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ACT reaches out to men who bareback

ACT reaches out to men who bareback

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Outraged reaction appears on Facebook
Rather than condemning barebacking, the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) is offering harm-reduction information in its condom kits.

ACT’s position is that condoms are always the best choice, says Andrew Brett, communications coordinator at ACT. Even so, it’s important to acknowledge the reality, which is that some people don’t use condoms.

“People will make their own choices about sex, so it’s best they have the tools to make sex safer,” he says.

The condom package reads, “It’s your choice. We recognize that sex is a spectrum of possibilities. From pig sex to vanilla. Barebacking to wrapped.”

One gay man who took a free condom from an ACT volunteer at the Inside Out Film Festival reacted later with anger on Facebook, calling the message “appalling” and “morally despicable.”

But there’s no point ignoring that barebacking exists, Brett says. It’s better to discuss it and raise awareness about all preventive strategies.

“People are going to have sex, and it’s their choice in whatever sex they have,” he says. “If someone is going to have bareback sex, there’s nothing we can say that is going to stop them. We still have information for them to make it safer.”

Brett offers an example: using more lube reduces the likelihood of skin tears.

It’s a touchy issue, but at least people are talking, Brett says. The condom has opened the door to discuss sensitive issues.

“We recommend condom use. But we recognize the reality of our sex lives,” he says. “I’m glad it’s created an opportunity to have a discussion. We need to have discussions about what our sex lives actually are and not pretend that everyone is always using a condom every single time.”

Todd Klinck, co-owner of Goodhandy’s, calls the campaign "smart" and says he has no problems with ACT's decision to provide harm-reduction information about barebacking. But, outside of the campaign, he worries that the subculture of barebacking is becoming “normalized,” especially by the porn industry. Klinck doesn’t want young people getting the idea that it’s socially acceptable.

“[Barebacking] exists yes, and we should talk about it, but we shouldn’t normalize it.”

That’s something he already sees happening. In porn, barebacking is very common.

“The number-one porn is barebacking. Statistically, that’s what everyone wants to see.”

Brian Finch, founder and publisher of Positive Lite, sees many sides in this debate. Although he agrees with Brett that burying one's head in the sand contributes to the problem, he says, barebacking shouldn’t be promoted.

“There’s so much controversy when this comes up,” Finch says. “I fall alongside with ACT on this. We have to acknowledge it, but I have to say I’m a little surprised to see it there.”

The bigger problem, Finch says, is how messages about HIV prevention have changed over the past number of years. Media campaigns have increasingly targeted people’s bad behaviour, like “the sex police.”

At the same time, Finch says, context is everything. If the ACT condoms were distributed at a school, he may have a different opinion.

“That may not be such a great idea,” he says. “When you’re handing out condoms to teenagers, maybe not include that message.”

Brett says ACT stocks a wide range of condom packages tailored for each outreach venue and event.

The package was handed out at Inside Out but was created in August 2010 for a discussion forum on “pig sex and how to make it safer." Brett says each pack contains two condoms and two containers of lube. More than 60,000 packs were distributed since the launch of the campaign.

“These packs were so popular that we needed to print more,” he says.

Rui Pires, ACT’s gay men's community education coordinator, says the condom packs were focus tested, along with a few other packs, with seven focus groups -- in total 62 gay and bisexual men.

“Not a single man indicated they thought these packs advocated unprotected sex. Pig sex has specific connotations for a small subculture of gay men. What those connotations can mean varies from person to person.”
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Comments

What harm reduction information??
What harm reduction information is given with the condoms? I did not read of any such information in this article.
Mr. Douchebag of the top goes too...
@ Tim - You moron! The criminalization of H.I.V only drives people away from being tested and finding out their status. There are already a handful of reasons why people don't get tested let alone morons such as yourself promoting tossing them in jail.

Ignorance is bliss and obviously you don't know your own asshole from a hole in the ground.

