Category Archives: Activism

#TwitterWTF? Let’s change their condom stance

Social businesses who exists to normalize and improve public knowledge of safer sex are not allowed to extend their messages on Twitter.

Twitter’s ad policy is under pressure to change their convoluted and conservative stance against condom (and other contraception) promotion.

This week, Melissa White, founder and CEO of Lucky Bloke, sent a letter to Twitter owner Dick Costolo, urging him to take condoms off their blacklist. She also launched a petition for the public to get on board in ending this faulty policy.

This is the tweet that got Lucky Bloke kicked off the @TwitterAds program because it was deemed too sexually explicit. tweet-censored1

This hardly seems too sexual for daytime viewers! Twitter would not respond to White’s requests for more information. That was it. Her safer sex promotion went on complete lock down.

Unfortunately, we live in a time in which the clutches of puritanical fears continue to muffle public discourse around safer sex. Why haven’t we shaken this off by now?

#Tweet4Condoms because sexual care is health care and global health! http://bit.ly/LBpetition

We know that access to condoms does not entice young people to start fucking in locker rooms. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics- a very official authority on health) released a position statement last October arguing that condoms should be made available in public schools and other community venues. With the backing of numerous studies, they firmly state that access to condoms does not cause sex. To be clear, it increasing the chances of young adults practicing safer sex. In fact, as Amanda Marcotte reports, nearly half of the studies cited by the AAP show that kids who have access to condoms and condom education have sex later than kids who do not have access.

So what does this have to do with Twitter? Their block on condom advertising and messaging stems from this cultural shame we’ve constructed around sex. Consequently, instead of being a platform to discuss and support safer sex messaging, Twitter reinforces stigma of condoms usage.

[UPDATE: More sexual health businesses and organization have spoken out about their struggle with Twitter's policy, including The STD Project and Bedsider]

Lucky Bloke isn’t alone of course, as Twiter’s blockade is far-reaching and unconditional. The company Momdoms explained that their custom product for condom storage has also been deemed “too x-rated”, making it virtually impossible for Momdoms to share their videos and promotions to a wider audience. They showed Condom Monologues a copy of Twitter’s notification. It’s the same message Lucky Bloke received: “Your company is ineligible.”

Join Us!
stop_censorship1

Let’s show Twitter that condoms are perfectly normal, lovable item, and essential health items. Not something to exclude from public space! Visit this Action Page to share images, tweets, and links to your friends and networks.

How Young Gay Men Are Changing the Meaning of Swag

The term “swag” is generally used to describe someone of confidence and respect. A group of young guys from ASCNYC’s mPowerment program have revamped this meaning to make people recognize that taking care of your sexual health is fundamental to respect. This post is about S.W.A.G.

Members of S.W.A.G.

SWAG guys making safer sex sexy, handing out condoms and lube and talking to folks about knowing their HIV status.

Sitting in a New York bar or night club you may be lucky enough to chance upon the lively SWAG Mpowerment – a group of 19 – 29 year old gay and bisexual guys who are on a mission to normalize HIV prevention and safer sex. They jump bar to bar in a sort of flash-mob way, passing out condoms, lubes and information pamphlets about HIV testing. You might even get a free candy.

“It’s a really effective way to get condoms out there,” says Lance, one of the members of SWAG. “Sometimes people will be really curious and ask questions and that starts a dialogue which can lead to a person in another day or two getting tested at the agency.”

That agency is the ASCNYC which initiated SWAG Mpowerment five years ago as part of their outreach to reduce HIV transmission among YMSMs (Young Men who Have Sex with Men). Young gay and bisexual men between the ages of 13 – 24 are the hardest hit by new infections in the United States today.

What’s different about SWAG- which stands for “Sexy With A Goal”- is that, instead of focusing solely on individual risk behavior, the project addresses wider interpersonal and social issues identified by the group volunteers and coordinators themselves; issues like asserting safer sex, self-esteem, homelessness, racism, homophobia, education and employment pressures. All aspects which directly and indirectly impact young gay men’s abilities to consistently know their status and take care of their sexual health. As Guy Williams, Assistant Director of Prevention at ACSNYC explains, “SWAG is like family for a lot of the guys because they can’t really be themselves around other family and friends” due to deeply rooted stigma of being gay. SWAG is a safe sex-positive and fun space for these young men to forge meaningful friendships and take on community issues that impact them most.

Over our phone interview, Williams explained that their condom distribution strategy came about through a series of rejections by bar and club owners who didn’t like SWAG’s proposal to set up an information table in the bar and hand out condoms to patrons. “Many bar owners said ‘Nah, that will kill the mood because patrons come in to have a good time. They don’t want to talk about HIV,” Williams describes. “So what SWAG decided was, well, if we just run into clubs and bars quickly and just hand out condom packs and leave than we didn’t need the owner’s permission.”

This is just one of their many project activities. Along with weekly meet ups and educational outreach, SWAG members organize pro-gay events ranging from talent shows to more serious affairs like taking on New York State congress by speaking with policy makers about the dire need for funding to support young gay men. SWAG has also produced this “Why Safer Sex Is Sexy” video.

