Starr: The Utah Way of Ignorance and Disease


Clever marketing and unconventional health campaigns will better reach the youth of this state. (Graphic by Jose Garcia | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kennedie Starr, Opinion Writer


Earlier this month, an HIV awareness campaign was brought to a standstill by Governor Herbert. “Suggestive” condom wrappers appeared to be the hardline that the Department of Health crossed in their efforts to promote better sexual health in the state. Recalling Utah-themed condoms is not the leadership we deserve. We should instead bolster clever campaigns, programs and education to encourage sexual wellness. The governor’s disapproval of “sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign” is unreasonable and a poor solution to the problem of high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. This line of decision making is not the “Utah Way” and speaks to the state’s inadequate positioning when it comes to sex education and resources.


More Common than the Flu

Salt Lake County continues to try to address the most commonly reported infectious diseases: chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis C. The county saw over 5,000 cases of chlamydia last year alone, and the rates of sexually transmitted diseases continue to rise at an alarming rate. These rates are especially concerning as these infections are particularly “prevalent among teens,” according to the county health department. Other areas of the state are experiencing similar frequencies of STDs, if not worse. In Utah County, chlamydia diagnosis was more common than the flu in 2018, and rates of STDs have continually increased every year for the last five years. In Davis County, “over 60% of the disease reports” received by the health department were for STDs.

It is clear that a significant disconnect exists between the health resources needed and what Utahns are receiving. You would think that the growing rate of preventable STDs would be taken a little more seriously by our government officials who are charged with keeping us safe and healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the different options to avoid the spread of STDs, and the use of latex condoms was identified as one of the healthy methods. The use of condoms should be encouraged, and Herbert wrongly rolled back this fun, humorous campaign.

It is no wonder why our rates of STDs are growing and widespread among young Utahns. The Utah Administrative Code forbids “the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices,” and the State Board of Education, despite updating the education standards this year, still heavily emphasizes chastity. The updated standards now allow for education instruction to include information about contraception methods and devices, which was a long-overdue change. Perhaps with this newfound freedom in the curriculum, students may be able to get a fuller picture of sexual health and what wellness could include beyond the abstinence-only emphasis. Prohibiting the Utah-themed condom packaging is taking a step backward after we made these significant changes to our education standards, and it is disappointing to see such outrage over “Uintah Sex” on a condom wrapper.


Creative Solutions

“Greatest Sex on Earth” and “Put Your Arch Into It” is exactly the type of marketing that better provokes healthy discussions around sex and wellness. As a product of the outdated sexual education standards of yesteryear in Davis County, I did not fully understand the wide range of contraceptive methods and products available until I got into my first year of college. I remember being frustrated by the distorted understanding that I had about sex and disease-preventative resources because of this inadequate education. Clever marketing and unconventional health campaigns will better reach the youth of this state, which was clearly the audience the Department of Health intended to reach. If reducing uncertainty, disease and distress are anywhere near the goals of our elected officials, then they need to embrace humor and outside-the-box methods.

Complex problems call for creative solutions. Obstructing a health campaign because of “lewd” condom packaging would be like recalling any other item because it was marketed in a witty, self-aware way, playing on the item’s intended use. Imagine if Herbert rolled back a sunscreen campaign because it was packaged with a pun about sunburns or skin. “This Is the Place” overlaying a graphic of a bed on a condom wrapper is amusing, straightforward and it portrays the intended use of the object. It’s perfectly okay that some audiences take offense to the packaging, but that shouldn’t be the driving reason to eliminate the product altogether. I’m guessing that the intended audience was not the conservative body in the executive branch, but rather the kids and adults out there who are at risk of very preventable diseases.

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