Friday, November 07, 2008

Can sex be used to sell safe sex?

Brent Mackie believes so. He should know; he conducted an exhaustive literature review on the subject and interviewed HIV-campaign producers and audience members to complete his thesis, “Selling Safe Smut…” Mackie recently earned his MA at University of NSW, National Centre in HIV Social Research.

Specifically, he found that explicit language and imagery are often used to promote safe sex practices among gay men. More important, he found that campaign producers, the people in charge of directing these campaigns, believe that for the message to be perceived as credible and believable, it must be produced by and reflect the “community” and “must at times be sexually explicit.” These message producers also believe that sexually explicit campaign materials work because they communicate “unambiguous and accurate information.”

According to Mackie, sexual appeals do more than just garner attention: “Explicit materials work because they are engaging and relevant to the lives of gay men when responding to the HIV epidemic…”

I was a member of Mackie’s thesis committee. His work covered research from several fields including public health, advertising, social marketing, and mass communication, among others. His thesis is a “must read” for practitioners developing HIV prevention materials as well as scholars with an interest in this area.