Throughout June, which is Gay Pride Month, SWAG is launching a weekly event series titled “The 50 Shade of Gay”. Gay porn stars will come in and talk with young men about HIV prevention in the porn industry, such as HIV testing practices, safer sex negotiation, and “sero-sorting” they face in the industry. They’re also launching a video in June that crushes one-dimensional gay stereotypes. Members will tell and represent their own stories of what it means to be gay and share their video across the internet.

As William explains, SWAG Mpowerment is about addressing HIV status, testing and prevention, but “doing it in non-traditional ways that are not always talking about HIV. That’s why we are always trying to do fun and inventive stuff to support each other.”

SWAG is always open to new members and volunteers. They are also searching for volunteer sex educators who have experience teaching and demonstrating condom usage. They meet Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays between 4:30 and 6:30 at 85 University Place, 5th floor, New york, NYC, 10003. For more information, contact Guy Williams [email protected]

Shout out! New Collaborations in HIV Advocacy

New relationships of advocacy are vamped. Lara, an editor of Condom Monologues, explains what’s in store to help creatively support the HIV Disclosure Project.

Gay Pride, Toronto, 2011. Photographer Wayne Bristow. Posted with permission.

Gay Pride, Toronto, 2011. Photographer Wayne Bristow. Posted with permission.

Hi there! As an editor at Condom Monologues writer’s collective, I am excited to announce my collaboration with the HIV Disclosure Project. I will be actively involved in their social media, mostly on Twitter (@sexpartnersHIV), helping promote their blog, their campaigns and continued dialogue with HIV networks and allies. I’ve teamed up with them because I fully support their work to re-frame the way HIV impacts interpersonal relationships.

The HIV Disclosure Project is

…designed by and for the HIV community to work through obstacles that prevent people living with HIV from disclosing their status to potential sex partners. Drawing from various tools in theater, humor, storytelling, photography and more, the project functions to address stigma that takes place on the dating scene. Everyone works together to educate the public and change perceptions of people living with HIV.

What we want is a world in which every HIV disclosure to sex partners is received with acceptance, understanding and tolerance.

Emphasis on story and lived experience is what bridges The Disclosure Project and Condom Monologues. Condom Monologues is a growing archive of personal narratives and story illustrations made collaboratively with the storyteller and graphic artists. As a collective dedicated to sex education through real life storytelling, I feel this partnership will sharpen Condom Monologues’ focus on HIV awareness and open our platform to respectfully listen to the concrete realities of managing stigma, disclosure in the dating scene, and navigating safer sex options without fear.

Watch Out For New HIV Public Messages

Also newly on board the HIV Disclosure Project is Wayne Bristow – HIV advocate, blogger for PositiveLite.com, Canada’s best online HIV information magazine and he is their social media coordinator. He has taken part in two of the CTAC Positive Sex – Train the Trainer workshops and recently facilitated one where he trained some of his peers through community engagement. Emanating such passion and advocate spirit, Wayne is an invaluable asset to the HIV Disclosure Project. He is currently planning the video production of HIV public service announcements for the HIV Disclosure Project. In his spare time Wayne is a hobby/freestyle photographer.

If you are interested or have questions about the video project contact [email protected] 

I am excited to help support and engage in such a crucial and progressive movement. Let’s keep the dialogue expansive and inclusive. Meet you on twitter!

Lara
Editor & contributor @CondomMonologues.com

12 Reasons to Love Female Condoms

Today is the day to celebrate possibly one of the most important inventions since humans started having sex!

Global Female Condom Day (#GFCD) is taking place in over 50 countries across the world to raise awareness and tackle misconceptions about this safer sex option. This is crucial because it is the only protection of its kind that puts power in the hands of the receptive partner and prevents against both STIs and pregnancy.

Learn how to participate in this day of action by going to http://www.nationalfccoalition.org/gfcd

Use this as your facebook cover page for the day. Learn more about how to participate by going to www.nationalfccoalition.org/gfcd

In North America, most cities will celebrate through community outreach and other educational activities. The makers of FC2 (the Female Health Company) have launched a text messaging program to help locate female condoms in the local area. People can text FC2condom to 877877 to find the nearest location to buy female condoms.

Some cities are also launching film screenings of the winners of the international “Female Condoms Are…” Festival. You can view these short films on PATH’s YouTube channel. Or you can vote for a fan favorite here.

Why is there #GFCD?

Despite being around for two decades, the female condom (aka “internal condom”) continues to live in the margins. It is rarely taught about in public school sex education and is not as readily available at local grocery stores like its male counterpart. Access and demand are two major challenges. In our email interview with Sarah Gaudreau, Project Director of the Washington AIDS Partnership’s Female Condom Initiative, she explains that the higher cost of the female condom won’t go down until there is a greater demand or a competitor. In this regard, there may be a competitor very soon if the FDA approves the Origami condom (undergoing human trials now).

As for access, many health organizations and grassroot activists are pressuring local pharmacies, community clinics and health departments to carry female condoms. This action is desperately needed because currently only select Walgreens have committed to stocking female condoms nationwide, but even then not all stores carry them.

FC2-packshot1

You can buy FC2 in packs of 3 online and from select Walgreens stores. Our personal review of FC2 coming soon!

Still, making condoms more accessible isn’t enough. In order to confront fears and apprehensions that accompany any new technology, there has to be information sharing and more conversations surrounding female condoms. Increasing demand means talking with potential partners and friends about female condoms- how and when they get used, and how to use them in ways that enhance sexual experience. This is why distribution initiatives like the Washington AIDS Partnership in collaboration with the Health Department, and generously funded by the MAC AIDS Fund, aimed to get the conversation going by handing out condoms in social places like barber shops, beauty salons, clothing stores and liquor stores. Learn more about the initiative from this NPR interview.

