Guess what, everybody?
San Francisco's favorite phallic public health promotion is back. And this time, its bringing coupons.
The SF Department of Public Health rolled out its Healthy Penis campaign this week, which features a trio of cartoon penises and with their mortal nemesis, Phil The Syphilis Sore. The campaign is designed to promote safe sex and encourage sexually-active San Franciscans, particularly in the city's gay community, to get regularly tested for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.
To that end, the department has teamed up with over 20 local merchants--including national chains like Starbucks and the Sunglass Hut--in San Francisco's famously LGBT-friendly Castro District to offer discounts for anyone who gets an HIV test.
Naturally, the coupon resembles a dollar bill, except with Byron H. Penis in the place of George Washington. It also comes with a "healthy penis" squeeze toy emblazoned with a message reminding people to get tested once every six months.
"When people know their status, they're a lot less likely to spread their infection around," said Thomas Knoble, one of the effort's organizers, who noted that the Healthy Penis campaign was initially created about a decade ago and seen as a major factor in a marked decrease syphilis cases.
Knoble added that he was surprised by how little push-back the Healthy Penis campaign has gotten over years, especially considering its simultaneously lighthearted and vulgar tone. "A lot of people who I initially thought might be a little resistant to the idea in the community all seem to really like it," he said.
Beyond shaving the cost off your vanilla latte, the discounts aim to demonstrate a groundswell of popular support for community-wide HIV testing.
"The business involvement is mostly symbolic. It is saying this business cares about our community's health and well-being...I think it is nice to walk into a business and know it just doesn't want my money but cares about me," Joseph Imbriani, a health educator with department HIV Prevention Section, told the Bay Area Reporter. "I haven't seen a huge community effort [like this] in terms of health and well-being for a long time."
A national 2010 Center for Disease Control study found that one in five sexually-active gay and bisexual men in the United States is HIV positive and nearly half of them are unaware of their status.
Even so, according to Knoble, San Francisco's citywide HIV infection rate has been declining for years.
While this particular campaign primarily targets the city's LGBT community, public health advocates are pushing for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, to get tested. Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force urged doctors across the country to screen all patients between the ages of 15 and 65 for HIV.
A list of participating San Francisco business, along with the city's HIV testing sites, is available on the Department of Public Health's website.
The promotion runs though October.