HIV-prevention campaigns have been largely dominated by scare tactics that make sex appear dangerous. Unsurprisingly, these tactics haven’t been working, as rates of HIV infection continue to rise, particularly among gay men ages 18-25. Philadelphia has especially high rates of HIV infection, with new cases exceeding national averages by as many as five times.
It’s no coincidence then that the Gay and Lesbian Latino Aids Education Initiative (GALAEI), Philadelphia’s only social service agency specifically targeted to educating LGBTQ Latinos about HIV prevention and providing them with HIV-related services, has launched a new campaign. Launched in May, Pleasure Rush takes a sex-positive approach to HIV prevention and uses various components—including videos, condom demonstrations, sex-toy parties and masturbation techniques—to emphasize sexual practice as it relates to condom usage. One of the most noticeable and controversial components are the videos, which have been deemed by some as being pornographic. But the campaign is also comprised of many other components that intend to reach out to a wide range of individuals in the LGBT community, including younger individuals, women and those who identify as transgender.
“There is no single cause for the increasing HIV rates—that’s why I think there needs to be as many ways as possible to approach HIV-prevention,” says Elicia Gonzales, GALAEI’s executive director. “There is no one size fits all approach.”
While the development of the program is uncertain, the intention of Pleasure Rush is not to dismiss traditional prevention strategies entirely but to use sex-positive imagery as a way to supplement the current methods.
We sat down with Gonzales and Norman Medina, one of the key organizers of Pleasure Rush, to talk more about what separates this campaign from others.
PW: Where did the idea for Pleasure Rush develop?
EG: Pleasure Rush started because we recognized that there was an absence of sex-positive imagery and messaging out there in the HIV-prevention world. We needed something that promoted positive sexuality versus just talking about the deficits that come from sex so that we could show sex can be something that is celebrated.
NM: Pleasure Rush developed from the idea that we need to talk more about our day-to-day sex lives. People make a lot of excuses for engaging in risky sexual behaviors but aren’t provided information on how to actually have sex. We wanted to change that.
Why did you decide to use such sexually explicit material?
NM: Since a target audience is gay men who we recognize like sexual images, we wanted to let them know that there are safe ways to use condoms and lead a healthy, active sex life. The only effective way to do this was by filming sexual situations. However, we do not consider it porn.
While the current videos are currently focused toward gay men, are there attempts to reach out to women and transgender individuals in particular?
EG: The other thing is out there is that there is such a focus on the penis and wrapping it up. It’s only one part of the male body but is one of the few things we talk about or show visually. So we’re trying to make it as inclusive as possible. We intend to produce up to three more videos before the end of the year discussing female and trans sexuality and have sponsored sex-toy parties through the female-run and organized Stimulus party series. But we are always looking for new suggestions.
The program runs the risk of alienating an under-18 audience, who are not legally allowed to view the videos. What are you doing to reach out to youth?
EG: We don’t want to contribute to breaking any laws, of course, but there are ways to talk about sex with youth in a less explicit way. GALAEI has partnered in the past with the Attic [the LGBT youth center] and I have spoken over the past two years during National Masturbation Month, which is in May, on how masturbation has been seen as taboo, why some people don’t want to talk about it, and the benefits of touching yourself as a way of expressing your sexuality.
To access the Pleasure Rush materials, visit galaei.org/video/