January 12, 2011
In the early 1990s, I was invited to participate on a roundtable with national HIV/AIDS public health officials. They wanted to gauge what those on the front lines were thinking about HIV prevention campaigns. I gave them an earful.
"Why won't you tell gay men that being a top is less risky?" I lamented. They always publicly resisted "promoting" anything that might conceivably transmit HIV, no matter how remote the odds, and that attitude drove me nuts. "When you don't acknowledge what gay men already suspect," I told them, "you lose credibility! Give us something to feel better about engaging in won't you even say that oral sex is a lot safer? Why can't you throw gay men a bone?"
Gay men are still forced to piece together the latest facts about HIV, largely due to the reticence of public health messages -- or just plain homophobia.
Thank goodness for people like Sean Strub, lifelong AIDS activist and founder of POZ Magazine. In his blog posting on Poz.com last month, Sean joined a chorus of advocates who are furious over a fearful New York City public health commercial. The spot says "it's never just HIV," and shows horrific HIV outcomes that include broken bones, insanity and even a gruesome shot of anal cancer.
Sean sees the campaign as another example of how public health gets it wrong, investing in failed "fear-based" messages while keeping a lid on information that could make a real difference.
In this video episode of My Fabulous Disease, Sean and I discuss five things we believe either represent what is wrong with prevention campaigns, or what strategies are being ignored by public health officials. Pay attention to my links in this post, because I document the research and campaigns we discuss.
Photo credit: National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAIDS)
We refer to Swiss experts who suggest people with HIV with undetectable viral loads may be non-infectious. We discuss an infamous 1987 Australian commercial called "The Grim Reaper," and refer to research that concludes that fear-based messages do not change long-term behavior.
You might enjoy comparing the difference between the NYC "It's Never Just HIV" spot (in all its frightful foreboding) to the life-affirming Japanese campaign "Little Taiko Boy," which presents sexuality in a straightforward manner (complete with music and sexy-time lyrics!).
Does anything in our talk surprise (or offend) you? Did you know HIV negative people could take a drug regimen immediately after exposure (sexual and otherwise) and greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected? Do you agree that stigma against those living with HIV may be greater now than ever before?
This is an important community discussion, and I hope you will consider sharing this with friends and colleagues. I'm always up for constructive debate or dissent.
Meanwhile, my friends, please be well.
Visit Mark's live blog at www.MyFabulousDisease.com.