A new series of public service announcements on safe-sex has stirred up a hornet’s nest in New York. There are videos shot in ‘democratic’ style by the youth and for the youth.These videos are the result of a novel idea by the Community Health Network, a New York based non-profit organization, to educate the inner-city teenage residents about sexually transmitted infections, safe sex and respect for other people’s sexual boundaries. The aim is to empower the teenagers to reduce the rates of teen pregnancy, HIV and STDs and help them create a social change through positive decisions. Made with such a noble and helpful intention, it makes one wonder as to why these videos have become the eye of a storm.
New safe-sex ad campaign: A terrible idea?
The facts are there for all to see. More than 50 percent of the teenagers in New York indulge in sex. Thus, it is of no surprise that pregnancy and STD rates among them are an all-time high. When there is so much ‘sex-education’ happening in the schools and many elders chipping in with their bit of advice to the teenagers, the statistics only show that the methods are not working. The new campaign embraces a bold and innovative idea.
The Community Health Network has invested $563,455 for a period of five years to encourage the youth and teens, make PSA-styled videos and upload them on to the popular Vimeo site. Paid for by the New York taxpayers, the videos show frank and unrestricted talk by the teens. They speak a language that is non-medical and slang like the ones used in actual day to day life. For instance, 17 year old Anthony Murray who stars in the clip which emphasizes the importance of condoms is forthright in stating that he wanted to try a new ‘product’ called unprotected sex which ‘gifted’ him with HIV, STDs and Baby’a Mama Drama along other harmful effects.
The message is straight and direct. This campaign captures the realities about the happenings in the inner-city neighborhoods. These different approaches have certainly got people listening and this is all what seems to count in a city that is plagued with teenage sex problems. And yet, these videos have been stirring up controversies.
The ad message is correct: Then why the negative hype?
The intentions of the ad campaign has not been questioned but its mode has. It has been effective no doubt but people are worried about the negative consequences of such knowledge. The videos, in an attempt to connect with the teenagers, makes use of slang language which has been frowned upon by the community at large. There exists the fear that such a frank language camouflaged in the ad campaign will confuse the youth. Instead of making them aware, it might encourage them into more sexual behavior because it advocates safe sex in a very roundabout manner.
The taboo that exists in sex talk in part, places a kind of restraint on the teens. With that barrier being demolished, sex becomes a usual activity like eating or sleeping. People are questioning whether tax money could be used in this manner (each video costs almost $15,000) when it is not sure that the effects are going to be positive alone. Since these videos are easily available, there is no guarantee that only the teens and youth will be watching. Tweens and kids too can lay their hands on these videos which are too raw and far beyond for their ages.
However, traditionally, adults do not like teens speaking frankly about sex. And this could be the root cause of the discomfort that the ad campaign is causing. At the same time, there is a need that the teens become a little more discreet in their utterances. The completely ‘raw’ language could be abandoned. Adults too should realize that the success of the campaign in itself speaks about its need and effectiveness in modern society. With the proliferation of internet and mobile devices, sex is not something that can be kept secret. It may as well be demystified, if the teens will be properly educated.