Rip & Roll: Showing the Prevalence of HIV/AIDS Infection In Gay Men and the Social and Cultural Contributors

external image Rip___Roll_Advert.jpg

The Artefact

This artefact is from the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) campaign promoting safe sex for gay men. The campaign was assigned the slogan “Rip & Roll” and has caused much controversy during it’s three year existence throughout Brisbane. This advertisement presents a ‘subtle safe sex message, in a fun and sex positive way’ (QAHC, 2011) and has been advertised throughout Queensland in the form of Outdoor venues, mainly targeting bus shelters, billboards and magazine. The company managing this campaign, Adshel has fought controversy leading to removal and quick reinstatement of these adverts due to community activism via social media. It is the QAHC’s belief that this community awareness effort has been largely successful in capturing the hard-to-reach sectors of the community and capitalising on this increased connectivity will help raise sexual awareness even further.

The Health Issue

In public health a major health concern for gay men is the spread of HIV/AIDS and preventative treatments to reduce infection rates. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a disease of the human immune system that, over time, weakens the immune system to allow for opportunistic infections to take hold. In men, the primary methods of infection are unprotected intercourse and injection of drugs through hypodermic needles making education and prevention efforts crucial to reduce infection rates throughout Australia by teaching safe sex and running needle-exchange programs primarily. The artefact chosen represents this topic as it pin-points safe sex as a positive sexual health behaviour and this is a major preventative measure for HIV/AIDS infection. While focusing on sexual activity transmission of HIV this research will show the gay community is also at risk for drug use that contributes to risky health behaviours and in turn the possibility for HIV contraction. This analysis will use relevant research focusing on social theory and cultural contributors to this health problem while also referring to statistics showing that HIV/AIDS infection is an important public health issue for gay men.

The Literature

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens the immune system to the point where many illnesses such as cancers to even to a common cold are more likely to occur and deteriorate bodily functions (State Gov. of Victoria, 2013). When evaluating the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention we must observe how it affects the world on different scales.

In 2010, the estimated number of new HIV infections attributed to gay men in America stood at 29,800 which was a 12% increase from 2008 (American CDC, 2013) while in the same year throughout Europe, 20% of HIV cases were reported amongst gay men (Euro. CDC, 2010). These trends show that HIV/AIDS is still a very relevant health problem for two largely populated countries and that prevention research is still very necessary for the international community. When considering Australian HIV infection rates it stood at an estimate of 24,731 people living with this virus by the end of 2011. However considering this is the total number of current infections not just gay men while also taking into account the population differences between countries it is still a large infection rate in Australia.

The QAHC (creators of the ‘Rip & Roll’ advert being used as this paper’s artefact) link the pattern of drug use to HIV diagnosis their most recent fact sheet (QAHC, 2012). The report published stated that for gay men substance abuse is fixed in with gay male culture (Mullins, 2005) for example, bars and clubs. Sexual risk taking is linked to this drug intake and vice versa, pairing associations.

This above deduction is based on a qualitative evaluation while the quantitative information from the USA, Europe and Australia relies on facts and figures to draw determinants of HIV/AIDS spread throughout their respective countries. While both research techniques are valid it is often resource constraints and not methodological design that limits HIV/AIDS research (Booysen, 2003). Qualitative research should be used as survey based methods gathering feedback and effectiveness (of potential interventions) evaluation. While quantitative should be used to trace spread and infection rates through different socio-economic areas to completely understand the trend of the spreading infection.

Qualitative research has pointed out the many reasons for high drug use in the LGBT community including stress brought on by being associated as a minority; harassment/discrimination; emotional stress from coming out to family/friends; confusion of sexuality/gender identity and internalised homophobia. The latter can be the most dangerous of all as this community, including gay men, then can suffer from depression, anxiety, guilt, shame and paranoia that puts them at higher risk for drug abuse (Eliason, 2004).

HIV infection stems from this drug use for gay men from two major avenues: risky sexual behaviour and contact through intravenous drug taking. These two possibilities require the exchange of fluid from one man to another leading to contraction. When implementing an intervention for HIV/AIDS it is important to consider the higher drug use rates and this link to HIV as many individuals can be led to believe it is only an STI.

This is the one downfall that can be seen in this ‘Rip & Roll’ advertisement. While it aims to lower HIV/AIDS spread through awareness and education on safe sex, it does not make individuals aware of the other ways in which gay men, or any person can be at risk. For much of the population however it was not the lack of explanation that concerned them but instead sections of the greater Queensland community found this health warning approach to be ‘pre-sexualising’ their children to homosexuality which they consider to be a ‘minority’ (QAHC, 2011). Varying in content, 275 complaints were made from across Queensland and Adshel removed the advertisements shortly thereafter. After over 90,000 members joining a protest page on social media site Facebook, and review by the Advertising Standards Bureau it was ruled that the “...public health message overrides any social sensitivity” (QAHC, 2011) after 94% of interviewed respondents recognised the advert as a condom promotion campaign and not one of pushing sexuality.

