AIDS Foundation finds explicit content effective in promoting condoms
Tucked away behind a series of R18 warning labels on an AIDS Foundation website lies a graphic video showing an unidentifiable man putting on a condom before doing the deed with his equally unidentifiable partner.
It's an evidence-based approach to sex education that is delivering measurable results in condom use amongst young gay and bisexual men, according to AIDS Foundation executive director Shaun Robinson.
The video is part of the AIDS Foundation's Love Your Condom campaign, an online, social media based approach to encouraging condom use amongst the biggest category at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in New Zealand – gay and bisexual men.
Robinson said condom use amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) was declining worldwide.
"I'd have to say that New Zealand is largely bucking that trend, or certainly that condom use is declining much more slowly in New Zealand," Robinson said.
"And it's from a much higher level to start with than in other parts of the world."
The prevalence of HIV amongst New Zealand's MSM population was at 6.5 per cent according to a 2012 BMC Public Health report – one of the lowest rates in the world. This compared to a 14 per cent prevalence in Australia.
"Between 80 and 85 per cent of gay men use condoms most of the time for casual sex," Robinson said.
"That's very, very high by international standards."
But there had been a decline of a few percentage points over a ten year period and this was of concern to the foundation.
One of the mooted explanations for this reduction was a lack of adequate sex education for same-sex attracted men.
"The sex education that there is in schools is often very heteronormative and doesn't really tell gay young men anything that's particularly relevant to them," Robinson said.
"Internationally what young gay men are doing is going to the internet and looking at porn for tips on sexuality and of course that's not necessarily the healthiest or safest means of getting information."
Robinson said in order to promote condom use amongst young gay men, the AIDS Foundation needed to be in that online space where they were looking for information.
And the video explaining how to have anal sex on the Love Your Condom website formed part of that sex-positive, safe-sex education, Robinson said.
"It's had well over 1.3 million [views]."
Robinson said gay and bisexual men had been early adopters of online dating sites, in part due to the anonymity offered.
"If you're living in a context of homophobia, then anonymity has its advantages for people," he said.
Robinson insisted the foundation's approach and the content chosen to appear on the Love Your Condom website wasn't based on a hunch or guesswork.
"This was based on research which showed that gay men respond to explicit online messages and are much more likely to absorb the information from that form of messaging."
He said the foundation had received a very positive response to the campaign.
"We've had people saying they wished there was something like that around when they were younger.
One of the issues the foundation had to grapple with was around just how old the young men targeted were, before settling on R16 and R18 warnings for some of the website's content.
"We are very responsible about that and we certainly worked through the whole process of developing this video with the Ministry of Health who are our primary funder," Robinson said
"We feel we've done everything that is responsible to try and make sure that it's accessible to a young audience, 18 and over, but we have clearly set up warnings so that no-one is going to stumble across it and be offended."
With HIV in New Zealand at one of the world's lowest levels, with fewer than 2500 diagnosed patients in the country, there was a real need to keep condom use up and stave off a rise in HIV infections.
Since the beginning of the campaign, nearly three million free condoms had been distributed, with year-on-year increases in demand for free rubbers.
"The demand for condoms has clearly been stimulated by the work that we're doing and that's got to be a good thing," Robinson said.
- Hutt News