Hepatitis C health promotion and the anomalous sexual subject
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Research shows that diagnosis with the blood-borne liver disease hepatitis C can lead to significant changes in intimate relationships, including a reduction in sexual contact and avoidance of new relationships. This article examines hepatitis C health promotion materials and their treatment of sexuality and sexual transmission. The article analyses 21 Australian hepatitis C health promotion resources collected as part of research degree project exploring the interrelationships between hepatitis C, injecting drug use, HIV and the body. It uses the work of theorist Margrit Shildrick on the /`anomalous/' body, and a discourse analysis method, to understand these interrelationships and their metaphorical and symbolic implications. Our analysis shows that health promotion materials regularly present information about sexual transmission in ways likely to add to confusion and uncertainty about risk. Despite regular acknowledgements that hepatitis C is not a sexually transmissible infection, some resources place an inappropriately heavy focus on the possibility of hepatitis C transmission via heterosexual activity. Others contain mixed messages about the possibility for disease transmission through sex, at the same time enjoining hepatitis C positive readers to practise safe sex. We argue that these injunctions are linked to the ways that the resources figure people living with hepatitis C as intrinsically anomalous. In doing so, the resources run the risk of inadvertently naturalising stigma, anxiety and fear surrounding intimate contact. The article concludes by noting that agencies responsible for the delivery of health promotion need to carefully examine the messages they produce if they are to avoid creating uncertainty and anxiety about the implications of hepatitis C for sexuality and intimacy.
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