To commemorate this day of awareness, we wanted to help tackle these fears and misconceptions by highlighting all of the amazing and important advantages that the female condom offers. We’ve come up with 12. Feel free to add more in the comment section below.

1) It can be inserted hours before sex! No erection needed.

The design on an internal condom opens the door to a whole new world of safe sex. No interruptive “wait, let’s find a condom” moment. No fumbling to stretch one over the penis in an attempt at foreplay. And, perhaps most importantly, the receptive partner can be preemptive and put one on without negotiating protection in the first place.

gif man and women

2) Negotiation power is altered.

The receptive partner can take control of their safety independently.

A number of health organizations in North America and abroad have been working to increase access to female condoms for sex workers and communities with high HIV infection rates, where use of traditional roll-on condom is low despite abundent availablilty.

Yaaaaah

3) Increases female sexual pleasure.

Contrary to many first impressions, this device can actually enable sexual pleasure rather than dull it. In our interview, Sarah Gaudreau highlights a yet unpublished study from Washington D.C. that found women were more likely to orgasm with a female condom than with a male condom. Some women even reported multiple orgasms.” transfer body heat immediately. Also, the outer ring is this soft rolled material that fits over the outer lips and rubs the clitoris, which can function as an added

female pleasure

4) Helps you know your body better.

Some women have compared their first experience with the female condom to learning how to use a tampon. Greater awareness of one’s body is intrinsic to personal agency. The female condom can help women be in control and responsible for their pregnancy and STI prevention.

dancing friend

5) May be used for anal sex (but it is not FDA approved for this use).

No condom (male or female) currently available on the market has actually been tested for protective anal sex (in fact, only until this year has the first FDA testing for protective anal sex ever taken place). Despite the fact that the Female Health Company does not advocate using FC2 for anal sex because it is not FDA approved for such use, there are still men, women and transgender folks who do use it for these needs.

i'm so happy i deserve this

6) May be used for oral sex.

Protective cunnilingus is another benefit that the female condom offers but of which it has not been officially tested for. Gaudreau explained in our interview that some prefer using the FC2 for oral sex. “The outer ring helps keep the female condom in place and this allows hands-free operation. With a dental dam, you have to hold it in place.” Furthermore the FC2 has no flavor or lingering latex after taste, so some prefer it to male condoms or dental dams.

oral sex

7) One size fits all.

The female condom forms to the internal walls of the body, not the penis. This means that the size of the condom (and penis) is irrelevant, so that knocks off a list of popular excuses not to wear a roll-on condom. As Gaudreau explains, female condoms can be a better alternative for some men.

“The size of a man’s penis has no impact on the FC2 [female condom]. The FC2 is larger because as it warms to body temperature, it lines the vaginal walls which in turn provides a very natural feeling. We hear from many men that it feels like they are not using any protection at all which they like. I guess if a man can’t find a male condom that fits, the FC2 is a great option as it fits the woman’s body and not the man’s.”

dancing couple

8) Effective dual protection against pregnancy and STI transmission.

This is an obvious advantage, but we had to emphasize just how effective condoms are at prevention. With consistent and correct use, the female condom is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy and transmission of many STIs. This makes it one of the top most effective methods of birth control and STI protection.

Furthermore, because the outer ring covers some of the labia and perineal region it can be more effective than male condoms at preventing skin to skin transmission of STIs such as genital warts, HPV and herpes.

sucessful encounter with a man

9) It’s non-hormonal with no side effects.

A recent article in NYMag discusses a curious decrease in hormonal birth control preferences among the Millennial generation. More and more young women are ditching the Pill and favor methods that don’t effect periods, cause weight gain or depression.

The female condom comes with no hormonal side effects. Also, it doesn’t require an appointment with a clinic or a prescription. You can easily buy female condoms online. In the United States, select Walgreens supplying FC2. They are also available at local HIV/AIDS organizations and family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood. If your local pharamacy or clinic doesn’t carry them, ask them to!  Here are sometalking points (pdf) to help you initiate the conversation.

excited on bed

10) It’s hypo-allergenic.

The FC2, the only internal condom currently available in North America, is made of nitrile polymer, a material similar to latex in softness and strength, but better because it does not have that funky latex scent or latex allergens. Furthermore, it transfers body heat more efficiently which heightens sensitivity and feels more natural.

monsters inc

11) Water-based, oil-based & silicon. FC2 is compatible with all lubes!

Lubricant is an important companion and it’s even better when you have variety of choice. Unlike latex condoms, the FC2 is compatible with all your favorite lubes including oil-based ones.

freshprince

12) It’s another option.

The more choices available to you the easier it is to pick and choose what is the best safer sex method for yourself in different circumstances throughout your life. Gaudreau states,

“It’s important to note that people (women and men) want more choices. Female condoms are not going to replace male condoms and that’s okay. But having more options is good. Studies have shown that having both male and female condoms as an option increases protected sex and that’s always great!”

i'm so excited

Everything You Need to Know

To learn more about female condoms, including how to use them and where to buy them go to the National FC Coalition. Click for information about Global Female Condom Day and activities near you, as well as many simple and innovative ideas for how you may participate in #GFCD. Send out a tweet, vote for an awareness video, contact your local pharmacy about supplying female condoms.

