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Public health campaign promotes safe sex among young, gay men in Ohio

Monday, March 26, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new public health campaign in Columbus, Ohio, is attracting attention for its ads promoting sexual health among young gay men.

The “Take Care Down There” campaign billboards and print ads feature shirtless men with arrows pointing below their waistlines.

Makeda Porter, the prevention-services manager at Columbus Public Health told LGBTQ Nation that Columbus health officials anticipate that their message — “essentially, take good care of yourself — will be perceived as straightforward without being preachy.”

According to Porter, over a period of a few months, she and her colleagues met with several focus groups, concentrating on young men in general and young black men in particular.

In a report published last August by the Centers for Disease Control, the annual number of new HIV infections in the United States was at approximately 50,000 new infections each year between 2006 and 2009.

The CDC’s first multi-year estimates from its national HIV incidence surveillance find that overall, the annual number of new HIV infections in the United States was relatively stable at approximately 50,000 new infections each year between 2006 and 2009.

However, HIV infections increased among young men who have sex with men (MSM) between 2006 and 2009, driven by alarming increases among young, black MSM – the only sub-population to experience a sustained increase during the time period.

The CDC report took especial care to point out that 67 percent of new HIV cases in men who have sex with men were in those 13 to 24 years old and black. These men often experiment, are not in committed relationships and many frequent bars and clubs.

Porter said that in the focus groups, suggestions for increased awareness targeting young males in those groups at risk were messages that were direct, positive, not scary and succinct.

At least one billboard is scheduled to debut in the downtown area of Columbus in April coupled with a printed campaign of fliers and coasters carrying the message in bars around the city and on the city’s website.

Porter said that the campaign will include information about testing for sexually transmitted diseases, condom use and community resources.

The $20,000 campaign is being paid for with federal funding allotted to spread prevention messages for sexually transmitted disease prevention. Porter notes that the ad campaign targets a core group of young men that public health officials think are not taking HIV and other diseases seriously.

“They’re not seeing the deaths and the illness,” she said. “I think a lot of people see the manageability of it. Yes, it is something that is more manageable, but it’s not something that you want to have to manage.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus Public Health already has met a challenge. Clear Channel Communications wouldn’t allow the ad on a billboard on 4th Street in Italian Village.

“The arrow is the issue. Families and kids will see that,” said Clear Channel spokesman Jim Cullinan. “We just have to look for a level of appropriateness.”

The company offered to run the ad without the arrow, but that would take away from the message, said Columbus Public Health spokesman Jose Rodriguez.

Ronald G. Murray, who was in one of the city’s focus groups, said he loves the campaign.

“We need to normalize safe sex. We need to make safe sex sexy,” he said.

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