The V-word

Posted on October 22, 2010 at 7:58 am

We should start by rating this blog PG-13. Of course, for most of you that only means you’ll read with more attention…

Think back for a moment to 7th grade sex ed class and recall that mixture of shame, guarded curiosity, and maybe just a tiny thrill as we imagined if s/he’s thinking what we’re thinking. But under no circumstances were you to appear actually interested in the content. That’s just freaky.

Well, by the looks of some of the sexual health literature floating around today, kids today don’t have to try nearly as hard to unengage. Teenagers smiling about something called “Vaginitis?” Women dancing with phones related to teen pregnancy? Just how far from reality are we? This stuff makes “Our Bodies Ourselves” seem positively riveting.

IDEO’s Doug Solomon spoke on this topic at this month’s Health 2.0 conference. IDEO, in collaboration with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit NGO, took on the challenge of developing sexual health communications that actually speak to the audience being addressed: unmarried 18- to 29-year-old women.

Via, they re-framed these excruciatingly personal, literally life-altering topics into communications this demographic can relate to. The results are like the difference between dusty textbook and indie-band flyer.

Doug described a few key tenets for communication:

Prototype the right tone of voice.
Sound too clinical and you’re boring. Get too explicit and you’re seen as…well, for lack of a better word, ‘slutty’. You’ll know when you strike the right balance.

Weed out industry jargon.
Phrases like “emergency contraception” have some serious white-coat, won’t-happen-to-me vibe to them. But everyone gets the importance of Friday nights. Oh – and it’s ok to use humor when talking about sex. After all, it worked for…well, just about every successful comedian in the history of the Western world.

Meet people where they are.
Think back again to that high-school or middle-school classroom – remember how strong those urges were? To get through to these kids, you have to learn to speak like these kids. Understand what’s really important to them, what motivates them, and maybe even a little bit about what they fear.

‘Cause if you can reach them now, you can help make an impact on their lives. This is the real world, baby.

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  • Sophia Yen November 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Actually, the woman dancing with the phone is illustrating that talking on the phone about her abortion is liberating/uplifting, rather than something to be ashamed.

    and has anyone focus-grouped these images. Perhaps they are good enough. Vaginitis is not as exciting and racy as pregnancy prevention and the flyers are meant to inform as opposed to “incite to action” (what the campaign to prevent teenage pregnancy is trying to do) which takes a different tactic.

    What the problem is, is that society sells sex but is not willing to sell birth control… My favorite example: there was the show temptation island or something like that where there are 20 couples and they try to break them up. A birth control company wanted to run an ad during the show. The network said “sorry, not within our values.” So, the network was ok trying to break up married couples but not ok with birth control?? That is our society…

    That is what we need to change. We need birth control ads on billboards, on TV, on the radio. We need free contraception. Why should women shoulder the burden? Men and women have sex. Let’s share the cost. It’s cheaper for society to pay for birth control than unplanned pregnancies.