Gifs credit to gifsee.com

Youth-Made Announcements The Public Must Watch

The three videos presented here are like no other sexual health messages shared on prime time TV. They were made by HIV-positive youth from the Young Adult Program (YAP) at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals’ Spencer Cox Center for Health. This video initiative, designed and facilitated by the consultancy group Connected Health Solutions Inc., has turned top-down approaches of traditional PSAs on its head.

Just “wear a condom every time”

For those of you who can’t remember, public service announcements (PSAs) from the late 80’s to ‘90s predominantly involved high profile personalities like Magic Johnson and Whoopie Goldberg telling you to “wear a condom every time”. Here’s young Whoopie (nostalgia!).


Babies with Hiv and Aids 1990s by NoHivNoAids

Some of these messages were groundbreaking for the time. Others were not so effective. In our interview with the founders of the HIV Disclosure Project, we discuss how early HIV awareness campaigns were based on fear, pushing condoms as the only option to avoid death. These messages were vague. They obscured real-life information about the different degrees of risks and how to manage those risks with options suited for the individual or relationship. You certainly didn’t see Growing Pains’ Kirk Cameron speaking about “fluid-bonded” couples, or how oral sex is risky for some STIs while less risky for others. Consequently, 30 years into the HIV pandemic, STI stigma and misconceptions about transmission are still perpetuated today.

But there is hope. The Young Adult Program (YAP) at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals’ Spencer Cox Center for Health in partnership with Connected Health Solutions, Inc. (CHS), have changed mainstream top-down approaches of PSAs. They’ve cultivated a safe and critically reflective space for youth to produce their own public health messages. Upon contacting the project for an interview, however, I learned that their collaboration has been forced to stop due to loss of funding and state budget cuts.

#SpreadTheWordNotTheVirus

Depressing as this is, some of the youth who made the videos below are in the process of organizing an Indiegogo campaign to help continue the program. And not without celebrity pizazz and support from DJ Caroline D’Amore (whose mother died from AIDS-related causes). Watch this space for updates: SpreadTheWordNotTheVirus. And follow CHS facebook page.

YAP and CHS behind the scenes film production of "It's Not Just a Guy Issue" PSA.

YAP and CHS behind the scenes film production of “It’s Not Just a Guy Issue”

A New Era of PSAs

CHS has been working with at-risk youth from YAP for a couple of years. What’s novel about their work is in the production process. They collectively produce online PSAs that address issues relevant to the participants. Kenny Shults, president of CHS, explained in an email that over a period of a few month, participants would run through a series of group exercises all geared towards thinking critically about a social issue (such as HIV stigma) and develop an effective script. “We then spend about a month working together to complete all of the pre-production activities such as casting, props, locations, etc. and fine tuning the script. Then everyone shows up to the shoot (1 day per PSA) to make a movie. It is an incredibly fun, interactive, educational, and inspiring process,” Kenny explains.

What results is a number of original and thought-provoking messages. The PSAs presented here were made by HIV positive young adults from YAP. The first video conveys the message that people living with HIV can give birth to and raise healthy children, have a healthy family and lead fulfilling lives. Kenny highlights this video in particular, stating:

…a number of the youth who made the “Happily Ever After” campaign are now taking their meds after making this piece. One young woman says: “Every time I take my pill in the morning I picture Emma’s face” (Emma is the name of the actress in that PSA). We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

This is precisely the point. The significance of the workshops is not the glossy quality of the final product; rather, it is the process which matters most. Making a short film by and for the very population it represents, and finding a collective voice together cultivates a transformative power from within. Participants complete the PSA with a critical, self-reflective understanding of the issue and the social structures and institutions that influence such an issue. In effect, the participants’ attitudes have positively shifted.

The second PSA, “One Condition”, tackles HIV stigma by asking the audience “What would you do?” in the situation of HIV disclosure. It’s an important PSA because not nearly enough people understand that HIV is a manageable disease. Advancements in treatment mean that risks of transmission have changed dramatically, and so too must people’s attitudes and fears.

For more about the workshop process and theories that underpins their approach, read the company’s statement and Kenny Shult’s article at The Good Man Project.

What do you think of these PSAs? Do you feel they successfully address a lack in public discourse about living with HIV? What messages would you like to see more of?

An effective condom message

I end with this last video about the importance of safer sex. Unlike the PSAs of the 1990s, this video addresses real obstacles (like embarrassment of buying condoms) and conveys real choices. It offers an alternative ending to another video about condom use and brings light to the forgotten option of female condoms. We follow a guy throughout the day as he prepares for a date, yet at each point that a condom presents itself he is too embarrassed or uncomfortable to pick one up. When the moment comes he is unprepared. Lucky for him, condom use isn’t just a guy’s responsibility.

To view more videos campaigns made with CHS by teens, LGBTQ folk, high school bullies and more, check out the My Media Life playlist by CHS.

Protest Unjust HIV Prosecution! July 8th

On July 8th a woman is put on trial for aggravated assault (one of the most serious offenses in the criminal code) because she did not disclose her HIV status to her sex partner. In Canada, people living with HIV are legally required to disclose their status to their partner before having “sex” that involves “significant risk” of transmitting the virus (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network). However, the law has prosecuted numerous cases in which sex posed no significant risk of HIV transmission, including the July 8th “JM” trial. Justice is being mismanaged.

