St. Louis Barbershops Are Providing STD Prevention Education, Plus 4 Other Creative Safe Sex Initiatives

The city of St. Louis, Missouri is turning to barbers and hairstylists in their new initiative to battle sexually-transmitted diseases in the community. While St. Louis has some of the highest STD rates in the nation, new instances of HIV cases have dropped by 20 percent this year alone. In order to continue this steady decline of new infections, City Health Officials have launched an STD education program for barbershop and salon employees who frequently converse with their clientele. Franda Thomas, head of Communicable Disease Prevention, told CBS St. Louis:“Our barbershop initiative will be working with the barbers, beauty shops and beauty salons to train the barbers so they can in turn have those hard conversations with their customers... You know you can get yourself checked out, you can go here free of charge or you can do this, do that."

Six barbers and hairstylists in the area have already enrolled in the recently announced program, and considering the importance of communication and community in the profession, it makes a lot of sense to turn barbershops and beauty salons into safe spaces where neighborhood residents can access advice and information. Just think about your relationship with your regular hairstylist – the very nature of the profession creates a dynamic in which clients trust the barber, are encouraged to share personal stories and conflicts, and build long lasting relationships. Moreover, barbershops have historically been important communal and political neighborhood spaces. Now, if a client divulges concerns about a relationship or sexual experience with their trusted neighborhood barber, the barber is prepared with advice about specific places the client can go to get tested or to obtain safe sex resources.

I spoke with Ariel Cerrud, Senior Manager of Youth Activist Network and Campaign Director for the Great American Condom Campaign (GACC), about the importance of creative safe sex initiatives. Cerrud explains, “Outreach and awareness has to be age-appropriate and culturally relevant to be effective in reaching younger, vulnerable populations.” Cerrud also discussed the overall difficulty young people already face when trying to access non-judgmental, comprehensive sex ed. Providing education in a culturally relevant manner normalizes issues of safe sex and makes it easier to ask questions. While working with the GACC to distribute one million free condoms across college campuses and promote policy change, Cerrud has seen campuses develop creative initiatives specific to their unique student bodies, including “Condom Cabs” at Charleston College. After students complained about traversing the large campus all day, the school began offering rides in golf carts equipped with free condoms, safe sex information, and informed drivers, should students desire to ask questions or receive any resources.

The St. Louis barbershop initiative is one of many creative safe sex campaigns designed to reach a specific demographic or region. Some others include:

1. Playlust

Condom awareness in popular music is not a new phenomenon (shout out to the glorious Salt-N-Pepa and the late, great,also glorious Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes), but digital technologies have brought these social messages into the 21st Century. In April 2014, Lifebeat, an HIV/AIDS prevention nonprofit organization, partnered with Wing, a marketing firm, and Spotify to promote condom usage. The campaign, based in New York City, passed out free condoms at various music performance venues along with Spotify access codes. The codes provided access to commercial-free playlists, or “playlusts,” consisting of eight hours of curated sexy time tunes. Since the campaign's goal was to reach sexually active youth, artists included Lana Del Rey and Rihanna, while other playlists featured Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Nick Cave. Each playlist was given an appropriately sexy and witty title, like “My Roommate Isn't Home” or “Even If You're A 1 Minute Man.” The initiative, described as “Sex with no ads and no HIV,” demonstrates the need to be creative and relevant to youths' lives in order to be effective. Favio Ucedo, Wing's chief creative officer, said, “ ...there are too many pitches and messages aimed at millennials. You have to add value.”

2. Dancing To Safer Sex Flash Mobs

Reach A Hand, Uganda on YouTube

Reach A Hand Uganda is a Ugandan youth-led sexual and reproductive health organization founded by Humphrey Nabimanya to combat stigmatization and misinformation of HIV/AIDS. Last year, the organization performed a series of Safer Sex Flash Mobs as part of their “If it's not on, its not safe” campaign, which aimed to bring comprehensive sex education to 5,000 young people through arts and entertainment. In the video above, we see one of these creative flash mobs taking place in an impoverished suburb, Kisenyi, which Reach A Hand Uganda identifies as an especially likely place for HIV to spread because it is so densely populated. In the middle of a busy day on a busy street, groups of energetic young organizers begin dancing to “Turn Down For What” and other popular songs while alerting passerby of the free condoms and HIV testing/treatment that Reach A Hand Uganda offers. As a result of this particular flash mob, youth in Kisenyi “were able to receive HIV testing and counseling services and over 20,000 free condoms were also given out during this advocacy.”

3. DanceSafe

DanceSafe is a public health nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing health and safety at electronic music concerts and raves, providing education on heat stroke, hearing loss, safe ways of getting home, and especially drug safety; as DanceSafe says, “We neither condone nor condemn drug use,” and instead aim to teach users how to remain safe without displaying any biases. They even provide testing kits and testing stations at raves to determine if MDMA and ecstasy pills have been laced with other, more harmful drugs (a common occurrence). Additionally, DanceSafe passes out free safe sex resources, including condoms, at raves, and has partnered with to provide lessons about safe sex and consent within the raver community. The website states, “Consent is particularly relevant in the nightlife and electronic music communities because, let’s face it, you guys like to party... But when the alcohol is flowing, the pot is lit and other drugs are well within play, it’s essential to know that only 'yes' means 'yes' when it comes to sex. When you – and your partner — are under the influence, the rules of consent still apply.” They go on to suggest ways to ask a partner if they have been tested for STDs and instruct how to continue pregnancy prevention if a condom breaks. People are much more likely to respond to these suggestions positively when they don't feel that their lifestyles are being judged, which is DanceSafe's goal.

4. Condom Is Just Another Word

From 2007-2009, India's “Condom is Just Another Word” safe sex media campaign took Indian pop culture by storm. The campaign's goal was to normalize purchasing condoms among Indian men, especially since discussing sex is still taboo. It was broken up into four very popular advertisements and commercials in which the word “condom” is treated as normally as any other phrase. In one commercial, a male wedding guest's cell phone goes off in the middle of the reception, and the ringtone is a doo-wop group singing “Condom” over and over. In another, a conversation between a man and a woman reveals that the name of the man's dog is Condom. “Condom is Just Another Word” successfully outreached to 150 million Indian men – and it worked. Research by BBC Media Action found that, when surveying male viewers of the full media campaign, there was a 21 percent decrease in the level of embarrassment experienced when buying condoms, and an 18 percent increase in men engaging in condom usage discussions with male friends.

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.

Images: Kema Keur/Flickr; Giphy (3)