April has long been observed as Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Parkinson’s disease affects more than ten million people worldwide and the prevalence of sexual dysfunction is disproportionately high in patients. To help provide nonclinical strategies for people living with Parkinson’s, Havas Health Plus – part of the world’s leading health and wellness network, Havas Health & You (HH&Y) – and the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) have teamed up to launch the ParkinSex Booklet & Kit, which aims to help Parkinson’s patients and their partners improve their sexual wellness. Hear more from Allison Ceraso, President and Chief Creative Officer of Havas Health Plus.
How did you come up with the idea for this campaign?
ParkinSex was developed from layers of insight into the disease, and the community. Tremor, rigidity and stiffness are caused by lack of dopamine, which triggers “on” and “off” states. Dopamine is also a chemical released by the brain in response to pleasure. This, coupled with the fact that Parkinson’s Disease has one of the highest rates of sexual dysfunction, and is one of the most challenging diseases for sustaining a healthy relationship, lead us to… sex. But as we worked with the community, the APDA, and Dr. Sheila Silver, clinical sexologist and thought leader within the PD community, we realized it wasn’t only about sex. It was about intimacy.
Dr. Sheila Silver herself said “what happens with PD patients is they don’t want to do anything. If their body can’t do what they want it to do, they do nothing. By thinking about sex in a broader way, and being open to being physically close, that broadens the way they can feel emotionally and physically connected, and not just give up on physical intimacy entirely.”
What material is included in the ParkinSex Booklet & Kit?
ParkinSex addresses the physical and emotional needs of people with PD. The kit contents were selected to address issues like inhibition, rigidity, insecurity, mood and tension, with a booklet to provide strategies on how to use them. Items like feathers, massage oil, massage stones and a blindfold all align with these issues and are provided to help people ease back into intimacy to hopefully help symptoms of their disease, their relationship, and themselves.
How did you create the content?
The APDA allowed us in to their community, providing insight every step of the way. They brought in members of their community, specifically couples where one person was living with Parkinson’s, who were a part of the process from ideation to execution. The community was overwhelmingly supportive from the get-go, and consistently reinforced the need for this conversation to be elevated. They also informed content – additions, changes to the kit, as well as how we should describe them. They always brought us back to how important every item and notion should be as specific as possible to Parkinson’s. Additionally, we worked with illustrator Xaviera Lopez to ensure all depictions of people were agnostic of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation to make it a truly inclusive communication. We also made sure the kit was accessible in design; pull-tabs to lift all kit items, page-turn tabs for the booklet, and even a closed-captioned online version of the book anyone can access.
At Havas Health +, our team truly embraced the notion of Human Centered Design. Our team practiced empathy, learned from the diverse perspectives, recognized exclusion and made ways to solve for it. We challenged our control of product creation to allow for the community to co-design with us, which contributed to and enhanced our product design and offering. Howard Lenn, Doug Parrish, Ania Ermekarian, Jessica Schwartz, Taylor Early, Steve Cowles, Olivia Haveron and Aaron Wilson were the core team that worked tirelelessly outside of our day-to-day to launch this very real “passion project” – and together we got to learn so much about the needs of the PD community, as well the importance of intimacy in any relationship.
What have the results been for the campaign so far?
We launched our pilot on Valentine’s Day, and the kits sold out in 24 hours, with hundreds on the waitlist. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, with so many sharing their appreciation for finally being seen. They continue to recognize the importance of sexual wellness for people living with chronic illness, who tend to be marginalized. In addition to qualitative feedback, the media response was wonderful. We were featured in Parkinson’s Publications, Consumer publications, Podcasts and even within the design community recognized for inclusive design and applauded for elevating the conversation around sexual wellness.