San Francisco Health Department Uses ‘Risque’ Ad Campaign To Curb HIV Infections Among Gay Men
The San Francisco Department of Public Health is using "eye-catching" billboards depicting gay men in "risky sex" situations in an attempt to curb HIV transmission, the San Jose Mercury News reports. While the campaign is a "dramatic shift" from the 1980s, when public health officials closed gay bathhouses and distributed condoms, the "provocative new approach" is the "best hope" to influence the "target audience" of gay men, the Mercury News says. The ads do not mention safe sex, but instead promote Department of Public Health-sponsored workshops for gay men on how to "cruise for a quick date" and "how to make the sex you have more erotic." However, those who attend the workshops are "showered" with prevention messages. In addition, the workshops offer an "alternative to the bar scene," as a way to foster "healthier relationships." Steve Tierney, director of HIV prevention for the health department, said, "The topics may seem vulgar to suburban straight people, but it's not vulgar to the intended audience. We're 20 years into [the AIDS] epidemic, and now we're at the point where we have to make people talk about it again." He added, "Simply saying over and over that sex without a condom could expose you to HIV worked for a while, but now it seems to have lost its effectiveness." The "gritt[y]" campaign comes as statistics show that the number of newly reported HIV infection cases in San Francisco has doubled since 1997 and that 50,000 men are expected to contract HIV this year. While the gay community is endorsing the "graphic images and language," others say that the campaign "perpetuate[s] a stereotype" and may not alter unsafe behaviors. Roland Foster, a staffer on a congressional committee on governmental reform who also works with the Children's AIDS Fund, said, "My guess is [that] many of those HIV prevention activities actually promote activity that leads to additional infections" (Koury, San Jose Mercury News, 4/12).
Other Active Approaches
In addition to the advertising campaign, other efforts underway in San Francisco to prevent the spread of HIV include the following:
- Positive Force: Using $1 million in CDC funding, the program runs workshops for HIV-positive men and offers counseling and social events for gay men. In addition, the program operates a Web site featuring columns by HIV-positive individuals. Positive Force is managed by the city's Department of Public Health.
- Gay Life: Run by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the project funds workshops on how to find gay partners and "combat loneliness." The program uses billboards and posters in gay bars depicting gay men having sex to encourage the men to question the HIV status of their partners. The program also maintains a Web site that features sex tips (San Jose Mercury News, 4/12).