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.
KNOW THE RISK
So how does it all work? On knowtherisk.org.au 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?
GET IT ON!
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org.