The law has not kept up with scientific advancements and understanding about risks of HIV transmission. Courts do not routinely considered important information about exposure such as whether the person was taking antiretroviral treatment, what the person’s viral levels were at the time, whether protective barriers were used, and what sexual act occurred, as some involve less risk than others.

Support JM & Protest on July 8

According to activists at AIDS ACTION NOW, the charges of “JM’s” case refer to “oral sex with an undetectable viral load” and despite the extremely low risk (almost zero percent) the court “is refusing to drop the oral sex charges”. She is also being charged for allegedly engaging in unprotected vaginal sex. However, her viral load was “undetectable at the time and she claims a condom was used”. Read the full statement by AIDS ACTION NOW.

There will be a protest against unjust prosecution of people living with HIV at the courthouse in Barrie, Ontario at 13:00 on July 8th. For more info visit the event Facebook page or contact [email protected].

Image from documentary film, Positive Women, Executive Producer Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Available to watch online.

Image from documentary film, Positive Women. Directed by Alison Duke; Executive Producer Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Available to watch online.

Want to learn more?

The issue of HIV disclosure is so complex and poisoned by stigma. One can live a happy, sexual life living with HIV. Yet this is seldom represented or discussed in public discourse. More stories need to be shared about peoples’ experiences with disclosure and being prosecuted.

We’ve launched a series of monologues about different experiences with HIV disclosure and safe sex, such as Virgina’s letter to her sex dam. Our interview with folks at the HIV Disclosure Project (Why Not Have Sex With Someone Living W/ HIV?) describes how people who disclose their status put themselves against enormous risks including risk of verbal and physical abuse, risk of rejection and isolation, risk of discrimination by being “outed”, and violations of basic human rights.

There is an important 45 minute documentary, Positive Women, which is free to watch. The film explores how the law of HIV non-disclosure actually fails to protect women and reinforces discrimination against people living with HIV.

For more information about HIV disclosure and criminalization visit Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Why Not Have Sex With Someone Living With HIV?

 “Positive Sex ideally would involve disclosure being met with acceptance and understanding, not rejection and stigma. Positive Sex would involve the elimination of terminology that is discriminatory on the dating scene and a shift within the public whereby people would consider dating a person living with HIV, without fear or stigma.”- Gail from the HIV Disclosure Project.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s led to a surge of condom campaigns. Now when we hear the term “safe sex” we immediately associate it with male condoms, the Pill, unwanted pregnancy, STIs. HIV transmission is discussed in sex education, but what’s neglected are the specifics about HIV as it is today: how it is manageable, what “undetectable” means, why terms like “clean” are harmful, what the hell is PReP (Pre Exposure) and PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). And we certainly never discuss the possibility of having a healthy sexual relationship with a person living with HIV.

The reason is because, frankly, there is still fear associated with the virus. People like Gail, Jessica and Jolene, founders of the HIV Disclosure Project, know that HIV stigma persists just as it did 30 years ago. It permeates our fears of “death, dying, contracting the virus through protected sex, casual contact, fear of dating a person who is living with HIV as others may think they are positive as well (guilty by association). Fear that people living with HIV are highly contagious”, Gail describes in our interview. “Many people know the facts about transmission and yet are afraid that there might be some “unusual” accident which will lead to infection.”

The Stigma Cycle

Safe sex messages have traditionally been built on fear and as a result, the campaigns have failed miserably; from that fear is born stigmatization and prejudice against people who are HIV-positive. People who choose to disclose their status risk being verbally and physically abused, risk rejection and isolation, risk discrimination by being “outed” (loss of control over who knows their status), risk discrimination in the workplace, schools, with housing, health care and violations of basic human rights. People are deterred from getting tested and treated regularly; it results in silence about one’s status; thus the virus continues to be transmitted. “It’s what we refer to as the Stigma Cycle,” Gail explains.

To fight the stigma born out of fear, the HIV Disclosure Project facilitates open discussions about how to make the dating scene more inclusive of people living with HIV. “We provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people living with HIV to role play, practice a variety of techniques for disclosing if they choose to, while aiming to empower individuals to have options, externalize stigma and challenge public perception of people living with HIV. We want to have PSAs (public service announcements) that ask the question – Why not have sex with someone who is living with HIV?”

HIV DisclosureThe HIV Disclosure Project

The idea for the Project started with three colleagues- Gail, Jessica and Jolene -who saw a need for a supportive workshop where people living with HIV could “discuss, disclose, practice disclosure, find comfortable and timely ways to gauge when to disclose or not, and to process feelings that derived from stigma and rejection,” Gail says.

“People living with HIV also needed a space where they could challenge and change dating terminology which perpetuated stigma and fear of HIV, including terms such as “clean”, “disease free” and “dirty”. New terminology was needed to describe one’s status that excluded negative connotations and included acceptance, tolerance, and a willingness to consider dating a person who is living with HIV.”

At the time, there were no written manuals on disclosing HIV to sex partners. Granted funding from ACCM (AIDS Community Care Montreal), the three colleagues wrote a manual titled “Positive Sex” and designed a pilot workshop that resulted in much success. The Disclosure Project received further funding from the CIHR (Canadian Institute on Health Research) through CTAC (Canadian Treatment Access Council) where Jolene works as Program Manager. Workshops are now being implemented across Canada in collaboration with ACCM. Jessica facilitates these workshops.

