Image for Sex info website targets risky reality

Sex info website targets riskyreality

A bold new gay sex education campaign from NSW’s ACON tackles the question: How much risk of HIV are you at if you don’t always ‘Slip It On’?

The Know The Risk campaign appears at a perilous time when rates of new HIV diagnoses are rising across Australia, though in New South Wales, where the pool of gay men living with HIV is larger than ever, the rates are fairly stable at a high level.

For many years ACON has presented varying forms of campaigns reminding men who have sex with men to wear condoms for their sexual encounters. It’s a simple message agreed to be the world standard for HIV prevention. Meanwhile, thousands of condom and lube packs are regularly dispensed by ACON to gay events and venues where men meet.

“It’s a fact that some gay men are choosing risk reduction strategies other than condoms.”

But many now suggest that the general ‘condoms every time’ mantra doesn’t match up with how men really have sex – and that our community would benefit from more detailed information about the kinds of situations putting them at greater or less risk.

It’s still extremely important to point out that using condoms and water-based lube for anal sex every time you do it is by far to best and most fool-proof way to prevent HIV transmission – and always has been.

However, ACON realises that “it’s a fact that some gay men are choosing risk reduction strategies other than condoms. As a gay men’s health promotion agency, ACON has a responsibility to ensure these men are provided with information about the degrees of risk involved with those strategies and how those risks might be reduced.

“It’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t about gay men ignoring risk. It’s about guys finding ways to balance risk and pleasure. We also need to acknowledge that not every act of unprotected sex creates an HIV transmission risk.”

Development of the Know The Risk campaign began last year and ACON says it’s involved extensive focus testing with gay men as well as technical reviews by HIV and sexual health specialists.


So how does it all work? On there’s a ‘Risk Calculator’ which invites you to fill in details about you and your partner’s HIV status and your role in the sex you’re having. The risk of HIV transmission changes in every different situation when you don’t use condoms.

The Risk Calculator points out that whether you’re the top or the bottom, and whether or not you cum or pull out before cumming, there are still risks of HIV transmission.

Wait a minute though. The potential success of risk reduction strategies is dependent on knowing the HIV status of one’s sexual partner/s. But if a guy tells you they’re HIV-negative, how can you be certain that they are?

The only way to be absolutely certain of a casual partner’s HIV status is if he tells you he’s HIV-positive. A casual partner might believe he’s HIV-negative, but in reality he may have been involved in a high risk event since his last HIV test and may have acquired the virus without knowing.

The Know The Risk campaign discusses these risks and also stresses the importance of regular HIV testing – at least once a year, or even more often for men who are sexually very busy. If you’re unsure of your HIV status then you should let your partner/s know so it can be factored into risk reduction decision-making. And the NSW Public Health Act requires that all people diagnosed with HIV disclose their status to a sexual partner before a sexual encounter takes place.

It also must be pointed out that this campaign only addresses risks regarding HIV – no other STIs are particularly talked about. So to avoid and treat other nasties which can themselves increase the risk of transmitting HIV, the message is still the same – ensure you get tested regularly.

Launching this week, Know The Risk will be promoted through print and online advertising and in gay pubs, clubs and sex on premises venues across Sydney and wider NSW.

We’re keen to hear your feedback about ACON’s new campaign. It is a realistic and responsible step in the right direction, or should safer sex campaigns never waver from their Slip It On condom message?


A final note. Over in New Zealand, HIV rates are continuing to fall in the last two years, after a record high in 2010. The NZ AIDS Foundation crew credit its recent and pervasive Get It On! condom campaign with the reduction.

“Condoms remain the single most effective HIV prevention tool for gay and bisexual men in New Zealand,” says NZAF Executive Director Shaun Robinson.

The most popular aspect of New Zealand’s Get It On campaign is its very informative How To Have Anal Sex videos. They are graphic and inappropriate to watch at work, but if you’re alone at home, aged 18+ and unlikely to be offended by nudity and sex talk, click here to take a look.

Back home, HIV transmission rates are rising in most states across Australia, and in New South Wales there are still over 230 men being diagnosed with HIV each year. It’s vital our entire community works together to decrease infection rates – and ACON’s work should always be at the forefront of that.

So all your thoughts, criticisms and suggestions about its newest campaign are valuable and will be taken on board. Leave comments below or get in touch with the campaign directly via email – [email protected]

See ACON’s new Know The Risk campaign website here.

Comments arrow left

meezon04 said on the 1st Nov, 2012

This website is amazing! What a great idea.


JayTee said on the 2nd Nov, 2012

It's got some doubtful assertions about risk though.

I plugged in "undetectable viral load" as a method of reducing risk and it came back as medium risk. To me it's High risk!

I would never trust an undetectable viral load as a method of reducing risk. But it's there in black and yellow!


TheOldie said on the 2nd Nov, 2012

I suppose this was inevitable.

But until there is the cure , condoms it is.


mark29 said on the 5th Nov, 2012

telling hiv-negative gay men that bareback bottoming for positives is "LOW RISK"? what a great idea! why didn't i think of that.


someoneinatree said on the 5th Nov, 2012

@Mark29, it doesn't say that. Unprotected sex between a positive top and a negative bottom is mostly high risk, the risk is reduced if the positive guy has an undetectable viral load due to being on antiretrovirals, but the real level of risk depends on other variables such as other STIs present, differing viral load between semen and blood, and how sustained their undetectable viral load has been.

The website accurately reflects that as far as I can see.

The reverse (negative top, positive bottom) is not as high risk, but is still considered medium risk (again, depending on other variables).

