Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

PrEP, Risk, and the Potential for HIV: The power of public health discourse in a post-AIDS world

PrEP, Risk, and the Potential for HIV: The power of public health discourse in a post-AIDS world

Corrinne Sanger

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a daily pill taken for the prevention of HIV and one of the newest tools developed by the pharmaceutical industry to help end the transmission of HIV among people considered to be at risk. In the U.S., HIV disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men, meaning they are often the target of these public health campaigns. How do these advertisements and public health campaigns create and reinforce the risk associated with being a queer man? And how might the power of PrEP advertising affect public beliefs and knowledge about gay and bisexual men in the same way that health messaging about AIDS originally stigmatized the queer community in the 80s? Through the use of linguistic anthropological theory and an analysis of current PrEP advertisements, this paper argues that the language of public health messaging surrounding PrEP, risk, and the pharmaceuticalization of prevention targeted towards gay and bisexual men creates discourse which has the power to reinforce hierarchies, stigmatize categories, and mold the subjectivities of men in the post-AIDS, seronegative, queer community. These advertisements, depicting imagery of gay and bisexual men, publicly identify seronegative queer men as potential sites for HIV transmission through messages that use slogans implying a “freedom” or “liberation” from the acquisition of HIV. This language places the responsibility for the continued spread of the virus directly in their hands and sends the message that queer men are not free from the stigma that came with the AIDS crisis, but newly relabeled through their potentiality for disease and the need to manage it.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Fascinating and yet reinforcing or even introducing the need for something is what advertisement is all about. It is very interesting that even something that is intended for good is promoted in a way that can have a negative wider impact.

    Comment by Shannon Yee | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  2. I think that you’re going to have a lot to contribute in this analysis of the combination of images, language, and context in these advertisements. You have a really useful lens to bring to this….

    Comment by Laura Sutherland | April 27, 2020 | Reply

  3. I’m really interested to read this one and am curious to see what your insights might mean to the current discourse on COVID and the subsequent social stigmas that are being constructed as a result.

    Comment by Juliette André | April 27, 2020 | Reply

  4. As others have commented, I am very interested in hearing/reading what you find, Corrinne. I also wonder about the use of militaristic language in these ads. It came to mind when reading “freedom” and “liberation” used to describe the actions individuals must take to “fight off” the potentiality of acquiring AIDS.

    Comment by Bethany Hedden | April 28, 2020 | Reply

  5. This is an important issue- how popular and targeted discourse can contribute to reinforcing stigma even in a “post-liberation” society. Glad you wrote this!

    Comment by Erin Stanley | April 28, 2020 | Reply

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