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Article

Queer Safer Sex Communication  

Kami Kosenko

Although communication scholars have been exploring the role of partner communication in sexual health promotion since the 1960s, the term safer sex, and its corollary safer sex communication, emerged in the late 1980s in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was and still is disproportionately affecting queer individuals. Numerous studies, along with some meta-analyses, point to the protective potential of safer sex discussions, defined here as the communicative management of health concerns with sex partners. Despite scholarly agreement regarding its importance, the term safer sex communication has received little explication, and much of what is known about it comes from studies with predominantly heterosexual samples. A review of the literature on queer safer sex communication points to some key issues related to age, race, trauma history, place, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and suggests important considerations for future research efforts.

Article

Gender as a Consideration When Designing Health and Risk Messages  

E. Michele Ramsey

Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group. Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females. While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country. The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.

Article

Memorable Messages in Families  

Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Ellen Jordan, and Jinwen Yue

Families are (one of) the first and most influential socializing agents of our lives. Among the innumerable messages family members convey to each other, a select few are regarded as “memorable.” Memorable messages are “distinct communication units considered influential over the course of a person’s life.” Those messages that are most memorable are typically brief, direct, oral messages delivered by a higher-status, older, and likable individual to the recipient during their teen or young adult years. Although memorable messages were initially regarded as having positive implications for the receiver’s life, newer research has provided space for the negative implications and perceptions of these messages. Nonverbal communication elements and relational contexts and qualities are influential to the receptivity of memorable messages. Although memorable messages often originate from a family member, the sources of memorable messages can also be friends/peers, teachers, coworkers, or, in some cases, the media. Research on memorable messages has been largely concentrated in health and interpersonal/family communication contexts; organizational and instructional contexts have also been explored. Memorable message research in families has focused much on health topics (i.e., mental health, sexual health, body image and weight), socialization (i.e., around school, work, race, other topics), and coping with hardship. In these studies, memorable messages have largely been investigated through mixed-method survey-based research, but also through purely quantitative (i.e., survey-based) and qualitative (i.e., interview) methods as well. This research has been largely atheoretical but has been grounded in control theory and, more recently, the theory of memorable messages and communicated narrative sense-making theory. Future research and practical applications of family memorable message research include informing health campaigns and family life education programming.

Article

The ACT2 Program and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in HIV and AIDS Clinical Trials: A Case Study in Health and Risk Messaging  

Marya Gwadz and Amanda S. Ritchie

It is well documented that African American/Black and Hispanic individuals are underrepresented in biomedical research in the United States (U.S.), and leaders in the field have called for the proportional representation of varied populations in biomedical studies as a matter of social justice, economics, and science. Yet achieving appropriate representation is particularly challenging for health conditions that are highly stigmatized such as HIV/AIDS. African American/Black, and Hispanic individuals, referred to here as “people of color,” are greatly overrepresented among the 1.2 million persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Despite this, people of color are substantially underrepresented in AIDS clinical trials. AIDS clinical trials are research studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of promising new treatments for HIV and AIDS and for the complications of HIV/AIDS, among human volunteers. As such, AIDS clinical trials are critical to the development of new medications and treatment regimens. The underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials has been criticized on a number of levels. Of primary concern, underrepresentation may limit the generalizability of research findings to the populations most affected by HIV/AIDS. This has led to serious concerns about the precision of estimates of clinical efficacy and adverse effects of many treatments for HIV/AIDS among these populations. The reasons for the underrepresentation of people of color are complex and multifaceted. First, people of color experience serious emotional and attitudinal barriers to AIDS clinical trials such as fear and distrust of medical research. These experiences of fear and distrust are grounded largely in the well-known history of abuse of individuals of color by medical research institutions, and are complicated by current experiences of exclusion and discrimination in health care settings and the larger society, often referred to as structural racism or structural violence. In addition, people of color experience barriers to AIDS clinical trials at the level of social networks, such as social norms that do not support engagement in medical research and preferences for alternative therapies. People of color living with HIV/AIDS experience a number of structural barriers to clinical trials, such as difficulty accessing and navigating the trials system, which is often unfamiliar and daunting. Further, most health care providers are not well positioned to help people of color overcome these serious barriers to AIDS clinical trials in the context of a short medical appointment, and therefore are less likely to refer them to trials compared to their White peers. Last, some studies suggest that the trials’ inclusion and exclusion criteria exclude a greater proportion of people of color than White participants. Social/behavioral interventions that directly address the historical and contextual factors underlying the underrepresentation of people of color in AIDS clinical trials, build motivation and capability to access trials, and offer repeated access to screening for trials, hold promise for eliminating this racial/ethnic disparity. Further, modifications to study inclusion criteria will be needed to increase the proportion of people of color who enroll in AIDS clinical trials.

Article

Perceptions of the Childfree  

Elizabeth A. Hintz and Rachel Tucker

Being voluntarily childless (i.e., “childfree”) is a growing trend in the United States and around the world. Although most childfree people know early in life that they do not wish to become parents, the decision to forgo having children is an ongoing process that requires childfree people to construct a life that deviates from the normative family life cycle. Increasing rates of voluntary childlessness is a trend spurred by a variety of shifting social, economic, and environmental factors. Yet despite the increasing normalcy of voluntary childlessness, childfree people (and especially childfree women) face social sanctions for deciding not to become parents, being broadly perceived more negatively than childless people (who do not have children but want them) and parents. Such sanctions include social confrontations in which others (e.g., family members) question or contest the legitimacy of their childfree identity. Media coverage of voluntary childlessness forwards the notion that motherhood and femininity are inseparable and that voluntary childlessness is an issue that primarily concerns and affects women. Furthermore, childfree people face discrimination in health care contexts when seeking voluntary sterilization and in workplace contexts when “family-friendly” policies create unequal distributions of labor for those without children. Members of the childfree community use the Internet to share resources and seek support to navigate challenging interactions with outsiders. Beyond this, although some studies have begun to interrogate the roles of geographic location, race, and sexual orientation in shaping the experience of voluntary childlessness, at present, a largely White, wealthy, able-bodied, cisgender, heteronormative, and Western view of this topic is still perpetuated in the literature.