This Character Reminds Pokémon Go Players Not to Catch STDs
It’s been little more than a week since the release of Pokémon Go, and the game is being praised for helping scientists conduct research and getting millions of couch potatoes to go out exploring—all in the hopes of catching as many of the digital monsters as they can. The augmented reality smartphone craze has also been condemned for steering people to memorials, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, and for endangering public safety. (Seriously, folks, don’t fall off a cliff trying to catch ’em all.)
While the controversy over where and when it’s appropriate to try to nab Pikachu swirls, there’s one thing fans of Pokémon Go can probably agree on: Nobody wants to catch a sexually transmitted infection. That's where Kondommn, a character inspired by Pokémon Go, could help.
“It’s something that we created just for the Pokémon Go craze,” Rachel Cooke, the associate director of communications at the Washington, D.C.–based sexual health nonprofit Advocates for Youth, told TakePart. “Because we work with young people, we want to make sure we know the events and experiences that are affecting their lives. We try to be as on trend as possible.”
The organization, which trains young people ages 14 to 29 to help their peers make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health, posted an image of Kondommn on its Facebook page on Monday. It’s been shared nearly 13,000 times and liked about 4,600 times. Planned Parenthood posted the image on several of its Instagram feeds on Wednesday, resulting in thousands more likes. “It’s definitely the most viral content we have ever created as an organization,” Cooke said.
Engaging young fans of Pokémon Go isn’t just about getting attention on social media, said Cooke. It’s also about saving lives.
Youths ages 13 to 24 accounted for roughly 20 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young people ages 15 to 24 make up nearly half of the 20 million new cases of STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis each year, according to the Office of Adolescent Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The department’s website advises that “if teens are having sex, they should be using a condom correctly and with every sexual act.” But serious lectures about condom use aren’t always the best way to get the attention of youths, which is where the Kondommn character comes in.
“We’re really doing this because we want to reach young people in a fun and authentic manner. We know that if we can create a relationship with them, we can become a trusted source for them for a lot of sexual health services,” Cooke said.
That’s critical, because many young people either are not taught sex ed in school or attend schools that teach abstinence as the only option. As a result, the internet is their main source of information about sexual health, said Cooke.
“Young people are hungry for information. They want to know how to protect themselves and how to protect their peers,” she said. “We would rather have friends sharing information that is accurate and true, and we believe in honest and open communication with our young people.”
Although many have reacted positively to the Kondommn character, Cooke said some “have left comments online asking, ‘Why would you send this out to young people?’ and ‘Is this content appropriate?’ ”
For Cooke, those questions are indicative of the ongoing conversation that needs to be had about sexual health. “For sex ed you obviously want age-appropriate content, but not talking about condoms or not talking about sex is inappropriate. Not giving young people information that they need to live healthy lives is the inappropriate thing,” she said.