Persuading People to Have Safer Sex: Applications of Social Science to the AIDS Crisis

Persuading People to Have Safer Sex: Applications of Social Science to the AIDS Crisis

Persuading People to Have Safer Sex: Applications of Social Science to the AIDS Crisis

Persuading People to Have Safer Sex: Applications of Social Science to the AIDS Crisis


Persuading People to Have Safer Sex offers a lucid, in-depth, student-friendly and academically thorough discussion of AIDS prevention and health persuasion. In so doing it provides an introduction to the ways that social scientific research can be brought to bear on a daunting health problem. Covering many aspects of the AIDS crisis, the book introduces readers to the severity of the AIDS problem and explains the epidemiology of the disease. It discusses why persuasion is so important, explicates cognitive theories of AIDS prevention, and notes the role emotions and communication play in safer sex prevention. It also discusses: *functions that unsafe sex plays in peoples' lives; *why people, notably minority women, frequently choose to engage in unsafe sex; and *social factors underlying the spread of AIDS in urban America and portions of Africa. As a resource for introducing students to the role that theory and research play in health communication and psychology, the volume is appropriate for use in communication, journalism, social psychology, and public health courses, and will be of value to scholars, researchers, and all who seek to understand the use of persuasion in changing behavior.


There is something tragic, horrifying, and (truth be told) deeply engrossing about human misfortune. Scholars have speculated that humans are fascinated by tragedy because it helps us deal with our own vulnerabilities and mortality (Goldenberg et al., 1999). We are at once intrigued, moved, and deeply saddened by tragic events, particularly those that happen suddenly, without apparent cause, and that afflict good people. Such is the case with AIDS.

AIDS occurred during a time when scientists thought they had won the battle against infectious disease—when we thought epidemics were events of the past. Epidemics were things that affected other people from earlier, less intelligent eras—not us, not our people, not today. Then AIDS struck and shattered these illusions. AIDS also reminded us that when it comes to death and disease we are not the rational, mature people we like to think we are. Instead, as human beings, we fall prey to worry, denial, prejudice, and in some cases hateful reactions toward individuals who have contracted the AIDS virus.

Life being complex, HIV/AIDS has also brought out the best in people. Individuals who have contracted the virus have shown courage—even nobility—in coping with disease. Family members have displayed unceasing love and dedication. At the same time, counselors, social scientists, and communication practitioners have shown compassion and wisdom in devising interventions to help people protect themselves against HIV infection.

So the story of AIDS is not a simple one. Nor is it one that is always marked by defeatism and depression. But it is a uniquely human story—one that fundamentally requires us to apply the powers of the mind to help master irrational fears, seemingly uncontrollable emotions, and sexual habits of the heart. These issues intrigued me as a persuasion scholar, and as someone who has long been interested in how people reason when they are experiencing strong emotions and how communications can influence people's thoughts and deep-seated feelings.

AIDS prevention appealed to me because it connected with these intellectual interests and offered me an opportunity to write an integrarive book on a topic that matters a great deal. I became acquainted with AIDS preventive communication in the late 1980s when I helped develop a campaign directed at injecting drug users and their sex partners. I maintained my interest and chose to broaden . . .

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