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Watch the Soap Opera Series About HIV We Spent $3.1 Million On

Series includes instructional video about how to put a condom on a cucumber

soap opera
/ NIH
• May 6, 2016 4:58 am

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The National Institutes of Health has spent more than $3 million developing a soap opera series about HIV, which also includes an instructional video about how to put a condom on a cucumber.

"Love, Sex, and Choices" is a "soap opera video intervention" designed to convince women to get tested and use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. The soap opera follows the stories of characters Toni, Diamond, Valerie, and Keyanna.

The 12-episode series was created by researchers at Northeastern University and is currently being viewed by hundreds of women to see if soap operas can be effective at changing attitudes about safe sex.

Rachel Jones, an associate professor at Northeastern and principal investigator on the project, argued that the series can and is having a positive effect.

"I profoundly believe—and there’s research to support this—that there are a lot of pressures on young women to engage in sex and for that sex to be unprotected," Jones told the Washington Free Beacon. "The pressure to hold onto a relationship and the pressure to get a relationship can really trump concerns about healthy loving, and loving faithfully, and protecting oneself and one’s own sexual health. It’s put to the side when you prioritize a man’s needs and wants."

"There are some very fundamental things about that that we want to address," Jones said. "We believe that it’s very hard to promote sexual health until you first promote your love of yourself. And the concern and the prioritizing of your own self in a relationship. Whether it’s HIV prevention or prevention of sexually transmitted infections, the reduction of intimate partner violence, or just finding a happy path, the same lessons really do apply."

"So ‘Love, Sex, and Choices’ is a soap opera series that features four women, really archetypal relationship type of issues," Jones said. "Each of the four women are on a different path."

Hundreds are watching the series on their smartphones in a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health. Jones and her team are enrolling 10 women per week in the trial through Facebook, social media, and community meetings.

A pilot study between 2008 and 2012 that came up with the concept received $2,024,596. The project then received an additional four-year grant in 2015 and has received $1,109,603 so far.

The Free Beacon was given access to episode seven of the 12-part series. The opening scene features a woman giving her ex, the father of her child, oral sex.

The recap reveals that Keyanna knows her boyfriend is cheating because "he gave me chlamydia before." Dante is warned that Cassandra, the mother of his child, "be around mad dudes" and is "real loose." Dante confronts Cassandra in the opening scene.

"You know you’re hanging with someone who sleeps with any and everybody," Dante says. "When are you gonna stop bringing these dudes around my son, Cassandra? When are you gonna start taking care of your body, huh?"

"Well I don’t see you complaining when you get some of this," Cassandra replies.

Dante insists that they won’t sleep together anymore, but he can’t resist when she starts to give him oral sex as their child is playing in the other room.

The remainder of the episode follows Keyanna after going to a movie and dinner with her boyfriend, and Toni, who finally confronts her cheating boyfriend after refusing to believe her friend Diamond in the previous episode.

"You know he’s cheating now, so you have to use condoms with him," Diamond tells Toni.

The episode closes with a woman who serves as a guide for viewers, recapping lessons learned from the show. The viewer guide was added to the series after the pilot study found that "women got so involved in the char­ac­ters’ sto­ries that they ‘lost the messaging.’"

"Sisterhood is powerful," the guide says. "Toni finally listened to Diamond, that’s big. Toni made a choice, she could have kept her eyes closed but she took the car keys. She used her freedom to say, enough is enough."

Jones’s goal for the soap opera is to make all episodes available to the public online. For now, the public can get a taste of the series through trailers posted on the project’s YouTube page.

Diamond "knows what she wants" and "plays safe," but is starting to fall in love.

Toni has a child with her boyfriend, but can she "trust him?"

Keyanna is in an abusive relationship, with ups (he buys her Beyoncé tickets) and downs (he’s cheating on her).

Jones said she is proud of the way the series shows the "complexity of men" and avoids one-sided, stereotypical characters.

"Many of the men who have participated in either being an actor or producer of this work say, ‘It’s just the way it is,’" she said. "And so the responses to ‘Love, Sex, and Choices’ has been utterly positive."

The pilot project also produced a video titled "How to Use a Condom" featuring a "nice cucumber."

"We sisters really have to protect ourselves," a woman says. "We have children, issues, and all types of problems. Sex should not be a problem. It should be fine, honey. I mean fine."

"Passion Through Protection" was also produced during the pilot study and is not a part of the current study. The video shows a conversation between two women talking about how "women nowadays have so many problems with these men." The woman loves having sex with a man named Kalif, but decides that in the end she can make the choice to have protected sex.

Jones said participants in the new study can watch the series on their mobile phones and complete surveys online for the researchers to analyze. She said women watch the show and then go get tested.

"Women in substance abuse treatment love it, women out in the community with no substance abuse issues have had intense appreciation for the effect of the film and we’ve also seen the effect that it has on behavior, which is actually what we’re going to be evaluating is from baseline to six months later," she said. "They love the ‘Love, Sex, and Choices.’"

Published under: Health Care