By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are investing $2 million dollars in cell phone “soap operas” that promote condom use.
According to a report by the Catholic News Agency (CNA), the project was developed by Rachel Jones, a nurse educator who teaches at Rutgers University’s College of Nursing in Newark. She used professional actors to produce a dozen 20 minute episodes that feature characters such as “Toni”and her boyfriend “Mike” who has been cheating on her with another woman.
In one episode, Mike attempts to kiss Toni, but she pushes him back.
“Just because I’ve decided to take you back, it doesn’t erase the fact that you cheated on me,” she says in the video. “Look, we’re going to be using condoms from now on… And tomorrow, we’re getting tested. And that’s that,” she continues, kissing him.
The soaps will be seen by 250 women who will then have their “risk-reduction behavior” measured in comparison with a control group of women who will receive only text messaging regarding condom use.
“What we believe will happen is that knowledge alone is not effective at changing behaviors,” Jones told Fox News. “We believe that women in the community will so identify with heroines in the story their own behaviors will change as well.”
Jones said that in her nursing practice, women come to her with sexually transmitted infections who said they understood they were being exposed to HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and diseases but still avoided condom use, even when in uncommitted relationships. She claims that 82 percent of HIV/AIDS infections affecting 18- to 29-year olds are transmitted through heterosexual sex with an infected sexual partner.
“We have to normalize condom use,” she added, claiming that women’s sexual partners consider insistence on using a condom a sign of distrust.
On Wednesday CNA spoke about the soap opera study with Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.
Huber said the program sounds like “safe-sex ads” which “recommend, or at least do not discourage, high-risk sexual behavior, as long as a condom is used. I think that sends a very dangerous message to youth, by minimizing the risk associated with casual sex.”
She also accused the approach of being disingenuous in its claims.
According to Huber, even with 100 percent condom use, CDC studies show that two of the four most transmitted STDs are still transmitted by skin to skin contact.
“These messages increase the risk of STDs, not to mention the risk of emotional and other consequences.”
She added, “Abstinence education, on the other hand, eliminates all that risk.” Even teens who receive abstinence education but become sexually active later still have advantages because they tend to have fewer partners and, therefore, less risk of contracting diseases.
“If people don’t want to see their tax dollars used for this sort of project,” Huber said, “they can certainly register their complaint with the head of NIH.”
Contact Raynard S. Kington, M.D. Acting Director, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892; 301-496-4000; General email address: NIHinfo@od.nih.gov
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