John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
The city’s public health department picked an unusual way to get people talking about safe sex.
Ah, December—a time when the wind turns bitter, the birds fly south, and the trees are heavy with condoms… wait, what?
Walking smack into a dangling pouch of prophylactics and lube was recently a risk for anyone strolling in Austin’s Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Several trees had become adorned with plastic baggies containing these bedroom items, as well as the word “FREE” and an outline of Texas, as if the Blair Witch had visited in a particularly randy mood.
“It’s just something creative, something unique and we are actually evaluating to see the effectiveness because we want to make sure the access is easy,” said Akeshia Johnson Smothers, HIV/STD program manager for the department....
“It’s not intended to be in your face or be demeaning or anything of that nature. It’s actually intended to provide there’s information for you to access education. Not just the safe sex tools. It gives you our Facebook website for you to go there and learn about who we are and what we do and why we do it. It’s more than just condoms. Look at it that way,” said Johnson Smothers.
However, some folks have chosen to look at it in other ways. As Redditors point out, the bags could easily become litter. One person wonders what effect the freezing nighttime temperatures might have on the condoms, and another questions what would happen if a miscreant messed “with the bags, like poked holes in the condoms or put anthrax or some shit in there.”
By Friday, the health department had decided to drop the initiative. “While we will continue to engage in both traditional and non-traditional outreach efforts,” it announced, “we are no longer engaged in this particular type of outreach."