Shining a light on gay anal sex: community reactions to an explicit campaign promoting condom use for anal sex with casual partners

Published: August 1, 2008

Shining a light on gay anal sex: community reactions to an explicit campaign promoting condom use for anal sex with casual partners

Issues: New diagnoses of HIV increased by 41 per cent in Victoria, Australia between 2000 and 2006 with most of these cases occurring in gay men. Reducing the incidence of unprotected anal sex with casual partners and increasing regular condom use was an obvious area for a health promotion intervention. An analysis of social research data on seroconverters and focus groups with the campaign’s target population, men in their 30s and 40s, led the Victorian AIDS Council to design and implement a campaign involving explicit images of anal sex involving condoms, donated for the campaign by Hot House Entertainment.

Description: This paper analyses the responses to the campaign as it was developed and implemented – responses from the government funding body, advertising suppliers in both gay media and outdoor advertising, and responses from the target communities. While the very explicit images were not problematic as they were covered by a national policy on the use of explicit images in targeted campaigns, the “softer” images published in the gay press required extensive negotiations with the funders and the media. Community responses were generally very positive but an interesting subset of negative responses was demonstrably tapping into internalised homophobia triggered by images of gay sex in public media.

Lessons learned: Increasingly, HIV prevention campaigns will need precise targeting and generalised campaigns will be less effective. Using mass media for campaign implementation will mean that a broader group will see campaign images, with the potential for negative reactions to be expressed publicly. Campaign design should include draft responses to such negative criticism.

Next steps: Ongoing campaign evaluation will further explore these responses, particularly the very public ones in the gay press, to better understand why the campaign generated such strong negative reactions and whether these were more widespread than those that were expressed publicly.

-Abstract available at link below-

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