“Take care down there” is not an expression many of us use in our work place. But for my colleague, Donna Dawe and I, it is a message we feel so strongly about that we’ve developed an entire Health Promotion campaign around it.
We encounter daily the puzzled faces of individuals who are unaware of the risks associated with sexual activity. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are often treated lightly, but in fact they are no joke. If left untreated, they could jeopardize an individual’s health or affect his/her chances of becoming a parent some day. Unplanned pregnancies, too, can be very stressful.
To combat the increase in youth STIs and unplanned pregnancies, in 2011 Eastern Health’s Health Promotion department launched the Take Care Down There (TCDT) campaign. The main objective of the campaign was to increase awareness of the importance of condom use in men and women generally, aged 18-30 years throughout the Eastern Health region.
We held focus groups to find out if and how successful TCDT was, and to gain insight into the knowledge level, attitudes, behaviours and social norms related to sex and sexuality among our region’s youth.
Frankly, we were amazed at the lack of awareness that existed around general sexual health information! In response, a follow-up TCDT campaign was launched in September 2013 targeting post-secondary students. A TCDT website was developed – an informative web site full of accessible information, videos, resources and links. It also highlights four key messages:
- Use a condom,
- Get tested,
- Talk to your partner, and
- Know your risks.
Talking about sex and sexuality is not easy for everyone – for a variety of reasons. But it is important to recognize that conversations are necessary, in particular when we’re trying to protect and educate our youth.
Take Care Down There (TCDT) Roadshow
As front-line workers, we wanted to give our clients the tools they need to make informed decisions. We also felt we needed to go where our target population was – and to inform them directly about healthy sexual activity .
The overall reaction from post-secondary students, faculty and staff was, and continues to be, very positive. Faculty members posted videos and pictures of our campus visits with the students on their Facebook pages.
Amongst students, the condom tins we gave away were a hit. The custom-made silver condom tins contained two condoms each and featured different witty slogans designed to educate them about healthy sexual behaviours. On the back, there was a QR code which youth could scan with their smart phone to take them directly to the TCDT website for further information about sexual health.
The condom tins created a buzz which helped us connect better with students. Once a student received a condom tin, he/she seemed to have a greater comfort level coming back, bringing friends and asking us questions – just what we intended, to start normalizing sexual health by talking about it.
By the end of the roadshow we had interacted with over 3,000 post-secondary students and, in an effort to push the word out even farther, we had held media interviews with local radio and television stations as well as newspapers.
It takes more than one group to get the message out. So we gathered a group of health professionals and community partners, also dedicated to the promotion of sexual health in our region, to form a TCDT working group. We partnered with the: Cervical Screening Initiative Program, Communicable Disease Control Program, Memorial University Student Health, Planned Parenthood (NL Sexual Health Center), public health nurses, nurse practitioners, Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault and Crisis Prevention Centre and Mental Health and Addictions Program.
The working group members are all experts in various aspects of sexual health and work directly with our target population. They have contributed their knowledge and expertise to the development of the TCDT website and have been instrumental in the distribution of TCDT materials and messages.
Take Care Down There… Coming Soon to a Movie Theatre Near You!
To mark National Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week, Feb 10-16th, watch out for the TCDT ad playing at Cineplex theatres in St. John’s and in local movie theatres throughout the Eastern Region during the month of February. ■
This story was submitted by Anita Forward with Donna Dawe, Sexual Health Promotion Consultants with Eastern Health.