Overall through this review of literature and advertising it is clear that a high level of success has occurred in preventing HIV/AIDS however there is still much more qualitative and quantitative research to be conducted before the most effective method of prevention can be developed and implemented in our culture in Australia. While this is important, so is the acceptance and promotion of gay male health in the wider community. A more accepting social stance would promote gay male health on physical and mental levels while furthering HIV/AIDS research in the wider community.

The Cultural and Social Implications

Society and culture determine the health of gay men tremendously as the level of acceptance of their sexuality directly enforces how health and social support is accessed. The level of stigmatization in their community leads to lack of openness about their health practices, including the search for health education and treatment. In 2012 United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law stated that any laws that act to criminalise HIV transmission, exposure and disclosure should be repealed (UNGC, 2012). This is a step in the right direction as removing the ‘criminal’ label to HIV aims to encourage gay men as well as the wider community of at risk HIV persons to treat it like an equal health problem and not an illegal act.

Another social movement that affects the Australian population of gay men is equal marriage rights within Australia. In almost all of Australia same-sex couples are not recognised as legally ‘married’ while heterosexual couples are completely accepted. This type of discrimination affects gay men on a societal level as they are not seen to be a valid sexuality by their social peers and because of this, do not view themselves as equal in the Australian culture. For fear of further discrimination access to education on HIV/AIDS or health support after infection is not as greatly utilized making this a social and cultural issue. If gay marriage was recognised or even accepted by most of Australia’s society it would positively affect the entire LGB audience as it would be seen as a normal sexuality and choice. After acceptance from society health trends would change in a positive manner as it would not be seen as criminal, nor unacceptable to society to be a different seuxality. But instead a normal sexuality that has its own health risks.

Society and culture are crucial in this way to health risks and their prevention/treatment because social influence can affect both mental and physical health of any gay male. Many frameworks, methods and models have been used throughout the history of HIV/AIDS research but it is shown through the Gender Variance Model specifically that aspects apply directly to this health problem. The Gender Variance Model (GVM) states that gay, lesbian and bisexual people are gender variant as they defy the cultural norm for their sexualities through same-sex relationships (Gender.Org, 2007). Some forms of gender variation can be accepted such as dress and mannerisms however on issues such as identity and sexuality society is not always so accepting as it challenges the norm that society has created over time. Stereotyping the LGB community into short haired women and long haired men is an example of how a persons choice to physically display themselves can be engrained into the social view of their sexuality. This physical challenge on the cultural norm as well as activism for equal rights is confronting for many, leading to a continued lack of acceptance in the gay community.

This research shows that while every member of society may not be involved, opinions are formed on a societal level making gay rights and health a social and cultural issue. However the greatest population affected is the LGB community and from this, researchers should target societal stigmatisation of gay rights to health and equal treatment to assist these sexual minorities in bettering their chance of positive health behaviour. If social and cultural groups were more accepting of gay men and their right to equal treatment, their health risk would be lowered dramatically as health promotion and treatment services would be utilised to a higher extent.

Reflection on Artefact

Through this assessment piece I have learnt that although valid research is being done on HIV/AIDS in the gay community it is diverse in nature and can sometimes be incomparable to other important research due to differences in methodical and social theory used. This advertisement of ‘Rip & Roll’ shows the social and cultural reasons for gay men not to come forward and seek assistance and treatment due to the protests held for it to even be shown in a public arena. While the literature found has taught me that through a different method, more progress could be made on an academic scale and raise awareness to remote communities that are harder to access through this fear of persecution.

This image represents a safe sexual life in a positive light. For the most effective research to occur on HIV/AIDS it is crucial to get the largest sample size possible for qualitative and quantitative research methods. From this research it would then be expected that the broader knowledge obtained from this research would lead to more effective prevention, education and treatment for gay men at risk or suffering from HIV/AIDS.

This assessment piece has changed my view on how to approach analysis of major health problems and understand the targeted audience and their socio-economic status and other lifestyle factors. Then to analyze past research on method approach, social theory and cultural representations. From this a more accurate analysis can be obtained on any given health problem. Most importantly I learnt that every person deserves the opportunity to be healthy in every aspect of life and as a community it is our responsibility to help those who are in need of education and treatment.


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