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Sex = Fun? Pro-Pleasure Videos Bring "Sexy Back" to HIV Awareness

A Conversation With Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director of GALAEI and Co-Founder of PleasureRush!

February 14, 2013

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That's excellent! And it's all happening in the context of HIV awareness and HIV prevention -- so folks go off and have their fun, but they have all this great information and ways to start dialogue.

There were condoms and lube everywhere, gloves everywhere! Our hope is that we continue to do these community organizations, not just at bars but also at different community-based organizations and even schools. We're working right now to figure out how to create an under-18 project. Obviously youth as early as nine and 10 are exploring sex and sexuality -- and forget talking about pleasure when you're talking about youth and sex. People are really uptight about that. Luckily we have folks on staff, myself included, who are trained to create curriculum, so we want to make something that's youth friendly as well.


Encounter 2: "What If" sex was creative and safe? "What If" you could have a hot time without breaking the flow of playing?


How do you get feedback on the videos and the online component? Is there a form that people fill out after they've watched it, or is it more word-of-mouth or comments on the blog by which you get responses?

That's another thing that I need to put out there. This program is all volunteer run, it's not funded in any sort of way, so our capacity is limited to just working with volunteers and doing some of this stuff outside of work hours. As a consequence of that, we haven't devoted as much time to drumming up publicity around it. So some of the videos get comments while others don't, but we hope that the videos will entice people to engage in dialogue and respond back to us about "liked it," "loved it," "hated it," "what are you doing?" -- that kind of stuff. So right now it's just a few of us who are working on promoting the videos, primarily through social media, Facebook and what-have-you, and encouraging people to please give us feedback, good, bad or other.

The point isn't that you love it; the point is that it entices you to talk about it. You can hate it, but at least you thought enough about it to make a comment, and that's our goal. It's just to get people having a conversation they might not otherwise have.

Why do you think there has been this reticence to embrace sex-positive, pro-pleasure messages when it comes to HIV prevention?

Fear: Fear-based practices have prevailed from the beginning of time when it comes to sex. Fear about pregnancy has always been at the forefront, as has fear about getting HIV since the beginning of the epidemic; and there's always fear about promoting homosexual behavior. Because HIV, from the beginning, has been known as a gay disease, any talk of promoting sex when it relates to HIV is, I believe, automatically equated to promoting homosexual sex. And so that is the ultimate taboo.

"When you use that word [pleasure], I think it provokes some fear for some folks -- because why would you possibly be encouraging people to do something that's pleasurable when doing that thing is putting them at risk?"

When you recognize that HIV is a sexual condition, the consequence of people who are in the throes of passion -- whether they love each other or not is irrelevant, it doesn't matter who the players are -- then you can start having conversations about what motivated people to want to be sexual with somebody else, and usually it's pleasure focused. When you use that word, I think it provokes some fear for some folks -- because why would you possibly be encouraging people to do something that's pleasurable when doing that thing is putting them at risk?

And when you couple that with homophobia, sexism, racism, all these -isms, you're going to get a world of people who don't want the message of sex as pleasurable and healthy getting out there. We're fighting against people who are anti-woman, are anti-gay, all of that. That's a powerful force of folks to fight against. So these projects oftentimes have to get kind of softened a little bit. Even Dr. Kevin Fenton, the now-former director of HIV/AIDS for the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), got a little pushback because he wanted to include the word "pleasure" in the definition of sexual health, and had to kind of water it down by calling it "sexual fulfillment," for political reasons. I completely applaud his effort and know he was going in the right direction and have every intention of working alongside him, to make sure that pleasure is included in these conversations moving forward. I know it's political, I get that; but the fact that pleasure was taken out of the CDC definition just demonstrates how powerful a force we're working against.

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It sounds like GALAEI's work, and the work of the PleasureRush! program, are focused on communities beyond just the Latino community, despite GALAEI's name. But could you talk a little bit about this campaign as it relates to Latino communities specifically? Was there a particular need among Latino LGBT communities that sort of led that has led you and the folks that you've been working with to create PleasureRush!? What has been the response to the program in Latino communities?

I think that there's a particular need to highlight the fact that Latino communities aren't necessarily any more homophobic or sexist or what-have-you than other communities. There's this myth out there that if you're Latino, you're automatically against homosexuality, you're homophobic, your Catholic -- there are all these myths out there about the Latino community that I have not necessarily found to be true.

In fact, I had the good fortune of interviewing several Latinos from across the world, primarily South America and Mexico, and in the U.S. as well, at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. I didn't ask a leading question; I just said, "Can you tell me what you think the role of pleasure is in HIV prevention?" All I got was positive feedback from folks about the need for it, and talking about it specifically in Latino communities, and the fact that it's a shame that we haven't already been discussing these very real and important issues within HIV prevention specifically for Latinos. The people who are in our videos, some of them happen to be Latino. We have a video now that's primarily in Spanish, with English subtitles

Because we recognize that the myth that Latinos are a little bit more conservative or traditional, or would potentially be against a campaign like this, is just not what we are finding to be true. However, at the same time we also know that sexuality in general remains a taboo topic in many Latino cultures. You don't talk about sex period, let alone sex between same-sex people, let alone pleasure, let alone sex outside of a marriage, or sex outside of procreation. So those sorts of things still exist. I'm not saying that they don't. But what I am saying there is a need and a receptivity from Latinos to this project.

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