I asked Gail how we might de-stigmatize sexual relationships for people living with HIV. The answer might seem controversial but it reflects upon the fear tactics that are often utilized in government supported sex ed programs and why we need to adopt Positive Sex frameworks in public health.

“What needs to be reinforced in the mainstream are the basic facts about HIV transmission and repeated public service announcements and education which tells the public that it is socially acceptable to have safe sex with a person living with HIV, that having sex with a person living with HIV does not mean they are going to contract HIV. There are many sero- discordant couples who have been in long term relationships where the HIV negative person remained negative.”

“Positive Sex” is the new “Safe Sex”

Image from http://www.ctac.ca/positive-sex

Image from http://www.ctac.ca/positive-sex

Gail, Jessica and Jolene bring up an important point about the meaning of “safety” that is taught in sex education. What’s often overlooked are issues of emotional safety, such as consent and self-esteem, that are both cause and effect of sex. Few curricula teach consent or communication in a way that is relevant to sexual diversity. Instead, outdated sex education shames discussions of sexual pleasure and desire, and the different types of relationships humans are a part. The Disclosure Project views this type of shaming in opposition to what is positive sex.

As Gail explains, “Positive sex to us means finding ways to successfully disclose one’s HIV status while not feeling threatened, stigmatized or experiencing any negative reactions while disclosing. Positive Sex also involves challenging and changing public perceptions of people living with HIV. In the past, safe sex campaigns were based on fear and as a result, thirty years into the pandemic, there are many misconceptions that perpetuate fear and stigma which need to be challenged.”

“Positive Sex ideally would involve disclosure being met with acceptance and understanding, not rejection and stigma. Positive Sex would involve the elimination of terminology that is discriminatory on the dating scene and a shift within the public whereby people would consider dating a person living with HIV, without fear or stigma.”

To learn more about The HIV Disclosure Project follow them on twitter @sexpartnersHIV. Like their Facebook Page for daily prose, thoughts and poems related to HIV and disclosure.

For information on HIV transmission, prevention, safety and risks refer to ACCM and CTAC.  There are a lot of them, but other helpful resource are: CareXO.com, the YAHAnet (Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network) and The Life Foundation. There is also an excellent article by The Body.com with medical information about the risks HIV transmission when having sex with someone who has undetectable viral levels.  Keep yourself informed!

#WithoutShame: Storytelling about HIV

To combat the spread of HIV and stigma, we need honest discussions that go beyond politically correct ways of representing today’s realities about the virus without oversimplifying and shaming. That is what these two digital stories offer. Watch and listen.

btp_logo_printReal life storytelling is a powerful way to raise awareness about HIV and stigma. Stories not only convey information but they also communicate values that relate the storyteller and the listener in more nuanced ways. The Banyan Tree Project, run by the folks at The Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, has utilized this human resource and extended it to Twitter chat.

Viewing Stories on Twitter #BTPChat

They launched a digital storytelling initiative to combat HIV-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For those of you that don’t know, digital storytelling is a workshop-based practice in which participants write their own first-person scripts, record narration, select and scan images, add music, and make 3-4 minute digital videos- in this case, about one’s experience with HIV. The digital stories are uploaded on the project website and have been shared in panels, conferences, and other community discussions to provoke dialogue and community change.

This is how I learned about the Banyan Tree Project (BTP) and watched the two digital stories posted below. BTP organized 5 weekly Twitter chats with guest including TheBody.com and the USA Positive Women’s Network, among others, and framed questions based on digital stories they shared.
You can follow and participate in the chats by following @BTPMay19 and using the hashtag #BTPChat.

June 6, 2012, there will be a #BTPChat about HIV and Youth with the Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (@YAHAnet). It starts at 5pm Eastern /2pm Pacific Time and runs for an hour.

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Image from @yahanet

HIV and Gay/Bi Men #BTPChat

Last week’s topic was about men who have sex with men and HIV with the National Minority AIDS Council (@NMAC AIDS). Tony’s digital story initiated the chat. Sharing his experience of grief and denial, Tony emphasizes the need for community support which includes the important role of family and friends.

(All videos from the BTP can be watched on their website)

Following the video, @BTPMay19 tweeted these questions for us all to respond.

1) Tony says “Know your status, get tested, seek treatment, find support.” What do gay/bi men need in order to do this?

2) Tony most likely contracted HIV decades ago. How has the gay community’s perception of HIV changed over the last 30 years? #BTPChat

To-the-point answers (you have to be, it’s twitter!) from various HIV outreach professionals and activists rolled out. I’m REALLY generalizing here but comments ranged from issues of disclosure and stigma, the need for everyone (not just poz folks) to have updated info on the manageability of HIV; and the urgency of different ways to frame HIV facts that resonate with different communities.

In the second video “Side Effects”, a sexual health educator candidly explains what led to his choice to have sex without a condom. He reveals that he’s secretly on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and works through his guilt.

The #BTPChat question posed were:

1) PEP/PReP can protect against HIV exposure. What do you think this means for gay/bi men relationships?

