Justice

This Condom Company Just Showed Us How NOT TO Promote Safe Sex On Dating Sites

April 6th 2016

By:
Lucy Tiven

Convincing people to practice safe sex can be hard, but an Australian condom company just learned that making light of HIV/AIDS definitely isn't the way to do it.

According to Buzzfeed, the company Hero is under fire for its condom advertising campaign that created sexy Tinder profiles for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV/AIDS.

Basically, the campaign hoped to trick online daters into swiping right on "Johnorrhoea," "Gonorrheeta," “Chadmydia,” "Herpez." "Aidy," and "Aydes," and then pitch them condoms through off-color jokes about sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

The marketing misstep comes into direct conflict with the company's stated mission. Per their website: "HERO is a socially responsible condom company, whereby for every condom sold, a condom is donated to a developing country to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and save lives."

The campaign did not go over well.

Twitter users, including singer and YouTube star Troye Sivan and HIV+ activist Nic Holas, were quick to point out that the campaign wasn't so heroic.

“[Hero CEO] Dustin Leonard clearly has zero understanding of what it’s like to live with, and be judged for having, an STI or a chronic manageable illness like HIV,” Holas told Buzzfeed. “He claims the aim of this woeful bro-campaign was to “de-stigmatise condom use”, when really it was to sell their condoms by stigmatising anyone with an STI. We’re not the butt of their jokes, and we’re sure as hell not collateral damage in their pursuit of profits.”

Holas pointed out that Hero's AIDS profiles were particularly troubling due to the historical stigma, misinformation, and cultural paranoia surrounding HIV/AIDS.

“The profiles ramp up the horror story narrative with STI symptoms and treatments, i.e. penile swabs which is an outdated and abandoned practice,” he told Buzzfeed.

The company's response to the backlash on social media was equally troubling, entirely missing the point and asking if it would be ok to rename the profile "Hivvy" or "H Dizzle," while failing to acknowledge the larger problem of turning STDs and STIs into the butt of a joke. ("Aidy's" profile literally read, “Knock knock. Who’s there? AIDS 😂 .")

“In depicting individuals as disease types, this not only allows people to completely discount the messages but also manages to further stigmatise STIs and the people who have them,” Colin Batrouney, the Director of Health Promotion at the Victorian AIDS Council, told Gay News Network.

The stigma of living with HIV/AIDS is politically charged.

Recently, the HIV/AIDS conversation made headlines when Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan for her AIDS advocacy following the former First Lady's death. Many journalists and activists were quick to point out that the Reagan administration hugely contributed to the silence and paranoia surrounding the disease.

In his seminal 1992 paper, "Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies," theorist Stuart Hall stressed that mischaracterizing HIV/AIDS and those who live with it can lead to great injustices. Hall insisted that we have an intellectual, political, and cultural responsibility to discuss AIDS in a respectful and accurate way that includes those impacted and marginalized by it. Hall wrote:

"The question of AIDS is an extremely important terrain of struggle and contestation. In addition to the people we know who are dying, or have died, or will, there are the many people dying who are never spoken of. How could we say that the question of AIDS is not also a question of who gets represented and who does not? AIDS is the site at which the advance of sexual politics is being rolled back. It's a site at which not only people will die, but desire and pleasure will also die if certain metaphors do not survive, or survive in the wrong way."

In today's world, cultural criticism takes on forms unimagined when Hall's paper was published. We participate in social activism and media criticism in our day-to-day lives, when we call-out stars and companies for their remarks on social media, and can become cultural critics in the course of a single subtweet.

With that in mind, it's important to recognize the social stigmas that HIV/AIDs and other STIs and STDs like Herpes carry, as well as recent medical advances that have greatly changed the experiences of living with sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

As ATTN: has reported, activists in London, New York, DC, South Africa, and France recently protested major pharmaceutical giants for inflating the prices of live-saving HIV and Hep-C drugs.

Hero's Tinder campaign ended on Monday, according to Buzzfeed, though the profiles are still viewable on their website as of Wednesday afternoon. Hero CEO Dustin Leonard answered the backlash in a statement:

"We are very much aware of the social challenges that people living with HIV have had to overcome, in dealing with stigma and discrimination, both in Australia and in Botswana, where 1 in 4 of the sexually active have HIV/AIDS. Our STI safe sex awareness campaign was formulated with no intention of offending anyone. With this in mind, we were naturally disappointed that some of our latest efforts were misinterpreted, as this certainly was not our intention. We sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any offence that may have been caused by our genuine efforts to communicate the safe sex message."

You can read the full statement on GNN.

[H/T Buzzfeed]