Monday, January 15, 2007

Desperate need for better information

I confess -- I am a Desperate Housewives fan. I enjoy the sly humor, the send off of soap operas and cultural mores, and the friendship of the women.

But, I also really believe in the potential of entertainment media to inform and to educate people about public health messages. One of my favorite work days ever was the day that I took former Surgeon General Koop to Hollywood to meet with writers and producers about integrating HIV prevention messages into entertainment media.

So, I was distressed about last night's episode which included a subplot about two teenagers considering having sex and desiring to obtain contraception. The young woman put down condoms as ineffective at least three times during the program, and the teenagers reported that they needed parental consent to obtain birth control pills from a clinic. They also present condoms and the pill as either/or instead of both. There was a strong message about abstinence from at least one of the adults (and a wink wink message from another.)

Mark Cherry and the other writers did a huge disservice to its teen and adult viewers, and I hope they hear from public health professionals. The fact is that condoms are 97 to 98% effective against pregnancy if used correctly and every time, and highly protective against most (but not all) STDS. The 85% figure for pregnancy is closer to actual use, largely because people who say they use condoms do not always use them. And it's not true that teenagers need parental consent for birth control. I wonder how many teens and young adults might have been influenced by these messages NOT to go to a clinic and not to protect themselves by condoms.

Leading to desperate situations indeed.

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