The ‘Sexual Health Youth STI Campaign’ is a compelling and authoritative campaign run by the Department of Health, Western Australia Government. The campaign uses notions of fear to target adolescence at how easily contactable Sexually Transmitted Infection’s are. The campaign looks to promote education towards the issue as well as normalize STI testing among young people. This report will focus on why there are negative connotations towards sex itself, instead of being promoted as a pleasurable quality of life. Ideologies of bio-power, healthism and pre-emptive risk, as well as discourses of pleasure and truth, will be explored. This report will also question and critique ideologies that surround these discourses and whether this has made the campaign successful or not.
This paper will critique the discourses of sexuality that rely on fear and repression, which deny the sexual experiences and realities of young people (Cayen, 2016). The primary argument in this paper will look at why, as such an essential aspect of life, there is a lack of promotion and education about sex itself. The campaigns use of fear reduces sex to something negative, and that cannot be trusted. Therefore it is imperative for the future that the way sex is constructed should be in more positive terms.
The approach by the Western Australian Government will not be critiqued in its entirety in this report. As it is essential to educate and promote potential problems that might incur when engaging in sexual activity. The use of fear in this campaign is used to capture the targeted audience and educate them on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). Society needs to know that STI’s are a preventable disease and therefore teaching adolescence will have more of a chance at encouraging individuals to engage in safe sex.
The Foucauldian concept of bio-power is sharply drawn on in this campaign through its reliability on the Government to promote and provide testing for STI’s in young adolescents. Biopower is mainly displayed through biopolitics as the campaign works on the body of the population by grouping adolescence into one domain and calling it a problem.
The critical theoretical point that is prominent in this campaign is Foucault’s theory of disciplinary power. This theory explores the idea that ‘social control can be more successful and easily achieved when governors work with the power of life’ (Foucault, 1977 in O’Byrne, 2012). This disciplinary power comprises truth discourses that are imperative in the effectiveness of the campaign as power and knowledge can be understood as a truth (Cayen, 2016).
The Foucauldian framework looks at how biopower and normalization are used as strategies of power in this campaign. Normalization refers to disciplinary practices that involve the establishment of an authoritarian model as a norm, and then require people to conform to the model, demonstrating bio-political technology. The individual embodies biopower through modes of subjectification, where the individual internalizes the surveillance. The subjectification shown in the campaign through the notion of fear is it is inherently political, being deployed by the state to govern the population’s sexual practices (Gagnon et al., 2010). It is essential to acknowledge that bio-power is used to alert the public about sex and the risks associated with it, which through fear is how this campaign has demonstrated this bio-political technology.
However, Tepper (2002) suggests that if society is not able to talk about sex itself as a pleasurable experience, how does the Government think they are going to be able to normalize STI testing if sex is not normalized itself. Foucault’s (1978) paper, ‘The History of Sexuality, Volume I,’ emphasized that rather than censorship and to hide talking about the positives of sex, society should talk about it to reduce the stigma surrounding sex which could help lower the rates of STIs.
Healthism is perceived as a moral responsibility, in an increasingly neoliberal context which is reflected through the campaign, specifically targeting young adults to be responsible for their sexual health. Healthism is reflected in the campaign as the onus is on the individual’s shoulders having the ‘choice’ of getting tested and being responsible for engaging in safe sex. As health and medicalisation continue to develop, it continues to get further from our reach as it is ‘dynamic and changing all the time’ (Cheek and Oster, 2008). Therefore in the near future, it will be unlikely that society will become free from STI’s altogether; however, that does not and should not mean society as a whole cannot work towards this.
Crawford (1980) argues that ‘we can as individuals control our own existence, regardless of the environmental and social conditions which impact health’ (Cayen, 2016). Healthism is characterised by expecting individuals to acquire information and thus make informed decisions, therefore institutions such as the Government are needed to provide this information. Hence, the illusion of healthism cannot solely be brought on by oneself, as shown through the campaign. Healthism is not only to benefit the individual but is also for the good of society as a whole by taking the weight off the state. This report argues that responsibility should be in part the role of the Government to educate individuals about sexual health, so they can then make their own informed health decisions.
