On the Road to Well-Being: The Development of a Communication Framework for Sexual Health

Adam Stellato and Jennifer Stephens, AIR
Susan J. Robinson and Megan B. Ivankovich, CDC, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Ann Forsythe, CDC, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
Susan Kirby, Kirby Marketing Sol

While many individuals in the United States are sexually healthy and experience positive, life-enriching relationships, diseases and life-threatening conditions related to sexuality and sexual behavior are a serious problem. This report, published in the peer-reviewed journal Public Health Reports in a special supplemental issue about sexual health, describes the results of AIR's research and testing about how best to communicate with the public about sexual health issues.

In general, audiences were most receptive to two value-based themes. The first emphasized the importance of protecting health through a series of good choices throughout one’s life, and the other called for adding health promotion approaches to traditional disease prevention control. The authors recommend these two themes be used as a starting point for tailoring messages to a specific context and audience.

Opinions on how to address sexual health issues are diverse, reflecting the wide-ranging values of individuals and groups seeking solutions. AIR worked closely with Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention to develop and test a new communication framework for sexual health.

A team of communication researchers and message development specialists, including consultants, led several activities to produce an effective, widely received communication framework for sexual health. The team

  • conducted environmental scan of academic literature and media coverage;
  • convened two consultations, one with CDC staff across sexual health programs and divisions, and another of leaders of diverse non-profit groups working in sexual health across the country;
  • developed messages to position sexual health in a positive, wellness-based framework emphasizing the common values and beliefs of all stakeholders; and
  • tested messages with advocates, academics, health care providers, and members of the general public, through a series of in-depth cognitive interviews and two web-based surveys.