Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back From Vacation: Hello, Syphilis!

One of the campaign's comic strips.

Don't worry mom and dad, I don't have syphilis. However, syphilis is my favorite sexually transmitted infection, mostly because I love the words associated with it (syphilitic, chancre, tertiary) and I also love that anybody who's anybody in history who didn't die violently in armed conflict probably died of syphilis.

Syphilis has been on the rise for a while now in states as varied as Michigan and Vermont, and its made a huge comeback in cities like Houston and New York. According to my sources at the Austin Travis County Department of Health and Human Services STD Prevention Program, the syph is also on the rise here in Austin.

So I was overjoyed when reading Babeland's blog to discover that the San Francisco Department of Public Health has refreshed their Healthy Penis campaign devoted to identifying syphilis in gay men. Part of me has a hard time imagining gay men in San Francisco being persuaded to do anything by these cartoons but apparently the campaign has been a success.

Public sexual health efforts in San Francisco sometimes, if we're lucky, trickle down to the rest of the country so while I don't envision plush penises walking around Texas promoting STI testing, maybe San Francisco's cheeky, sex positive approach will have some effect on programs here. Here's an example: the Houston Department of Health and Human Services website--which contains no photos of genitalia or cartoon penises--displays the following warning at the bottom of the page:

This site contains HIV prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV is spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages on this site may address these topics. HIV prevention materials funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must be approved by local materials review panels. If you are not seeking such information or may be offended by such materials, please exit this website.

Gotta love Texas.

*For an interesting (but old) powerpoint on the history of syphilis, click here.

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