Safe sex, abstinence urged in AIDS ads

January 05, 1994|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- An animated condom package leaps from a dresser drawer and shuffles its way across a darkened room, past a napping cat and onto a bed. As it squirms under the covers, a voice says "It would be nice if latex condoms were automatic. But since they're not, using them should be."

The television advertisement was one of several unveiled yesterday, along with radio spots made by a rock star, as part of a new Clinton administration marketing campaign aimed at selling the idea of safe sex -- or abstinence -- to men and women aged 18 to 25.

The ads, presented by the secretary of health, the White House national AIDS policy coordinator and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at a news conference, represent a marked change from the subtle public service announcements about AIDS of past administrations.

"Young Americans are more sexually active than ever before. And they are not taking proper precautions: One in four young adults has been infected with a sexually transmitted disease," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala.

To combat this, they "need to hear clear and direct messages," shesaid.

Those messages are: Abstinence is the best way to prevent the spread of infection. "But if you are sexually active, use latex condoms consistently and correctly," she said.

Scheduled to debut last night on ABC-TV, the public service ads have been accepted for airing by all the major networks, said Dr. James Curran, associate director of the CDC's AIDS program. The administration recommended prime-time use of the ads.

The major networks said they would run the ads, although some will run them only late at night or will run them only with statements about abstinence. The FOX network said it would impose no restrictions.

The $800,000 advertising campaign has been dubbed "the new Prevention Marketing Initiative" and is in both Spanish and English. The ads depict both young black and white couples, but no gay couples. Almost all include the message "latex condoms are effective in preventing the spread of HIV when used consistently and correctly."

The campaign is the first developed by the CDC that urges condom use. Under other administrations, the messages were far less direct. One earlier ad featured a man pulling up a sock while talking about the risk of infection as though sending a subliminal message about condoms.

Two advertisements feature young adults urging abstinence.

The public service announcements "are selling a product," said Kristine Gebbie, AIDS policy coordinator. "And the product is good health."

But Ms. Gebbie also urged individual communities and states to become more involved in education and prevention efforts, saying "no one can sell a product by radio or television alone."

Young adults are being targeted because they are the group at highest risk for HIV infection, said Ms. Shalala. AIDS is the sixth leading cause of death among men and women in the 15-24 age group and the foremost killer of men between the ages of 25 and 44. And by age 20, 86 percent of men and 77 percent of women report they have had intercourse, according to the CDC.

"It is denial for heterosexuals to think that AIDS is limited to gay men and injection drug users. . . . It is denial for anyone -- men or women -- to think that condoms don't stop transmission of HIV when used consistently and correctly," she said.

Word of the new television and radio spots sparked cautious enthusiasm among some members of the AIDS care community.

"I think [the ads] may work just because they're heard," says Dr. Alfred Saah, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Hygiene.

"It will be OK to bring condoms up in discussions with a potential partner. Condoms as a topic of conversation will be less taboo. The only question I have is 'where has everybody been?' It's about time for us as a country to do something like this."

But some AIDS activists expressed disappointment that the public service announcements did not include any gay couples.

"I think the ads will help. Anything would help, but I think it's a shame that populations are ignored -- gay men -- because it might make somebody uptight. Once again the gay community is ignored," said Garey Lambert of AIDS Action Baltimore.

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