Safe sex messaging doesn't stop in a pandemic

Billboard

A pair of Saskatoon non-profits are reminding people to mask up in the streets and 'mask up' in the sheets.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix | Zak Vescera, Publishing date: Feb 27, 2021

A pair of Saskatoon non-profits are reminding people to mask up in the streets and ‘mask up’ in the sheets.

That’s one of the playful messages on billboards across the province, part of a syphilis awareness campaign from Saskatoon Sexual Health and OUTSaskatoon that aims to bring safe sex education to the masses.

Saskatoon Sexual Health education and outreach coordinator Natalya Mason said it’s every bit as important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know even though we’re in a lockdown period and people were being encouraged to isolate that people were still having sexual interactions,” she said.

“The syphilis rates won’t go away just because of COVID.”

The agencies received $200,000 for the two-year campaign, which includes billboards in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford as well as posters in pubs, bars and buses, and targeted social media advertising.

Syphilis rates have steadily been rising on the Prairies in recent years. Preliminary data from the Ministry of Health shows the province reported 435 cases of infectious syphilis as of late September 2020, compared to 381 in 2019 and 140 in 2018.

The Public Health Agency of Canada notes that the highest relative increase between 2018 and 2019 was observed in people aged 15 to 24, which is why LGBTQ+, Two-Spirit youth and underserved youth are the target of the campaign.

The ads were designed with the help of a youth advisory team, which informed its clever, sex-positive bent, Mason said.

Frédérique Chabot is the director of health promotion with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, an Ottawa charity that lobbies for sexual and reproductive health. She said that kind of messaging is even more important during the pandemic, when access to conventional services might be disrupted.

“We know from decades of experience and evidence that in times of public health or humanitarian crosses, sexual health or human reproductive health needs don’t go down. They go up,” she said.

“We had outbreak levels of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in nine provinces before COVID started and that didn’t go away. It’s just that we don’t talk about it anymore.”

It also may change how and when people choose to have sex, Chabot said, something researchers are just beginning to survey. Mason said the ad designers had to consider how public health measures might change. Would there still be bubbles, or masking, or the ability to visit other households?

“There’s been a lot of need for flexibility just to kind of switch gears,” Mason said.

Posted on 2021-03-02
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