Public Awareness of Sexual Health

Public health efforts are often intimately tied to many other aspects of society. The containment of AIDS has to deal with politics, religion, sexuality, and many other cultural factors. Thus, efforts to try and curb the proliferation need to be likewise thought out in these complex contexts. Jenny Higgins notes how the prevalent women vulnerability model has benefits but also some downsides. Most notably its lack of representing the role of the heterosexual male in the role AIDS transmission and prevention [1].

One of the most effective ways to increase exposure of a cause, and one that was really instrumental in demystifying AIDS, is celebrity support. When an infamous movie star such as Rock Hudson publicly announces his battle with AIDS it can have a noticeable change on public opinion. Magic Johnson is another more contemporary example. These show the masses that it is not only homosexuals or drug users that can contract AIDS; it can be the average heterosexual man or woman as well. Ryan White also became synonymous with the innocent contraction of AIDS and was a poster boy for AIDS support efforts. Nationally renowned figures like this have the ability to affect public health goals as well as to shape the mass attitude in a beneficial way. Conversely, public figures also have the power to impact a cause in a negative light as Peter Lewis Allen attributes to Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, and John O’Connor. These people changed policy making by “reawaking beliefs that had held power for thousands of years” stemming from their religious beliefs that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality [2].

Our inquiries into the earlier decades of Emory publications had previously yielded a sparse discussion about reproduction, birth control and abortion. This week, however, there were a number of advertisements promoting abortion in the Emory Wheel from 1971. This surprising finding hints that the public discussion of reproductive health changed around this time. A Google search revealed that in 1971 the Supreme Court had its first ruling on abortion. In United States v Vuitch a DC law was upheld allowing abortions to be performed to preserve a woman’s life of health [3]. The term ‘health’ held a broad meaning and allowed many new cases to be covered. The early 1970s was also the time when states began creating abortion laws as well as the famous Roe v Wade case [4]. Although not directly relevant to AIDS, reproductive health is intimately intertwined with the disease.

This interaction between a given disease and popular culture sources is one that is interesting. Public figures such as basketball players and movie stars have the ability to shape both public opinion and political action. This action then determines the demand for what is represented in media outlets such as newspapers and, in our case, the Emory Wheel and Report. As we continue our research it would be beneficial to look at this progression of popular culture to public opinion to advertisements and article topics. 

[1]- Higgins, J. Rethinking Gender, Heterosexual Men, and Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. American Journal of Public Health. March 2010, Vol 100, No.3. 435-445. 
[2]- Allen, P.L. AIDS in the USA. The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 119-155

3 thoughts on “Public Awareness of Sexual Health

  1. I completely agree that having celebrity support for a disease increases public awareness. We can see it with Lance Armstrong and cancer or Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s. I don’t know how cognizant the public would be or how donations and research towards these diseases would change without big names to back it up.

  2. I also agree with you and Sumo that celebrity support is a key benefit in raising awareness of diseases. It is kind of sad that people sometimes only pay attention to things once a celebrity is associated with it. But we might as well take advantage of this. The media does have a lot of power to make a difference. And I would be interested to also find out the public’s reactions to certain advertisement and articles throughout history. It would be interesting to see how it changed over time.

  3. Kien bean: your post seems a little disconnected. On the one hand, you begin a discussion about how celebrities can raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and then you finish with a discussion about abortion in the 70’s. For a second, I thought you were going to say you found something where a celebrity endorsed abortion. Actually, there was a campaign that caused quite a stir centered on tshirts that said ‘I had an abortion’ ( The most “famous” person I could find wearing one in a quick google search is Gloria Steinem (very famous feminist, founder of Ms. Magazine). I wonder if any other famous folks wore them?

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