A CONFRONTING and thought-provoking question that hopes to reinforce a message of condom usage is at the forefront of a new campaign by the Victorian AIDS Council.

“Will You Get HIV Today/Tonight?” is the question being posed to gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) across Victoria, and the new campaign aims to compliment the VAC’s “Wherever Sex Happens” promotion that ran from 2010 to 2012.

Continuing to educate and promote awareness of safe sex options available to gay men and MSM, this new campaign hopes to reinvigorate the message of condom usage in light of rising numbers of unprotected casual sex in Victoria.

According to the VAC, the importance of reinvigorating condom reinforcement campaigns can not be underestimated, with annual reports providing a context to the prevalence rates of unprotected anal intercourse with casual partners (UAIC), which is the leading cause of HIV transmission in Victoria.

Taking into consideration the fact that there are a growing number of methods adopted by gay men and MSM to prevent contracting and spreading HIV, the campaign’s website also addresses safer sex practices such as sero-sorting and viral load.

Continuing on from the existing campaign, information regarding beats, online cruising and sex-on-premises venues will also be a significant feature of the new VAC effort.

HIV is still a reality and with new biomedical prevention approaches being added to the prevention toolkit, it is still extremely important that gay and bisexual men are reminded that condoms remain the most effective way to prevent the spread of HIV, and remain the cornerstone of the HIV prevention toolkit.

According to the VAC director of health promotion, policy and communications, Colin Batrouney, says the new campaign stresses the importance of engaging in safe sex in a casual setting.

“This campaign suggests that sexual activity could happen anywhere, anytime of the day and that people need to be prepared for the possibility that whilst they might be having great sex, they need to be mindful about safe sex, particularly with casual partners,” he said.

“This last point is very important. In casual settings, people will not always disclose their HIV status, sometimes they will, and if both partners are HIV positive then there is no risk of HIV transmission, but condoms don’t just protect people from HIV. Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and a host of other sexually transmitted infections can also be avoided by maintaining safe sex.

“If you are HIV negative and you meet someone casually and they tell you that they’re HIV negative — how do you know? How do they know? In casual sex, it’s impossible to be certain that the person you are having sex with is also HIV negative, so maintaining safe sex practices in these circumstances is very important.”

Acknowledging that previous problems had emerged when the gay and MSM community felt they were being dictated to about condom usage being the only safe means of HIV prevention, Batrouney said that such methods could no longer work effectively.

“This campaign is essentially self reflective. It poses a simple question; ‘Will you get HIV today/tonight?’,” he said.

“It alerts people, in a very simple and direct manner that it is possible that you might be exposed to HIV and to think about the ways in which you might avoid acquiring HIV.

“Dictatorial approaches in any field of public health do not work; ‘you must do this!’ People do not respond well to being told what to do, particularly gay men. A campaign like this seeks to engage people with an idea – the possibility of acquiring HIV and to simply reflect on what they can do to avoid it.”

Batrouney added that a new campaign such as this is the next in an attempt to educate the community about the wide range of testing, treatment and prevention measures currently available to gay men and MSM.

“After three decades of condom reinforcement it is very important that we constantly look at new and creative ways of tackling the issues related to sexual health,” he said.

“I don’t think that there would be a sexually-active gay man who would not know that HIV exists, how it is transmitted and what you can do to avoid it, after all, gay men invented safe sex.

“We are at a point in the epidemic where we have never had so many tools to prevent HIV, but if we are going to beat HIV, and I believe we are going to beat HIV, we need to use every tool in the box from rapid testing, undetectable vial load, strategic positioning and pre-exposure prophylaxis, and condoms and water-based lube.”

For further information and details on the new campaign Will You Get HIV Today/Tonight?, visit www.whereversexhappens.org.au

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