OBJECTIVE: To review the evolution of health promotion for STD prevention. MAIN OBSERVATIONS: Information and education programmes were provided at the beginning of the 20th century to warn the public about the dangers of venereal infection and to support the medical model of case identification and case management under the care of qualified physicians. The public health approach offered advice about chemical, chemotherapeutic, and barrier prophylaxis, but avoided the issue of social prophylaxis. With the failure of antimicrobial agents to eradicate syphilis in the 1960s, rapid increases of viral sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and resistant strains of gonorrhoea in the 1970s, and the discovery of AIDS in the 1980s, alternatives to the traditional public health approach were sought and supported with a modest increase of resources. Three major innovations have been introduced to STD prevention as a result: social marketing, community involvement, and behaviour change programmes based on social and psychological concepts and theoretical models. CONCLUSIONS: Health promotion for STD prevention in the future will be characterised by careful assessments of the social and behavioural determinants of sexual risk taking, development and implementation of targeted interventions designed to reduce risk taking, and evaluation of social and behavioural interventions for improvements in STD prevention.
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