@JayTee - all risk is risk.

If you have four theoretical tiers ranging from Safer Sex, Low, Medium to High - this website does reflect that some behaviours are riskier than others. Check their scale here:

That said, since risk is probability and not lived experience, its important to remember that one individual may engage in a low risk activity once and end up HIV-positive despite the low statistical probability. Conversely, another individual may engage in high risk activities multiple times and improbably remain HIV-negative. Either way: every risk you take has a chance of causing seroconversion.


JayTee said on the 5th Nov, 2012

All risk is risk?

Crossing the street at the lights when they turn green is a risk (there are idiots on the road), and crossing a busy highway whilst cars are going at top speed is also a risk.

Quite clearly some risks are higher than others.

I'm asserting that the risks this website is advocating are out of kilter.

Perhaps acon should've stuck to use a condom every time.....


someoneinatree said on the 5th Nov, 2012

Except they are accurate according to the current body of scientific evidence.

As you say, crossing the road when the pedestrian lights are green does not eliminate the risk of being hit by a car... it only reduces it. You could make the analogy more accurate by adding stuff about whether you've looked left and right before crossing, whether you're wearing headphones or texting while you cross, and whether you're crossing somewhere where you're clearly visible to all oncoming traffic.

Similarly - this site is attempting to clarify what all those variations are that increase your risk. The idea being that people will make the most of that knowledge and use it responsibly - hopefully by making the educated decision to eliminate the majority of the risk by simply using condoms.


JayTee said on the 5th Nov, 2012

Well then I hope it works...... (can you tell I'm doubtful?)


mark29 said on the 5th Nov, 2012

blah blah blah. guys have been flapping their jaws about this over four decades now. you know everything you need to know, there's simply no excuse for any guy who is currently HIV-negative to ever become HIV-positive ever again. of course risk exists and human behaviour is inscrutable and complex, but that's no reason to stand around and watch while some gay men make like a herd of brainless bison running themselves off the edge of a cliff. use a condom or find something else to do in bed - stop "calculating risk" and get your bloody act together.


JayTee said on the 5th Nov, 2012

Right on mark.

Gay men have been so good at the "use a condom at all times" line that acon has decided to have faith in their intelligence and good character to rely on a calculated risk.

Ie. Undetectable viral load is only medium risk .....except where STIs, diagnosed or undiagnosed may be present, then it's high risk. ....And you can tell when someone has an STI just by looking at them..... Yeah right.... Thisll work. Sure. No probs.....


mark29 said on the 5th Nov, 2012

the only men that could possibly benefit from this "risk calculator" are the ones making spontaneous decisions about sex and HIV and therefore, are also the least likely men to ever visit this website, comb through the 654, 799 different risk algorithms, and consider their practices as a result. this website is the most surreal and bizarre episode in the epidemic since liberace announced he was suffering the slimming effects of a watermelon diet.


chad_74 said on the 5th Nov, 2012

I would never blame someone for becoming hiv poz.


someoneinatree said on the 7th Nov, 2012

Actually, this kind of remark is evidence of the enormous amount of misinformation out there and disproportionately places blame on the individual for contracting HIV. The fact is people continue to contract HIV through various reasons: mistakes, miscommunication, misinformation, lapses in judgement (due to many reasons including alcohol, drugs, depression or desperation), needle or other sharps injuries in the health industry, and sheer bad luck. It's simply a part of human frailty and your comments lack any sense of compassion.

As it currently stands, there is a large number of men who have sex with men who are making decisions regarding calculated risk, but basing those decisions on hearsay and misinformation. By educating people so that they understand risk based on accurate information, they are more likely to make better decisions. Simply saying "just use a condom" doesn't deconstruct the myths they are basing their risky decisions on.

There are other ways to contract HIV apart from having unprotected anal sex, so only having protected anal sex isn't necessarily going to protect you all the time. Low risk practices such as unprotected oral sex, docking and nudging etc. do still present -some- risk of HIV transmission, although very low. It's important that people are aware that this is possible, and simultaneously don't make assumptions about people's sexual practices based on the fact they were unlucky enough to contract the virus - as this only contributes to stigma and aversion to HIV testing.

Additionally, its important that people are aware that there is actually greater risk in engaging in low risk activities with someone who's HIV status is unknown or who has not been tested for some time, than it would be to engage in the same activities with someone who knows they are HIV positive but has an undetectable viral load, is regularly tested and has no other STIs. This may seem counter-intuitive, but transmission is much more highly likely to occur with guys who are unaware of their status due to infrequent testing, and who continue to have a very high viral load as they are untreated.

My advice: be informed, get tested, get treated, and encourage open and respectful communication with your partners.


mark29 said on the 8th Nov, 2012

sweetie, there's possibility and then there's probability. they're two different things.

nobody said that unprotected anal was the only possible route of transmission, but it is the route of transmission that is responsible for the overwhelming majority of HIV-infections among gay men, across all age groups and all over the world.

of course it's possible to become infected by other methods - such as those on your hilariously scattershot list - but it's relatively improbable. conversely, if you're making unprotected anal a part of your casual sex routine, you probably can't rely on staying negative in the long term, but anything is possible.

i have no idea why, at this point in time, you think it's sophisticated and sensible to be reintroducing the gothic, mid-1980s idea that infection is waiting around the corner for anybody at anytime and any one of us could be infected at any minute etc.

but anyway, best of luck "deconstructing myths" and all the other stuff that the rest of us did in gender studies classes in about 1992. so wonderfully retro! i guess everything comes back into fashion eventually.