I caught up with Matt Horwood, from UK health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, to talk about how their campaigns are shaping the health conversation for gay men.
How is THT helping to educate people about the U=U message?
Our Can’t Pass It On campaign focuses on educating audiences to understand that those on effective treatment cannot pass on HIV.
We’re currently working across a range of communities, with media outlets, policy-makers, and local groups to get this message across to as many people as possible.
What are some of the barriers that you’re encountering in getting the U=U message out there and understood?
Many people still can’t get their head around U=U, which produces a real barrier for the work we’re trying to do around combating stigma.
Thankfully we have the PARTNER study to use as evidence — a landmark study that found that where the HIV positive partner was on effective treatment that had reduced the amount of the virus to ‘undetectable’ levels, there were zero cases of HIV transmission — but conveying this in a way that’s clear and concise can be a challenge.
Are there any specific demographics or communities that are proving harder to reach?
We work among a range of communities throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, which is why we tend to tailor our engagement tools and approach depending on who we’re trying to reach.
For example, gay and bi men and black Africans are the two key demographics that are statistically the most ‘at risk’ of transmitting HIV, which is why our latest self-testing programme has been launched for those groups, as well as trans women.
Sometimes it’s also hard to engage with younger audiences — as HIV and sexual health isn’t the ‘sexiest’ of topics for them — so we have to think creatively about how to engage them. With STI transmission the highest among young people, and with 95 percent of young people saying they’d not learned about LGBT relationships in schools, this is obviously a real concern for us. That’s why we use a range of digital and social media platforms to engage and educate young people around HIV and sexual health, and ensure they know how to find the support they need. We also have contracts in certain parts of the UK to give free condoms and lube to younger people.
For older generations, social media often isn’t the best fit, and for these groups we look to use outreach and outdoor advertising to engage them. This is to help combat stigma within that age range, but also to offer support and services to older people who need it.
With the combined forces of U=U and PrEP we seem to have all of the tools required to dramatically reduce HIV transmission rates. Is that being reflected in the statistics?
For the first time ever we’ve seen a decline in HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men. There were 2,810 new HIV diagnoses among this group in 2016 compared to 3,570 in 2015.
While there’s no provable correlation between these figures, U=U, and PrEP, we’d like to assume these combined forces are indeed having an impact on the reduction in HIV transmission rates.
However, it’s crucial to remember that PrEP is currently hard to get hold of in the UK as a whole, and while the proposal by the NHS to add 3,000 extra places to the PrEP Impact Trial would be helpful, we need the decision made on this as soon as possible, and we need routine commissioning of PrEP on the NHS.
There’s been some concerns raised that because of a reduction in the use of condoms that we’re seeing dramatic spikes in transmission rates of STDs. Is that accurate?
There has been an overall increase in STI diagnosis throughout the UK, for all groups, and this is certainly the case among men who have sex with men.
Obviously, condomless sex increases the chances of STI transmission, but these figures could also be attributed to an increase in testing.
Are we seeing reduced funding for sexual health services in the UK?
Spending by local authorities on sexual health services has been cut by £30 million during 2016/17. This, coupled with no mention of funding for public health in Theresa May’s recent NHS speech, means that we now risk facing a sexual health crisis across England. Over 11,000 people were turned away from accessing clinics in one part of London between April and September 2017.
Overall, we’re worried that the closure of sexual health services could lead to less people testing, which can result in an increase in transmission of STIs.
The Government urgently needs to prioritise the funding of sexual health services across England and ensure that no one is turned away from a clinic.
What’s the key health message that THT is currently projecting to gay and bi men in the UK?
Right now, we’re about to relaunch our Can’t Pass It On campaign, which is all about ending the stigma that people living with HIV face.
A huge part of our work, and one of our aims as an organisation, is to end HIV transmission. To do this, we need to ensure that all people — in particular ‘at risk’ groups like gay and bi men — understand how to best protect themselves from HIV.
We also need people to ensure that they’re testing regularly, to ensure that they know their status and aren’t potentially passing on HIV, or any other STI, to anyone else.
With combination prevention, including treatment as prevention — being ‘undetectable’ — together we can work toward ending HIV transmission here in the UK.
We want to hear your opinion
Butt sex for beginners
I caught up with Chris Davis from TAKE TWO to discuss how a dietary supplement can play an important role in anal sex.
What led you to create the TAKE TWO dietary supplement?
We saw an opportunity to deliver the absolute highest quality of dietary fibre blends to a demanding market, while offering a premium alternative with high-end, discreet packaging that really sets us apart from other brands.
My understanding is that there are similar types of fibre supplement products on the market, but I haven’t seen anyone else market them specifically to men as an aid to anal sex. Why did you decide to focus on that market?
Pure for Men is the clear market leader and actually does speak to clean anal sex, however, we’ve found what is considered to be a more effective formula that delivers even better results.
We decided to make a splash in the market after early customer reviews raved about just how much of a difference TAKE TWO made to their digestive health and confidence in the bedroom. We also found that a lot of customers prefer discreet packaging and bottle labels, which matches the high-end look and feel of TAKE TWO.
Is TAKE TWO an alternative to douching or just an additional option to help guys be clean and confident?
We like the idea of have additional tools in the shed for every occasion! TAKE TWO is not meant to completely eliminate the need for general maintenance and hygiene, but we have found that many of our customers spend 70 percent less time ‘getting ready’ while some users have forgone traditional preparation steps, altogether. We’re such strong believers in the above claims that we stand by these promised results with a money-back guarantee.
The edition that you’ve created in partnership with the Tom of Finland Foundation looks great — why was the imagery of Tom of Finland a good fit for TAKE TWO?
It’s no secret that here in the office, we love the rich, leather-bound imagery rooted in Tom of Finland’s unique catalogue of art. It was an obvious match to the leather-like look and feel of our standard TAKE TWO bottle design, and not at all hard to imagine how amazing the Tom of Finland art would look if properly featured on the TAKE TWO product.
We worked closely with the Tom of Finland Foundation to identify some of the most iconic pieces, and coupled them with the jaw-dropping metallic backing on each panel to give that one-of-a-kind finish. After the first bottle was completed, we knew it was a winning bet.
Customers have fallen in love with the result, and we’re already getting daily requests for new favourite pieces of Tom of Finland artwork to be featured next.
How do you market your product?
We rely heavily on word-of-mouth, but have run a few very successful campaigns on social networks and dating apps like Scruff and Hornet. We’ve also partnered with doctors serving the LGBTQ community around the US who see the immense value in supporting fibre-rich diets via TAKE TWO’s premium blend of soluble and insoluble fibres. You’ll likely see TAKE TWO popping up in various radio, television and social media campaigns featuring respected online personalities that have made the switch to better fibre.
I was interested to see in your Q&As that you specifically talk about the product’s capability with PrEP — was that a question that you were receiving from customers or did you just want to proactively address any potential concerns that might be out there?
Although risks are determined to be relatively low when it comes to dietary fibre supplements and medications like PrEP, we wanted to be 100 percent certain that best-practices are being followed to eliminate any doubts.
If I was a young guy, just starting to explore my sexuality, what hints or tips would you give to make anal sex as enjoyable as possible?
- Get to know yourself and your body inside and out. This includes everything from exploring tools like lubricant and practising with safe objects and toys to get a feel for what works for you.
- Be sure you are comfortable with and trust your sexual partners before diving in.
- Remain sex-positive and remember that sex is a long journey — an experience that is meant to be enjoyable.
- Take your time and communicate freely before, during, and after playtime.
- Play safe!
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