September 20, 2005
AIDS Vancouver and Rethink Advertising are leading a national "Gay Men Play Safe" campaign in Canada this year. In the process, they created funny safer-sex messages in an explicit shift from the more than 20 years of occasionally dramatic, controversial, and confrontational HIV prevention discourse in the gay community.
Last year's campaign asked gay men "How do you know?" a variety of assumptions about how safe unprotected sex is. In bathrooms and on billboards, campaign posters were "very hard-hitting," said Robert Smith, HIV Edmonton's research and development chief. "The visuals and some of the controversy around the visuals created an impact as well."
"The last campaign was aiming at the 25 percent of gay men who are not practicing safer sex," said Smith, who finds the new campaign a breath of fresh air. "What about the other 75 percent? ... How do we make them feel good about what they do? We decided, this time around, to celebrate and to thank them for keeping themselves safe."
In the new campaign, nicknames for the penis form the light-hearted basis for telling gay men who practice safe sex, "Whatever you call it, thanks for keeping it safe." The campaign lasts until November. Materials will be distributed strategically, in clubs and bars throughout Vancouver -- an effort to avoid exposing them to people who might be offended.
"We're far too serious about sex," said Smith. "It's using humor to reaffirm sexual health and sexual behavior, and it's taking away from that 'sex is bad' scenario. I think humor is a great way to go with sexual education."