New HIV/AIDS ad stigmatizes STIs

16 Apr

A new series of ads from the Finland HIV/AIDS Council is completely counterproductive. As you can see in their ad (below), there is a Facebook check-in symbol and the text: “Bill Johnson and 19 others were here.”

Advertising Agency: McCann Worldgroup, Helsinki, Finland

While it is true that having more partners statistically increases your probability of catching a sexually transmitted infection, it’s also true that it only takes ONE act with ONE person. Basically, having unprotected sex is a Russian roulette – you might not ever get an STI, or it might happen the first time.

Keeping this in mind, the ad’s use of a “shocking” number (considering only 9 percent of middle-aged adults report having 10 or more partners in their life, according to the Kinsey Institute, and most report have around five) not only is insulting to people with a large amount of safe encounters, but it’s also creating a false idea about who gets HIV/AIDS, or any other STI.

In short: If you have lots of partners, you’re probably diseased. If you don’t, you’re fine.

Classic slut shaming.

I think they are trying to say you should know your partner’s history. Which you should, to a point – you should know if your partner has a clean bill of sexual health before you engage with them. However, you are not entitled to information unrelated to that. If they have had an STI check since their last partner, and it came back clean (or they’ve taken care of any infections and been re-tested to be sure), that’s all they owe you.

I’m tired of seeing health campaigns that make people feel disgusting for having an STI. Most of them are taken care of just as easily as strep throat, and no one judges you for strep throat. The societal stigma against those with STIs is one of the chief factors preventing young people from getting tested, according to the Center for Disease Control. Instead of knowing they’re healthy, young people are afraid to find out.

It also leads young people to believe that if they aren’t promiscuous, they’re in no danger. This is absolutely not true, as many STIs have no symptoms (at least in men) and can be passed along very easily. For example, syphilis, chlamydia and HPV are often symptom-less in contagious men. This means sexually active people should be getting tested even when they aren’t exhibiting any symptoms.

Fighting the STI and HIV/AIDS epidemic is very complicated. Ad agencies should be aware of the social image they are creating, and of the factors affecting the issue they’re promoting. I truly believe advertising has the potential to be a tool for good – but only if they realize the consequences of their messages are real.



One Response to “New HIV/AIDS ad stigmatizes STIs”


  1. Does your partner’s “number” matter? « Andi Enns - April 23, 2012

    […] your partner’s “number”. They show many hands wrapped around the partner, or a Facebook check-in on someone’s underwear. And while it’s important to know the STI status of your partner, I don’t think […]

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