I hereby dub thee (tim) Mr. Douchebag of this topic!
It's about guiding to better choices
It has been proven that harm reduction strategies gets people to think and often act on playing safer. It worked in the UK in rave culture in the area of drug use, and it's working here.

When you bash people over the head with idealist points of view like, "You should always use a condom" people start to rebel and say forget it.

I attended a great seminar at an event recently that brought together people who bareback, the porn industry, and people who work in harm reduction. It was a fascinating look at how we all perceive each other and how safer sex messaging gets interpreted.

It's not a simple and the messaging has to change with the times - a lot of ASOs in North America are stuck in the 80s and 90s with their messaging. ACT along with the OAN are well ahead of the game with this.

People need to know the options to make sex safer without being overbearing. It's about guiding people to make better choices than what they are choosing now.
Good thing...
HIV is now criminalized. Shouldn't we just put them all in jail and let them infect one another?
Who's the Hottie?
Who is the HOTTIE in the picture !
I will do him with or without a condom.
Four reactions to this article
I’ve had four different reactions since reading this article. (1) First, I was disappointed that ACT, as the primary HIV prevention organization in the Toronto gay community, was not taking a stronger stand against barebacking and doing more to encourage HIV negative men to stay negative. (2) Second, given HIV infection rates in the gay community, I wondered if ACT is no longer up to the job of HIV prevention. Perhaps governments and large donors should divert HIV prevention monies from ACT to a new organization that would work with highly trained professionals (e.g., psychologists and marketing experts) to come up with more effective HIV prevention campaigns. (3) Third, I became resigned. Perhaps ACT is only acknowledging reality. Ever since HIV medications became better and AIDS death rates decreased in the late 1990s, barebacking has become more commonplace. Bareback porn is everywhere and outsells condom porn. Lots of gay couples bareback (even if they are not monogamous). Despite what doctors say about how re-infection with different strains of HIV could affect drug performance, I can understand why many HIV positive men decide to engage in bareback sex whenever they can. As noted in The Gift (a 2003 documentary about barebacking), even members of HIV prevention organizations are seen barebacking at public sex venues. Many gay men find unprotected sex to be more physically and emotionally pleasurable than sex with condoms. (4) Fourth, I worried about the future. It’s not good for more and more gay men to become infected and dependent on expensive HIV medications – even if their drugs are paid for by a government drug plan (if they are low income) or their employer’s drug plan. Perhaps we should encourage governments and large donors to focus more funding on a cure or vaccine for AIDS.
Horrible decision
It's the job of an AIDS prevention organization to prevent AIDS, not to provide us with a morally relativist menus of equal options. And "barebacking" - why are you speaking in that false language? It ain't your back that's bare, after all. I'm not funding ACT in any way after this. You don't do anything useful. But I guess if people stop getting AIDS, you'll be out of work, so you've all got an interest in this continuing. Way to go, assholes.
Infomercial
One man's complaint hardly deserves a story. This appears to be more of a infomercial for ACT Toronto. Xtra could have written it differently, but chose not too why?
It's all about CHOICE!
This campaign no more promotes barebacking than does needle exchange promote drug use.

Condom distribution was the beginning of the movement that has become Harm Reduction, and it is really about respecting people's choices and offering them information on how to reduce the potential for harm.

ignoring that barebacking happens will not stop it, and teaching people how to be safer does not encourage it.

The community needs MORE realistic, pragmatic information, not moral indignation.

Kudos to the ACT on a great campaign - Keep it up!
Let's not jump to conclusions, shall we?
I'm not exactly sure how the original conversation went down since the full exchange is not provided in the article, but I'm wondering if the man was reacting to ACT's mention of 'pig sex' rather than 'bareback sex,' having thought that 'pig sex' meant LITERAL sex-with-a-pig as opposed to its colloquial usage as a term that refers to sex-without-boundaries. This is a definite possibility given, as Andrea points out, that "pig sex" has specific connotations for only a small subculture of gay men...
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