A worldwide awareness campaign is motivating young people to speak up about sex and join the fight against HIV
by Chip Alfred
It’s called Someone Like Me, a global youth engagement campaign conceived through a unique partnership between MTV International, the world’s leading youth entertainment brand, and Durex, the world’s number-one condom brand. An interactive multimedia project, Someone Like Me features rich content on-line, on the air, and on social media—all focusing on sparking a global conversation about sex and sexual health. The campaign is busting myths about HIV, offering straightforward information, and recruiting a new generation of young advocates to share their stories. “It’s only through frank, open and honest conversations about sex that taboos will be smashed and boundaries will be broken,” says Georgia Arnold, Executive Director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation.
Someone Like Me (SLM) is a social movement designed for young people to talk about their experiences, both good and bad—a conversation that says, “you are not alone” and that “someone like me” has the same questions, worries, and concerns about sex as you do. The campaign increases awareness of protection against STIs and HIV, all of which many young people believe are not relevant to them. It’s a platform that empowers young people to express themselves and drive change. The ultimate goal is that these young people will experience an HIV-free generation in their lifetime.
Besides offering expert advice on topics including safe sex, contraception, relationships, body image and the “first time,” SLM provides a forum for young people to share their feelings and fears about sexual relations. The project’s global ambassadors—known as the Global Crew—are creating thought-provoking blog posts and asking questions about the real issues that affect young people.
Everyone Else’s on MTV. On December 1, the campaign participated in World AIDS Day celebrations in Sydney, Shanghai, Singapore, Moscow, Berlin, Mexico City, and Bogota. Leading up to World AIDS Day 2014, a new video was introduced, Don’t Let HIV Outsmart You, and SLM took an unprecedented step by exclusively sponsoring the “Best Song with a Message” category at one of the world’s biggest musical events, the MTV Europe Music Awards (EMA) in Glasgow. Beyoncé took home the EMA for her “Pretty Hurts” song in this new category, which honors songs that stand for something and send a powerful message. “Pretty Hurts” details the difficulties in the beauty pageant industry, but also speaks volumes about real-life issues women face every day. These issues apply to young people around the world, and the campaign’s goal is to further educate as many people as possible.
With a global launch across digital channels, the MTV Staying Alive Foundation (MTV SAF) and Durex hope to build the someonelikeme.tv channel into the world’s largest peer-generated content hub for sex education. “For the past fifteen years, we have worked tirelessly to influence positive sexual behavior among young people around the world in creative and innovative ways,” Arnold remarks.
“At MTV SAF, we believe that this generation will change the course of the HIV epidemic. It’s not enough to simply provide information and hope it is consumed by young people,” she notes. “The only way to break down stigma, myths, and stereotypes that can shroud the truth around HIV is to get people talking and sharing their own knowledge and experiences on the platforms they use to communicate every day.” Social media is especially effective, because this is where young people talk to their friends, which enables them to express their views honestly.
Caroline Komanecky, twenty-four, a medical student at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, agrees. “I think this campaign is an effective means to portray sexuality in a more positive light. The social media pages are a great way to reach out to people and get more conversation going. Young people constantly hear about sexuality in a negative, preaching tone—don’t have sex before marriage; you will catch a disease and get pregnant; use protection! Until sexuality is embraced in a less taboo way, misconceptions and stigmas will continue to exist.” She adds, “I particularly like the blog posts. They’re a good way to bring the issues discussed to a more personal, relatable level.”
Here are a few excerpts from blog posts submitted by members of the Global Crew:
Alvaro talks about losing his virginity.
“I was 17 years old when I lost my virginity…I was very shy, and I needed to find someone I could trust, someone who would make me feel good about myself….Each and every person is different, and during our lives we’re all probably going to lose our virginity in different situations. The important thing is not to worry too much. If it feels right, let it happen.”
Ellie shares her feelings about choosing contraception.
“Choosing a form of contraception was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made….Two people are involved in sex and maybe it should be that two people are involved in the protection aspect too….A girl may be choosing contraception outside of a relationship, but I do believe that if the girl is in a relationship she shouldn’t be left on her own in this. It’s about responsibility and it’s not just a woman’s responsibility to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.”
Hannah Witton suggests how to improve sex education.
“I think sex education should start much younger so it’s made clear from a young age that sex isn’t something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. A lot of teachers don’t feel comfortable giving sex education classes, which then makes students feel embarrassed. I really believe that young people would benefit from having an external professional come in to talk to students about sex.”
Mark Pearson, Marketing Director for Durex, Europe and North America, describes the project as “part of our ongoing commitment to increase the relevance of Someone Like Me to more young people, moving into the mainstream arena, all year long. We believe extending the scale and scope of Someone Like Me will have a positive impact on young people.” If you look at the numbers, it seems that campaigns like this are making a difference. According to 2010 UNAIDS statistics, young people are leading the prevention revolution by taking definitive action to protect themselves from HIV. They are waiting longer to become sexually active, and are having fewer multiple partners. There’s an increased use of condoms among those with multiple partners, and HIV prevalence among young people is dropping in many key countries.
• HIV prevalence trends in sixteen countries show declines among young people fifteen to twenty-four years old.
• Declines are largely due to fewer new HIV infections among young people.
• There were declines of twenty-five percent or more in fifteen out of twenty-one countries most affected by HIV.
Promoting respectful relationships around the world is key to ensuring young people have happier, healthier sex lives,” says Volker Sydow, Global Category Director, Sexual Wellbeing at Durex. Someone Like Me has a unique opportunity to empower young people to drive the movement.”
For more information about Someone Like Me, log on to: www.someonelikeme.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/Joinsomeonelikeme; Twitter: @someonelikeme; YouTube: youtube.com/user/joinsomeonelikeme; Instagram: instagram.com/joinsomeonelikeme.
Chip Alfred interviewed a roundtable of five straight men living with HIV/AIDS for the December 2014 issue.