Utah-themed condom wrappers will be destroyed; HIV prevention website reinstated

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Health) This undated photo provided by the Utah Department of Health shows condoms. The state of Utah was trying something new to fight HIV infections: handing out condoms with cheeky plays on state pride.

The Utah Department of Health will destroy all the packaging with provocative Utah-themed messages on thousands of condoms it has been able to retrieve from partner agencies, a spokeswoman said Tuesday evening.

At the same time, the state’s HIV prevention website is back up.

After a review of “all creative aspects of the ‘H is for Human’ HIV prevention campaign,” the campaign has been “reinstated,” department spokeswoman Jenny Johnson said in a news release. That includes the HIVandME.com website, which provides “information, resources, and support for those living with HIV, those at risk for HIV, or people trying to support a friend or family member living with the infection.”

The agency is still working to recall as many of the more than 40,000 themed condoms it had distributed to various community groups — as well as to three local health departments, the University of Utah, and the Utah AIDS Foundation — before Gov. Gary Herbert last week called a halt to the campaign.

A statement from the governor’s office said: “The governor understands the importance of the Utah Department of Health conducting a campaign to educate Utahns about HIV prevention. He does not, however, approve the use of sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign, and our office has asked the department to rework the campaign’s branding.”

[Read more: After recall of provocative condoms, Utah HIV prevention website has been taken offline]

Some of those condoms had already been given to individuals at high risk of contracting HIV, Johnson said, but some are still sitting in boxes at the respective agencies and should be sent back to the health department.

The cardboard wrappers riff on various Utah memes, with labels such as “Greatest Sex on Earth,” “SL,UT,” an image of a highway sign that displays the number of miles to towns “Fillmore” and “Beaver,” and “This is the Place” over a drawing of a bed.

The returned condoms with the suggestive messaging will be removed from their wrappers, which will be destroyed, Johnson said. The latex condoms will then be “redistributed to partner agencies as requested per normal procedures.”

Ahmer Afroz, executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation, bemoans the opposition to the controversial condoms.

“It was just a small part of the campaign,” Afroz said Tuesday evening, but it was a creative effort.

“We do have to get innovative in public health,” he said. “These packets got people talking, made [using] condoms more approachable and accessible.”

Afroz is especially pleased, though, about the return of the HIV prevention website.

The site is “a major component of the campaign,” he said. “It is reassuring to see it back on track and the campaign going forward.”

It is, Afroz said, “a great step.”