Health

Aboriginal sexual health

Sexual health practices for Aboriginal people need to be customised to match their culture. Condoman and the Aboriginal condom brand Snake are successful examples of such tailored approaches.

Selected statistics

25
Average age of Indigenous mothers in 2008, for non-Indigenous mothers: 30.1 years. [1]
21
Average age of an Aboriginal first-time mother. Same figure for all mothers: 28.2. [1]
3
Times the rate of chlamydia is higher among Aboriginal people compared to non-Aboriginal people. [5]
27
Times the rate of gonorrhea is higher among Aboriginal people, compared to non-Aboriginal people. [5]
80%
Percentage of sexually transmitted infections among Aboriginal people that were found in remote and very remote communities. [5]
51%
Percentage of Indigenous mothers who smoked while pregnant. 14% of non-Indigenous mothers do too. [1]
25%
Percentage of Aboriginal mothers having a caesarean. Same figure for non-Indigenous mothers: 31%. [1]
33%
Percentage of HIV positive Aboriginal people who are female. Same figure for non-Aboriginal population: 10% [5]. This is because there is more heterosexual transmission in Aboriginal communities.
5.9
Rate of HIV diagnosis per 100,000 Aboriginal people; same rate for non-Aboriginal people: 3.7. [8]
3…50
Times Aboriginal people are more likely to be diagnosed with an STI, compared to non-Aboriginal people. [8]

Barriers and challenges to Aboriginal sexual health

Sexual health is very important for Aboriginal people as well. But approaches to promote sexual health in communities need to be different for many reasons.

  • Language: Accessing sexual health services and information can be difficult in remote Aboriginal communities where English is a third or fourth language. In some communities, such as Maningrida, 400 km east of Darwin in North East Arnhem Land, there are 13 language groups [5].
  • Education: Many Aboriginal people don’t know the right questions to ask.
  • Fly-ins: Doctors and nurses visit communities for a couple of months only, and staff changes. Aboriginal people find themselves continually repeat their medical stories [5], which can be embarrassing.
  • Remoteness: 80% of sexually transmitted infections among Aboriginal people are found in remote and very remote communities [5] due to a lack of services and education.
  • Shame: For many Aboriginal people it is not easy to approach doctors or nurses due to the stigma attached to even going to a sexual health clinic.
  • Close relationships: In small communities it is quite possible that is was your aunty behind the counter of a sexual health clinic so you couldn’t be sure confidentiality was observed.

The Condoman campaign promotes the use of condoms in a fun way, targeted to Aboriginal youth. Snake condoms follows that lead and designed a campaign by Aboriginal youth for Aboriginal youth.

Aboriginal people over-represented for sexual diseases

Aboriginal people are more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially in remote areas. Health experts are concerned that these diseases are acting as a gateway to HIV. [10]

Figures for 2015 show that Aboriginal people are over-represented in sexual disease statistics: [10]

  • Chlamydia: Considered the most common STI in Australia, 9% of cases were recorded as Aboriginal.
  • Gonorrhoea:  Nearly 20% of all cases are among Aboriginal people, with a rate 10 times higher than the general population (and up to 72 times higher in remote areas).
  • HIV: While the general population’s cases are steady or declining, there were 38 new cases of HIV among the Aboriginal population in 2015, double the rate of the general population.
  • Syphilis: 16% of reported cases are among Aboriginal people, and their rate is on average 6 times higher than for non-Aboriginal people (but up to 132 times higher in remote areas).

Take care when you use the above statistics, as some of the data might not capture all Aboriginal Australians. Cases with an “unknown” Aboriginal status can be as high as 36%. [10]

Sexual health campaigns & brands

Condoman

Condoman is an Aboriginal male character who wears the colours of the Aboriginal flag to spread the message of safe sex and male responsibility for condom use.

He was originally conceived and developed in 1987 by a group of Aboriginal Health Workers in Townsville. They noticed that Aboriginal people did not get the message of the mainstream campaign.

Although Condoman was specifically meant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities his popularity over the years crossed over to the wider Australian population; and eventually to other counties in the South Pacific region. During the late 1980s and early 1990s he reached cult status and became a national icon for safe sex awareness for all Australians [6].

The Condoman character was part of a broader prevention campaign that targeted younger Aboriginal audiences. In an effort to overcome the cultural stigma against condom use, the Condoman proudly clutches a box of condoms and proclaims there is no reason to be ashamed. The image correlates masculinity and responsible sexual behaviour by challenging the appeal of promiscuity and suggests that safe sex is not a reason to feel embarrassed or disgraced.

In 2012 a female character, Lubelicious, joined Condoman. The comic “Condoman & Lubelicious” is a sequel to the popular Condoman comic, and the script was developed with input from Aboriginal people in Brisbane. The comic uses colourful illustrations together with culturally appropriate storylines to engage Aboriginal young people on the importance of condom use [9].

Critics of the Condoman campaign say that it “dumbs down” sexual education and that instead Aboriginal people should be taught about germ theory in their own language [7]. “Teaching germ theory and basic health literacy in the language of the people works, and works very well,” says Richard Trudge, chief of the Aboriginal Resource and Development Services. “It gives Aboriginal people real information about STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] and, at the same time, teaches them about many other diseases and illnesses that can affect their lives.”

To build upon the huge following of the comic book, and have an Indigenous superhero deliver sexual health messages in an interactive media format--featuring Indigenous voices and soundtrack--is a powerful and effective way to deliver these health messages.—Helen Travers, Director of HITnet which created the videos [2]

In 2009 Condoman was relaunched in comic book format with a new and modern design. In 2010 five video clips were made based on the comic book of Condoman.

Snake—An Aboriginal condom brand

Slogan of Snake condoms: Snakes are dangerous in the bush. On December 1st, 2008, an unusual website was launched. It promotes ‘Snake’ condoms in the colours of the Aboriginal flag: red, yellow and black.

“Snake Condoms is Australia’s first and only Indigenous-friendly, socially marketed condom brand.”

With teenage pregnancies five times higher amongst Aboriginal women and sexually transmitted diseases more prevalent in Aboriginal communities, Snake condoms hit a nerve.

The brand targets Aboriginal people with humorous, witty slogans like A trouser snake is the deadliest! (‘Deadly’ meaning ‘great’, ‘wonderful’, ‘excellent’) or Cover its head and it won’t bite you!.

The company’s website provides useful information on contraception, pregnancy and ‘sex stuff’ and reminds young Aboriginal people that ‘it’s okay to say no’.

Check out their website at www.snakecondoms.org.au.

Footnotes

View article sources (10)

[1] 'Indigenous mums give birth younger - report', Koori Mail 490 p.17
[2] 'Health Superhero has come to life', Koori Mail 485 p.79
[3] 'Focus on sistagirls for documentary', Koori Mail 493 p.45
[4] 'At home on the Tiwi Islands but doing it tough', Sun Herald, 1/9/2011 p.8
[5] 'Doing it Snake style', Koori Mail 496 p.36
[6] 'Condoman returns', Koori Mail 455 p.4
[7] 'Good education 'is a must'', Koori Mail 417 p.41
[8] 'Indigenous rates of infections rising', SMH 17/9/2015
[9] 'Condoman and Lubelicious (2012)', Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/key-resources/promotion-resources?lid=24647, retrieved 26/5/2014
[10] ''A national shame': Spike in Indigenous STI rates prompts call for urgent action', SMH 3/3/2017

Cite this article

An appropriate citation for this document is:

www.CreativeSpirits.info,
Aboriginal culture - Health - Aboriginal sexual health, retrieved 24 October 2017