2) What challenges do gay/bi men still face when getting tested/treated for HIV?  #BTPChat

Also, one of the guest moderators, @NMAC AIDS, asked if this storyteller is a hypocrite and if outreach professionals would use this video when teaching prevention? Again, I’m writing a very simplified overview but I think it’s fair to say that most twitter participants felt this story was the kind of frank discourse needed to tackle taboo subjects like drugs and unsafe sex. Every participant seemed to express support for PEP/PReP stating that it offers more options for different relationships and circumstances. Comments did touch upon the inaccessibility of PEP/PReP due to high costs. It was also emphasized that such treatment must be coupled with promoting regular testing and condoms use in appropriate circumstances. Other participants mentioned that condom stigma needs to be taken more seriously by activists.

Post-Thoughts?

The creation and (careful) distribution of these digital stories have potential to make people rethink assumptions about HIV issues and stereotypes of people living with the virus. These are not HIV experiences typically represented in national public discourse. You will not find them in H&M or state-funded sex ed classes. In some ways, they uphold harmful stereotypes that reduce people with STDs and infections as deviant and careless. The storytellers admit to dissent, recklessness, negligence and guilt. But that is the power of these stories- honest talk that keeps it real.

They expose the trickiness of discussing HIV-related topics without subconsciously casting moral judgment. People are slutty, people are negligent and irrational, people use drugs and take part in abusive relationships (be it with themselves or another).

However, these digital stories are not innately effective at combating HIV stigma and posing discussion. They require careful framing.  Dialogue needs to be monitored and kept tailored for particular audiences in order to respect the storyteller and effectively combat myths and stigma that might be decoded by the audience. I think the people at APIWellness who run #BTPChat do a great job at this and I hope they continue to twitter #withoutshame.

What are your responses to these digital stories and the #BTPChat questions?

How I Contracted HPV and What I Did About It

This post is written by Tashia Amenerio, founder of the non-profit HPV Awakening.  She writes from her personal experience why she is pushing for HPV be reportable- meaning sexual partners must legally inform each other of their status- and why she urges you to sign the petition to get the FDA to approve HPV testing for men.

(Un)Knowing HPV

Graph from the CDC. Fourteen million will become newly infected with HPV this year. This means that almost every sexually active person in the US will acquire HPV at some point in their lives.

Graph from the CDC. Fourteen million will become newly infected with HPV this year. This means that almost every sexually active person in the US will acquire HPV at some point in their lives.

When diagnosed with HPV, life as you know it is over. You face disturbing contradictions within the medical community . On the one hand, there are those who describe it as “this generation’s AIDS”. On the other side, you are faced with medical “experts” who don’t know their head from a hole in the ground and tell you that HPV is nothing to worry about.

Here is the kicker: Most HPV strands, like most cold or flu strands, really don’t do much of anything but chill out in your body having a viral party of genome development. The issue(s) arise when you get people who are knowingly infecting others with cancer causing strands- a crime of which I’m personally all too well aware. And then you have others who are unknowingly transmitting the STI. A major reason for this is because it is not standard practice to get tested for HPV- and there are no official tests made publicly available for males- despite the fact that HPV is the most prevalent STI in North America right now.

So What Can We Do?

www.hpvawakening.org.

www.hpvawakening.org.

Well, I started a nonprofit HPV Awakening Inc. I lecture all over the Florida and have done a few media interviews. I sit here now writing you about my experiences and I’ve launched a petition that needs 100,000 signatures by May 28th, 2013, so that it can go to the White House to get HPV male testing approved by the FDA. Sign the petition.

I have contacted several local media stations and sites. And I have tried moving my civil court case Tashia Ameneiro vs. Zamil Xavier Lopez to a criminal one in order to have the state acknowledge the fact that HPV cancer strands should be taken as serious as AIDS/HIV strands.

The Miami Dade DA has kindly informed me that, well, HPV isn’t mentioned in the Florida statute at all. Thus they can’t help me. This is in spite of the fact that my case is backed with the full support from the local police department that filed my report (Miami Gardens), and they are willing to facilitate the investigative work!

So here is where you the reader come in. What can you do? Well, if you have ever been diagnosed or know someone that has been- I can relate. It sucks and it isn’t easy. And fun (insert EXTREME sarcasm) questions and situations follow diagnosis.

From Why Me? To What I Will Do About It!

In my case, I had been a virgin with no sexual experience prior to my ex, so I didn’t have to go through the questioning phase of Who? But I did have to go through the constant questioning phase of Why? After I received my diagnosis and contacted my ex he kindly informed me that he had known but since it hadn’t directly impacted me he hadn’t cared.

But that wasn’t the only “Why”. The “Why me?” phase kicked in and it kicked in for several of my friends too. Because once you get sick, it isn’t just you. It’s you and those that care about you, or who know you in a caring light- family, acquaintances, associates, co-workers and strangers you disclose to- that are impacted.

I remember one conversation in particular with a friend of mine that went through a bad life phase (attempted suicide and was a bug chaser at one point in time) sitting on the stairs while we shared a smoke (a short lived habit I picked-up during that “Why be and Why bother” phase). He was crying because he couldn’t understand how “Good people like [me], who never do anything risky end up getting sick and people like [him], who have tried every way possible to be ill and die didn’t.” Easy answer: “I don’t know what a ‘good’ person is, but sometimes Shit Just Happens.” It is a matter of what you do with the situation that counts.

