We need to talk about sex
GT’s Benjamin Butterworth takes a look at the projects combatting HIV
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Sexual health is something we men who have sex with men are acutely aware of. Or, at least, it ought to be. In the past few years, rates of HIV in young gay and bisexual men have soared to be the highest on record. Among ‘scene’ men in London, it is estimated that 1 in 7 are HIV positive, and 1 in 12 in London in general. Or, to put that in context, in one of the big gay clubs with 1500 revellers, it's the equivalent of about 240 HIV positive men. And that situation isn’t much different in the rest of the country.
But how did we get into a situation like this? When Margaret Thatcher was PM, the HIV epidemic was at the forefront of the public consciousness. Many would say the administrations of the 1980s did not deal with the HIV outbreak in the best possible way. HIV became a dark shadow upon those who endured it - rather than a disease like any other, for which its sufferer needs healthcare and help.
The response may have been insensitive – and thank goodness for Princess Diana, who put her neck on the line to try destigmatise the disease – but it did at least lead to a significant reduction in contractions. But in 2013, we have a situation where many young men think either that a sexually transmitted infection is so easily curable they shouldn’t bother worrying, or that HIV isn’t really ‘a thing’ anymore - so why fret? Of course, it’s that attitude which has led to a situation with rates as bad as in the 80s. As a 21-year-old gay man, living in London and socialising on the ‘scene’, I know only too well the risks some peers casually take. I’d be lying, mind, if I were to suggest heterosexual friends do not also take these risks. It feels a lot like a generational issue.
That is why we need government, business and education to be part of the solution. But I bet you’ve heard that before? In Belgium, MTV and Durex are funding workshops and touring fairs to visit universities, educating students about the risks and their respective precautions. And it isn’t some dithering professor or, worse, Edwina Currie telling us how to do it, but regular young people. Not to mention that using the MTV brand gets young people the world over interested.
They are also launching campaigns in Kenya, Russia, India and a ‘Queer Alliance’ in Nigeria. These are countries in dire need of the help. I wrote for GT last year about David Kuria, Africa’s first gay politician, who told us of gay men in Kenya being made public laughing stocks when seeking help in local hospitals. Now Durex are leading peer-networking and sexual health literacy schemes for hundreds of Nigerians, to overcome the sort of ignorance and contempt blighting some in these countries.
Take a look at what else MTV and Durex are doing – and how you can help change attitudes.
Words: Benjamin Butterworth