Safe sex remains a hard-sell despite the risks posed by HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Only one in four Americans used a condom last time they had sex, recent data suggest. From condom giveaways to public service announcements, public health officials have tried all sorts of things to boost condom use -- with scant results. But a new campaign launched by a Planned Parenthood affilate in Seattle aims to boost condom use by turning safe sex into a sort of online "show-and-tell," tapping in to young people’s exhibitionist and voyeuristic tendencies while exploiting their susceptibility to peer pressure.
The "Where Did You Wear It" campaign is intended to create "an interactive visual representation of where safe sex happens in an effort to normalize condom use and encourage responsible sexual behavior practices," Nathan Engebretson, new media coordinator at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, said in an email to The Huffington Post. Its cornerstone is a website where "players" can tell the world they've had a safe-sex encounter and plot the location of their dalliance on a world map.
The initiative has been dubbed "Foursquare for sex," a nod to the popular geography-based social networking app. According to Engebretson, it's aimed at college students and people in their early twenties and has been promoted with ads on Facebook and free condoms affixed with a QR code that takes users to the website when scanned with a smartphone.
Just how will a global condom atlas boost penetration of condoms among sexually active young people? If people who are iffy on safe sex see that their neighbors are using condoms, Engebretson said, they might be more inclined to use condoms themselves.
As of March 1, about 5,000 condom users had checked in on the site -- and most are pretty satisfied with their safe-sex exploits. When prompted to complete the sentence that begins "The sex was…", most chose the most positive ending offered: "AH - MAY - ZING."
That enthusiasm may be the result of recent enhancements in condoms.
"The condoms on the shelf today are nothing like what we had 20 years ago," Michael Reece, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in Bloomington, Ind., told the Huffington Post in a phone interview. "They feel better, they're thinner, they're more durable."
But if the condom map helps change attitudes about safe sex among social media-savvy youths, it may fall short as a tool for understanding young Americans' sexual behavior. For one thing, the site has no system for verifying that people who claimed to have used a condom really did -- or used the condom where they say they did.
As Engebretson acknowledged, "We really intended for the site to be about condom use and safe sex, not a check in of where people are having sex."