Drawing on Tepper (2000), the discourse of pleasure is mostly absent in Australian culture. Pleasure adds meaning to an individual’s life, and if sex gives pleasure and makes one feel good why to does society continually promote sex as bad for your health. Past campaigns such as Gonorrhoea ‘dating app’ campaign and the Aboriginal Sexual Health Campaign (Gov of WA, 2015) illustrate that the lack of pleasure as discourse is prominent and demonstrates that the message is ever only focused at highlighting the negatives in regards to sexual health. Society needs to view pleasure as apart of health and not as a separate category.
Consequences, such as fear or shame of having sex, are already active. They will continue to worsen if both the Government and society continue to talk about sexuality in negative terms. Acknowledging that sexually transmitted diseases can impact an individual’s enjoyment of sexuality and thus, their sexual health is not to go astray. (Lottes, 2000). There also needs to be positive reinforcement from the Government so that individuals have ‘the ability to enjoy one’s sexuality, an aspect of sexual health … without the fear or worry’ (Lottes, 2000).
Pre-emptive model of risk
The pre-emptive model of risk is deeply embedded in this campaign as sex is considered a ‘risky’ behaviour and assumes that the chosen subject, young adults, are irrational. This model assumes that risk and other threats to health are ‘incalculable, unpredictable, but always imminent’ (Diprose et al. 2008). The Government of WA has used this model with the intent to scare the targeted audience that engaging in unsafe sex is associated with risky behavior, and this behavior will only end in adverse outcomes. Through discourses of moralization, the campaign places moral responsibility on both the state and the individual through the underlying fear of risk that could come from implications that occur from the continual rise of STI’s in Australia.
The campaign questionably uses the stigma associated with STIs for a fearful tactic, juxtaposing the purpose of the campaign of ‘normalizing’ the process of getting tested. However, Cayen (2016) and Balfe et al. (2010) state that it is more than likely that this approach may steer young adults away from getting tested as they do not want to be associated with the stigma that surrounds STIs in the first place.
The campaigns use of pre-emptive risk is exemplified in the visualization of the advertisement. Cayan (2016) emphasizes the importance of imagery and text, ‘they constitute the way we understand information, messages and meaning.’ Therefore the campaign slogan, ‘unprotected sex with one person, isn’t just with one person’ is already a powerful message, but is then enhanced through the graphics of a woman’s body with many hands-on her which portrays a sense of dirtiness and fear for the viewer. The impact of visualization and fear forces the audience to imagine and consider the worst hypothesis.
Tepper (2000) critiques this model, suggesting that the negative impact that this approach can have in dampening the potential of the individuals future. The campaign limits the individual’s ability to see the positives of what safe sex can bring, as it encloses only a doomed and bleak future scenario onto the individual at what might happen if engaging in unsafe sex.
A pivotal point to make is that risk itself has become an essential category in regards to sex, and a negative one at that. The campaign assumes that this experience of having sex, especially if with more than one person is an unusual and dangerous practice to do and should be treated as an abnormality. Using fear around the notion of sex will have negative consequences for adolescents in that they will be discouraged from the pleasure of sex altogether as well as being deterred from getting tested due to the negative connotations and stigma surrounding STIs (Balfe et al., 2010).
Discussion & Conclusion
This report critiques the Western Australian Governments sexual health campaign through major themes and discourses that are reflected in the campaign. The notion of fear is sharply drawn on in this campaign with a bio political approach aiming to coerce the targeted audience into getting tested as well as engaging in safe sex. The Government website linked with the campaign states that this campaign seeks to normalize getting tested, however through discourses discussed using fear as a technique to scare young adults is counter-productive in trying to normalize this process.
Foucault’s bio power and Crawford’s healthism ideologies were critical when examining the intention the Government had for the campaign. As a Government-run campaign, bio-power is expressed through governmentality that is placed onto the individual. hilst Healthism is drawn on from internalizing self-surveillance and the ‘choice’ of being tested or engaging in safe sex. As discussed, imagery and text were a powerful tool which impacted the target audience through the pre-emptive model of risk in the campaign.
Through the repressive effects of the campaign, it is evident that the Government should focus on the promotion of safe sex in their future campaigns without using fear. Educating the targeted audience about the pleasures that can come from safe sex will limit the negativity and stigma around sex and STI’s, consequently lowering the number of STI rates in Australia. The campaign was successful in its use of fear and placing that fear onto the individual. However, as discussed, the campaign was not successful in achieving the outcomes of normalizing STI treatment and promoting safe sex through this fear. In hand, the Government needs to continue to focus on the normalization of the currently abnormal topic of sex.