It’s an international cliché that France is the land of l’amour – or at least the land of le sexe – and that reputation does seem to be justified, given how often French public health bodies have turned to sex in an attempt to get their message across.
From the suggestive to the downright scandalous, here are seven examples of health campaigns which relied on that oh so French fondness for romance.
Get vaccinated, get laid
💉#VaccinationCovid | "Oui, le vaccin peut avoir des effets désirables".
Nous lançons une campagne de sensibilisation pour inciter et convaincre la population à recourir à la #vaccination
— ARS Paca (@ARSPaca) July 1, 2021
The Covid campaign in question was created by regional health authorities in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur region.
The poster which has got people hot under the collar features two very attractive and very French-looking people kissing, seemingly in the back of a cab after a night on the town. “Yes, the vaccine can have desirable effects,” it says.
The campaign has proved so popular that it will soon be expanded.
Promoting road safety
— Sécurité routière (@RoutePlusSure) February 12, 2021
— Sécurité routière (@RoutePlusSure) February 14, 2021
Earlier this year, the French Road Safety Delegation released a video ahead of Valentine’s Day, which showed a couple sharing an intimate moment in the bedroom.
The full 30-second video featured the slogan, “Life is better than one last drink for the road”.
Another image of two people kissing, seemingly without clothes, included the line, “Life, love. On the road, don’t forget what truly matters.”
Fight against HIV/AIDS
— Marisol Touraine (@MarisolTouraine) November 18, 2016
While the link between road safety and sex isn’t immediately obvious, less surprising are the references to intimacy in the health ministry’s HIV awareness campaign from 2016.
Each of the different posters shows two men embracing. Straplines include, “With a lover, with a friend, with a stranger. Situations vary, and so do the protective measures.”
The posters shocked conservative sensibilities, and several right-wing mayors asked for them to be taken down in their towns.
HIV awareness campaign
— Association AIDES (@assoAIDES) November 23, 2016
— Rozenn Mahé (@RozennMahe) November 24, 2016
Just a few days after the controversy over the ministry’s posters ignited, the non-profit AIDES launched its own campaign, and it didn’t hold back.
The posters showed scuba instructors, piano teachers and parachutists, all of them naked alongside their students. The slogan: “People undergoing treatment for HIV have a lot of things to pass onto us. But the AIDS virus isn’t one.”
“Even if we’ve been spreading this information since 2008, we realise that a lot of people don’t know that antiviral treatments prevent spreading,” head of AIDES Aurélien Beaucamp told France Info.
“People are still afraid of those who are HIV-positive.”
It’s common for sexualised advertising campaigns to be labelled pornographic by critics, but in 1998, the French government went a step further and created actual pornography.
The health ministry commissioned TV station Canal Plus to create five short erotic films to encourage the use of condoms and prevent the spread of HIV. The campaign featured up-and-coming directors such as Cedric Klapisch and Gaspar Noé.
“The only possible way to look at, to get people to protect themselves, is to show, show everything, show simply and without creating an obsession of the sexual act and the act of wearing a condom,” Klapisch said, according to an Associated Press story published at the time.
You didn’t really think we’d include images of this one, did you? (OK, here’s a link for those who are curious).
A controversial anti-smoking campaign
It’s time to forget what we said about romance, because there is nothing romantic about this 2010 campaign from the Droits des Non-Fumeurs (Non-smokers’ rights) association and the BDDP & Fils communications agency.
The campaign featured several images of young people with a cigarette in their mouths, looking up at an adult man who rested his hand on their heads. The cigarette appeared to be coming out of the man’s trousers.
The slogan said, “Smoking means being a slave to tobacco”. The association said the sexual imagery was meant to get the attention of young people who were desensitised to traditional anti-smoking messages, but the posters caused outrage, with members of the government publicly criticising the choice of imagery.
Celebrating LGBTQ+ love
🏳️🌈#17mai Journée mondiale contre l'#homophobie, la transphobie et la biphobie
➡️ Une campagne pour lutter contre les discriminations qui sont un enjeu de santé publique #JeFaisLaDifférence @egalite_gouv, @Sante_Gouv, @DILCRAH @SantePubliqueFr #FranceLGBT+ https://t.co/2vc9lEfCb0 pic.twitter.com/VaXh3plgKS
— SantépubliqueFrance (@SantePubliqueFr) May 17, 2021
On the other end of the spectrum is this very romantic video from the national health agency Santé Publique France. It was released on May 17th 2021, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and was part of a campaign against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. It is set to Jean-Claude Pascal’s Nous les amoureux
Showing a diverse range of couples kissing, holding hands, and healing each other’s wounds, the video ends on the word play: “In the face of intolerance, it’s up to us to make the difference.”