Health promotion has to be done well. Otherwise it is a waste of money at best, and potentially harmful at worst. One of the reasons for my PhD topic, which explores the experiences of rural baby boomers in friends with benefits relationships, is that I wanted to gather data to use to address the lack of sexual health policy and health promotion to baby boomers and older adults. Since I started two years ago I have observed the growing interest and media awareness of the sexuality of older people. My own publications, including one in The Hoopla this week, have tried to address this too. There was a 2010 Middle Aged Spread campaign in the UK that promoted safer sex to the growing number of adults finding new partners, and with them, new infections. That campaign used pictures of 1960s and 1970s fashion as a way of attracting the attention of their target audience and was quite cute, inclusive and not focused on penetration.
I know that the safe sex message is largely in relation to penetrative sex and the need to use barriers to prevent STI spread, but it is really important to me that sexuality and sexual relationships be viewed in a much more broad way. Safer sex is dependent on bigger issues than just ‘cover it with a condom’. What has to be considered first is the starting point of the person – communication skills, self esteem, confidence, assertiveness, health beliefs, sobriety, personal history, cultural expectations (including religion), the impact of gender roles and expectations. From that base will come the behaviours of safer, or unsafe, sex.
So I should have been happy last week when an American campaign http://safersex4seniors.org/ was launched promoting condom use, in response to a dramatic increase in STIs in older adults. But I was not happy. The 30 second video made me cringe. I hated it. I have spent some time this week reflecting on why it felt so wrong.
The video clip that goes with the campaign is meant to be funny and fun, but I think it is a waste of an opportunity, and mocking. Yes, the couples mostly look happy, but some look bemused. There is racial diversity depicted but only African/Caucasian, but no sexual diversity is evident. It is heteronormative, and has a phallocentric, male pleasure focus. The people are fully clad and on a stage. Why are they performing in what looks like a community hall? There is a focus on penetration, including from the rear, and fellatio. The poster and video look as though they were designed by a young man, as women’s pleasure is missing. I don’t mean to discount the pleasure women get from penetration, but there is no cunnilingus depicted, or the diversity of sexual behaviour that is around pleasure and intimacy, not just penetration. There is nothing to suggest the broader picture of sexual intimacy.
The site claims to be put together by sexuality experts; therapists, educators, that sort of thing. I contacted them on Twitter to ask the demographics of the creative people behind the video. Got a cagey reply about the actors then when I asked again was sent a DM with an email address. DDB is an ad agency. I can see that from the picture of the person associated with the campaign that she is a young woman. I was thinking about the male focus of the campaign and that perhaps men are the demographic who needs to be convinced. That might have some effect, given that older men are notoriously hard to persuade to use a condom.
I still don’t like it. Must rush off and finish my PhD so I can have some authority with which to be part of a better campaign in Australia to promote healthy sexuality to older people.