Tag Archives: non-profits

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 gguy.williams@gmail.com.

Dear AIDS Service Orgs, your condom campaign isn’t working.

We need to question the efficacy of pushing condoms as the only safe sex choice. The condom campaign does not seem to be working anymore and people are not getting the message. Yet Aids Service Organizations (ASOs) continue with this message. Granted, with PrEP there is a shift in responsibility that goes beyond those already infected with HIV, to everyone engaging in sex. Yet this shift brings a lot of discomfort as people outside of the HIV community and within begin to see their own roles and responsibilities changing.

Sticking with the condom campaign is the safe route, (pardon the pun) for institutions as they begin to formulate and consolidate their position on PrEP. Is there fear that supporting PrEP could imply promoting unsafe sex and sexual behavior that is out of control? Is promoting the use of PrEP taking too much of a risk with funders and stake holders who are comfortable with the good old (but not tried and true) condom message? Is PrEP a tough sell as the general public remains in a state of fear and denial about HIV?

Let’s be honest. Who practices safe sex all the time? People make mistakes. People faulter. Who likes using condoms all the time? I don’t. I was in a long term relationship with an HIV negative person where “all conditions” were adhered to, meaning – we were monogamous, had no other sexually transmitted infections, I had an undetectable viral load and was on anti retroviral treatment. Also being a woman, the likelihood of transmitting the virus has been shown statistically to be low. Throughout this time my partner remained HIV negative. It was what Josh Kruger refered to as an “adult informed decision”.

But if I mention this to the general public or my local ASO the reaction would be one of horror. I would be handed a condom pack, with a corny safe sex message inside, and given a pat on the head and small lecture on safe sex with condom use as my only option. My job might be threatened too as I am not adhering to the organization’s policies.

In the meantime, I will continue to tow the party line, pretend that condoms are the only solution to reducing HIV transmission rates, while those of us in the know will continue to make responsible, informed decisions about bare backing. Are Aids Service Organizations, the Supreme Court of Canada and the general public in denial about the latest development in research and medical evidence? Who are the risk takers and who is going to take risks and acknowledge that condom use alone, as the safe sex message, is not working.

I choose to remain anonymous as I value my job and the funding that comes to the organization I work for.

Yours truthfully,

“Virgina”InformedChoices

Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the writer’s own. To learn more about PrEP, ARTs, and other prevention measures, the Beta Blog is a great resource. What HIV sources do you recommend? Have you experienced fear of PrEP? What HIV awareness campaigns are working?

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.

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.

It’s always nice to know if you like what you’ve read. Please let us know by tweeting this or liking us on Facebook.  

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

 

Talking Back At AdSense Policy Against “Adult Content”

Condom Monologues and other websites dedicated to safe sexual well-being are excluded by default from Google’s AdSense program because we are “sexual in intent or may not be considered family-safe, such as sexual aids, devices and fetishes”.  In their policy, AdSense bans “adult content” that include “SOME treatments of topics such as sexual health and sexual tips or advice, and yet websites like Ashley Madison, which encourages cheating partners and affairs gets huge promotions.  See their policy here.

Recently, one of those websites, Hot Ice Project, wrote an open letter to Google about the hypocrisy of AdSense.  Hot Ice Inc. writes, “…we thought we will be helping women interested in latest feminine hygiene products and marital aid items… And yes, comfort tampons, female condoms, dildoes, vibrators, lubricants, sex education tapes, butt plugs and cock rings ARE perfectly legitimate marital aid products.  Millions and millions of people around the world use those. Annual sales of 14.3 billion dollars with double digit growth rate cannot possibly be supported by few perverts hovering in dark alleys.”  Read full letter here.

Hot Ice Inc is an online store that premiers women novelty products.  In such a male-dominated industry of dildos and vibrators, it is one of the only blogs where women can discuss their needs, seek advise and shop.  Their products include lubricants, female condoms, stringless tampons and advice on how to safely use them, as well as a line dedicated to wedding nights and honeymoons.  In an interview with M.O., Founder and CEO Luba Ilyasova says that in her years of working in finance, she has never faced the kind of stigma and penalties that are associated with being labeled “adult business”.

We agree that in the funny world of sex know-how, what gets censored or silenced contributes to ignorance- a leading cause of STIs, HIV/AIDS, sexual cancers, unwanted pregnancies, gender and sexual abuse, sexuality discrimination, low self-worth….Who determines what is appropriate and inappropriate content affects the kind of exposure online communities receive.  But what is the solution to the problem?  Is it time for AdSense to refine their “mature content” policy?

 

A New Sales Pitch: From Purse to Penis Fahion Accesories

proper attire

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a sexual and reproductive health care provider, is receiving a percentage of proceeds from a new condom line called Proper Attire TM. What’s unique about these condoms are its stylish packaging, from pastels to polka dots to Victorian-like fig leaf print. Also new is its exclusionary retail. Sold only at boutique shops and selective hotels for $6.00 +, its mostly middle-upper class Dandies that are buying. According to Planned Parenthood News Room this new condom strategy hopes to make it cool for women to carry condoms.
“Social taboos make some women embarrassed to buy and carry condoms. That’s why PROPER ATTIRETM was created,” said PPFA President Cecile Richards. “With its fashionable wrapping, women will now have the option to choose the right ‘attire’ for that special occasion.”
I’m unsure how to feel about targeting women to buy condoms through the superficial rhetoric of fashion. In an attempt to debunk the stereotype that men are the condom-holders, Proper Attire seems to be investing in another gender stereotype. Furthermore, its posh prices and locale reduces accessibility.
Would it not be more proper for condom lines to focus on effectiveness, comfort, and accessibility rather than just pretty packaging?
Nonetheless, it is obvious that Proper Attire’s aim is to make condoms widely appealing and socially acceptable. Perhaps it is better to have a variety of choices- contraceptives feeding a range of taste, cohorts, and occasions… however those demographics are marketed. Perhaps the cause predominates its means, particularly for the non-profit.