I finished the cigarette and realized that some habits aren’t worth starting or maintaining just to stay wallowing in self-pity.

For those of you that are still reading, I say Yay! Thank you in sharing in my past misery. It really does love company.

Please sign the petition to get HPV male testing approved by the FDA. Go to We The People to sign.

Have a Merry Masturbation!

What better way to summon the season of twitterpating than by celebrating May Masturbation Month! Here are some fun facts about Annual– now International- Month of Masturbation and some great links to help you…participate.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

1) The true poster child of Masturbation Month is former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. Following a speech at the 1994 UN World AIDS Day, Elders was asked about masturbation as a way to discourage youth from engaging in partnered sex. She responded, “I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” (EmpowerHer, 2010). Gasp! The result: Elder was forced to resign from government.

But this sex shaming and conservative wrath backfired with a whole month dedicated to public talks, workshops, dancings, plays of all thing Masturbation! Thanks to Good Vibrations, the guru of sex toy shops. National Masturbation Month aims to encourage people to talk freely about it, to end the guilt associated with it and dispel the notion that it is “second-best” to “real” sex (Good Vibes’ official statement).

2) The celebration of #radical self-love has taken place every year since. The ever-so-climatic Masturbate-A-Thon is its biggest fundraiser. It encourages people to collect pledges and raise funds for sex-positive non-profits. Masturbate-A-Thon was originally hosted in San Francisco by Good Vibration and has spread to other cities like Portland OR, Washington D.C., London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark. For it’s 14th Anniversary, the Thon will be held in Philly, PA, and funds will be used to benefit local LGBTQ inclusive sex-ed organizations, Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart. These guys established a CrowdRise fundraiser to help raise $3,000 from 1 May to May 27th, 2013, in order to help pay for the end of the month party, festively named Creamium.

Both Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart believe that the Philly Masturbate-A-Thon 2013 has the power to deliver the following:
-Reduce stigma and shame around sexuality.
-Promote sexual health Create a community of dialogue around the importance of pleasure. -Give you an excuse to jerk off for hours!” (Crowdraise).

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

3) In honor of International Masturbation Month, the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) in conjunction with Shilo McCade’s “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition (summary about the photo project), is facilitating a writing class on the power of masturbation. Participants will spend a few hours writing response to photos and sharing stories about orgasms, self-love, and other aspects of sexuality. Proceeds support the CSC.

4) Ever heard of Betty Dodson? She is only the Queen of Masturbation and a pioneer in sexual liberation. Here is a great article by a woman who attended one of Betty’s 5-hour masturbation workshops and learned new types and ways of orgasm.

5) The student run news source, The Interloper @ USC is running its first ever masturbation writing contest. Winner gets a vibrator. You can read the first story: You Are Sleeping Inside Me.

6) Think you’re a master of masturbation? Test your knowledge with this 14 question quiz!

Taboo History Brief: Why we should celebrate

Image from article by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Image from article about Masturbation Month by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Masturbation Month is growing in profile but it stems from a long history of societal hush-hush syndrome. In fact, masturbation didn’t receive any attention on prime time television until Seinfeld brought up the taboo topic in 1992. In the episode (wikilink), George Constanza is caught by his mother masturbating. He confesses to Jerry, Elaine and Kramer and the conversation results in the four entering a contest to determine who can go for the longest period of time without masturbating.
No one wins. What’s interesting is that while the topic is quite blatant and insinuates that everyone masturbates (often!), the word “masturbation” could not actually be spoken. NBC thought the topic wasn’t suitable for TV, so the taboo is described in a series of hilarious euphemisms.

As Good Vibrations writes, “Almost everyone masturbates, but all too few of us are willing to admit to enjoying this simple pleasure – mostly because of the taboo against masturbation in our society, which has its roots in historical misconceptions that have survived to the present day.” During the 18th, 19th, and 20th century in Europe and America, masturbation was believed to be a debilitating wastes on energy that could result in exhaustion, impotence, insanity, epilepsy, etc. People obsessed over ways to prevent and treat the destructive urge.

For example, Dr. John H Kellogg advocated that circumcision should be performed with no anesthesia in order to deter children from “self-abuse” (cracked.com). Yes, this is Kellogg of the Kellogg’s cereal. Grape-Nuts, and later Corn Flakes, were invented to prevent “fire in the blood”. As early as the 1800s, masturbation experts believed that certain foods stimulated the urge, so people were recommended certain diets that eliminated instigators like pickles, candy, and eggs, and designed non-stimulating alternatives like cold breakfast cereal.

For more investigation into the rabbit hole of bizarre anti-masturbation treatments, Cracked.com offers a great article that covers all methods from Boy Scouts’ cold showers, to leeches, and spiked penile rings, bondage belts, and clitoridectomy.

So Happy Masturbation Month Everyone!

Let’s be thankful that our notions and acceptance of the deed has evolved from spiked penis restraints to Masturbate-A-Thon fundraisers! It’s great that there are many more sex positive resources out there that help normalize masturbation for us all. In some ways, it is a political act. It’s the ultimate safe sex, it increases awareness of your body and own sexual response, it relieves cramps, and it’s fun! So celebrate!

Do you have any fun facts or masturbation resources to share? Please comment below.

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Special thanks to Good Vibrations, BlogHer, EmpowerHer, and Bitch Mag for the images and information.