed at the 18-25 group who are most at risk of catching and transmitting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The new series of adverts follows the ‘sex lottery’ campaign of 2003, but is the first national television campaign to run in the UK since the famous 1980s AIDS ‘iceberg’ and ‘tombstone’ adverts.

Things have moved on a little in two decades. The new advert plays on the campaign’s key message ‘Condom: essential wear’ by showing different couples getting it on – although each person shown is wearing underwear, belts or jewellery with the names of common STIs on them. This is to reinforce messages that you can’t always tell who has an STI by looking at them. You can find out more about the campaign and watch the advert via the BBC’s website.

The aim of the campaign is to draw attention to the extent of STIs, make young people aware of the risk of catching an STI, and to raise awareness of STIs (and how to treat them). The main focus of the campaign is to normalise condom use – to encourage people to think of condoms as something necessary for sex rather than an avoidable optional extra. The television adverts will run after 9pm (GMT) on satellite and commercial terrestrial channels, whilst radio adverts will run from the early evening onwards on commercial radio stations. Clearly it would be preferable to have adverts running earlier in the day but current advertising legislation isn’t always helpful when it comes to delivering sensitive health information.

You can find out more about the Condom: essential wear from the campaign’s website (this site goes live after 20th November, until then you can use for information on STIs).

At this time we do not know how the target audience will receive the campaign, although audience tests to date suggest a positive response. So far the media’s reported generally on the campaign (who it’s for, what it’s about etc) although it would be helpful if it could also incorporate key messages into future coverage given that the media is a key source of sex information. Part of the press launch of the campaign did cover ways to improve sexual health coverage – we shall have to see whether the media actually delivers on this. We can expect some of the right wing press will interpret the campaign negatively – suggesting discussing sex will encourage more sex. However, the reason we need a campaign is that young people are already having a lot of sex – the aim of encouraging greater condom use is to ensure they have sex more safely.

There has also been some media criticism on the budget spent on the campaign and concerns about overstretched sexual health clinics. Again, part of the reason for such a campaign is to encourage young people to manage their own sexual health so they don’t have to rely so heavily on services.

The campaign is only part of delivering sexual health messages. Other campaigns are also aimed at teenage pregnancy and sexual health advice for under 18′s. Sex education, parental advice and the media will also play a vital role. Join me tomorrow when I’ll outline some ways that teachers, parents and journalists can deliver accurate and sex positive messages on sexual health.

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