It's silly, but I love my foursquare badges. I remember feeling a dash of pride when I checked into LAX a few months ago and unlocked the "JetSetter" badge. I got a shot of joy when foursquare recognized my zeal for Brooklyn" (I <3 BK"). I wasn't thrilled when I unlocked the "Babysitter" badge -- 10 check-ins on the "playground circuit" -- but it did make me smile and boosted my badge count to 20. This week I plan to make history when I go get tested for STDs, check-in from the health center and unlock the MTV GYT badge.
Today, MTV and foursquare announced a new partnership to encourage sexually-active youth nationwide to GYT: Get Yourself Tested. GYT is a unique public-private health campaign that includes MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The campaign was launched to address the reality that 1 in 2 sexually-active young people will contract an STD by age 25 -- and most won't know it, as many STDs show no symptoms. When left untreated, STDs can lead to an increased risk of HIV infection, infertility and even cancer. Additionally, half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. occur among 15-25 year olds, and one in five people living with HIV in this country don't know they have it. The need for regular testing -- and open communication about testing -- has never been greater.
The good news is that all STDs are treatable and many are curable. The bad news is that lack of information, misconceptions and social stigma keep many people from getting tested. Our new partnership with foursquare takes laser-aim at the last pressure point: stigma.
Stigma is defined as a mark of shame or discredit. But why should anybody feel ashamed about getting tested for, or talking openly with their partner about, STDs? For those who are sexually active, routine testing is part of a healthy and responsible lifestyle. It's a positive action that belongs in the same category as going to the gym, doing yoga, recycling, volunteering or donating to a cause. As such, MTV and foursquare felt that getting yourself tested -- and owning it, as a way you're taking control of your sexual health- - deserved a badge. We want to make GYT a badge of pride.
Over the last couple months, I've shared this concept with a number of people I respect and admire, and their reactions have run the gamut from ecstatic to dumbfounded. For those on the latter end of the spectrum, the question was always the same: "Who would want that badge on their profile?" And that's exactly why we're doing this.
The simple fact is that stigmas don't break unless we challenge them. We at MTV know this well, and we're proud to have a long history of confronting sexual health taboos that adversely impact America's youth. Some examples include being the first network in the world to air safe sex PSAs, bringing Pedro Zamora -- the first-ever openly gay, HIV+ person on television -- into living rooms nationwide, and more recently launching PosorNot.com, a viral video game that challenges stereotypes about HIV and has been played more than ten million times. In 1997 we forged a first-of-its kind public-private partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, and we continue to work closely with them to empower our audience to make smart decisions about sexual health. Today we're excited to carry this legacy forward and pioneer foursquare's first-ever cause badge.
I'm not sure how many people want a GYT badge on their profile. But I do know that every individual who gets tested, shouts "GYT" to their friends and unlocks the GYT badge this month is part of the solution. They are taking control of their personal sexual health, and more importantly, they're chipping away at the needless stigma that's calcified around STD testing. I hope you'll join them -- and me -- and shout "GYT!"
Follow Jason Rzepka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jasonrzepka