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Analysis of assumptions about risk behaviours in health promotion/health education pamphlets used in primary care and public health

Student: Josie Toop
Supervisor: Dr E W Plumridge

This summer studentship compared the assumptions about drunken sexual risk-taking found within health promotion pamphlets with those of adolescent binge drinkers and sexual 'risk-takers'. Analysis showed that health pamphlets were based on assumptions that sex in the context of a 'relationship' is self-evidently and obviously better sex than one-night stands or anonymous sex. Binge-drinkers however, did not make this assumption and thought anonymous sex a 'normal' result of partying. Pamphlets assumed 'risks' were risks to personal, physical safety, like unplanned pregnancy and acquiring STIs - all events that arose from private actions. However binge drinkers dismissed these in comparison with risks of public social ineptitude of not being able to hold one's liquor despite deliberate, spectacular consumption to excess. While different pamphlets made different assumptions about purpose of sex and the importance of celibacy, all assumed that their readers ideally wanted to be 'in control' of their drinking, and of their sexual encounters.

But the binge drinkers did not want this sort of control; they wanted rather to display 'control' in the sense of ability to hold their liquor however excess its level. This constituted 'fun' in their eyes. Pamphlets also contained contradictory directives, whilst others had scrambled selections of quotes with little interpretation. The high incidence of unsafe sex and unplanned pregnancy in New Zealand is a complex and multifaceted problem. However, possible suggestions include acknowledging the possibility that young people are more concerned about social spheres than personal, individual safety. Locating unsafe sex as publicly embarrassing rather than privately harmful to health, might threaten the 'ends' of fun that risk-takers value so much.