If you don’t get checked for sexually transmitted infections, Sailor Moon is going to punish you, according to a threatening new Japanese public health campaign aimed at teenage girls and young women. Starring none other than Princess Serenity herself, Japan’s Ministry of Health hopes that Sailor Moon can prevent the spread of chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS, just as she stopped the destruction of the galaxy.
“If you don’t get checked out, I will punish you!” the poster reads, ending its statement with the Japanese character for yo, which emphasizes certainty.
According to Sankei News, the reported number of STI cases in Japan was 3,284 as of October of this year. That’s over a 2,000-person jump from 1990s statistics — one that’s oddly counterintuitive, given that recent Japanese survey data reports a strong lack of interest in sex and intimacy among the population. In 2013, 45 percent of Japanese women said they “were not interested in or despised sexual contact, and 25 percent of men stated the same.
Some have blamed the Japanese government for creating this pessimistic outlook on sex by only offering sex education that emphasizes the negative repercussions of being active. Now that the nation is sensing panic over its massive population decrease, the Sailor Moon campaign appears to be a shift in thinking, emphasizing the need for getting tested, versus not having sex at all.
And choosing Sailor Moon as the poster girl for the movement isn’t a bad idea. Studies have shown that using celebrity advocates can be a smart approach to public health — if they’re actually being used to back proper science. A 2013 scientific literature review in the BMJ found that there is a strong biological, psychological, and social basis explaining why people trust the medical advice of celebrities. They argue that psychological priming stems from herd behavior and the desire to avoid cognitive dissonance. People like mental consistency, and choosing to do the opposite of what your favorite celebrity asks of you can create mental discomfort.
“Their power can be harnessed to disseminate information based on the best available research evidence, or it can be abused to promote useless products and bogus treatments,” the researchers write. “A better understanding of celebrity can empower health professionals to take this phenomenon seriously and use patient encounters to educate the public about sources of health information and their trustworthiness.”
Will the fictional Sailor Moon have the same influence as, say, journalist Katie Couric, whose televised colonoscopy increased the number of colorectal cancer screenings in the United States to rise by 21 percent in just one month? If you consider her enduring popularity and influence, then it’s likely.
But going with the theme of “punishment” may not have been the best route. Studies have shown that among STI campaigns for young adults, humor-based campaigns were more effective than fear-based ones. As the United States is experiencing its own record STI and STD rates, it’s not a bad idea for the CDC to take inspiration from the Sailor Moon movement and replace Princess Serenity with someone more like Deadpool.