In recent years, public health efforts have increasingly focused on higher-risk and hard-to reach populations including men who have sex with men (MSM). Despite these efforts, however, HIV rates remain stagnant and condom use is on the decline. In order to address these concerns, public health organizations and the owners of seven gay dating sites—BarebackRT, Daddyhunt, Dudesnude, Gay.com, Grindr, POZ Personals, and SCRUFF—and apps came together to determine the best way to meet both parties’ needs: making money and promoting health.
One of the biggest tensions between the sex-positive movement and the public health field is how to mitigate the risks of sex in a way that does not shame people. Public health often decries so-called hookup culture because of a large body of research linking numerous bad health outcomes to earlier sexual debut, a higher number of sexual partners, and other sexual choices identified as risky. Nevertheless, with the rise of smart phones and apps, hookups are easier than ever.
The meeting, held in San Francisco and organized by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), was based in part on research from 2010 which explored the types of prevention strategies mobile and Web app users would be open to. However, the technology and the way people use it has changed drastically in the last four years, so the results were viewed more as a reference than a roadmap.
The meeting itself furthered the insights from the 2010 survey. Specifically,
- App and Web site owners want to promote prevention strategies but need to know what works.
- Top priorities included promoting STI testing and reducing stigma for those living with STIs.
- Partner notification procedures need to be adapted for apps.
Ultimately, the meeting’s participants decided to focus on three areas: promoting testing, fighting stigma, and relationship building between the two fields.
This meeting is exciting for so many reasons. It helps debunk the idea that app owners care only about the bottom line and are not invested in being socially responsible. It highlights a sex-positive approach to STI prevention, rather than one rooted in fear tactics, shame, blame, or “don’t do it!” messaging. It shows that public health is evolving … and maybe our efforts don’t have to be in conflict with sex-positivity.
This collaboration is beautiful because it meets MSM, a group classified as hard-to-reach, right where they are—on the apps and Web sites they use daily. Holding this meeting was a strategic, business-like move, which isn’t public health’s traditional modus operandi. It takes the best of both sectors and combines them into a solid strategy to meet everyone’s objectives, whether those are measured in dollars, dates, or rates.
Other Sexual Health News This Week
New York Initiative to Help Other Cities Clear Rape-Kit Backlogs (New York Times)
World AIDS Day, Dec 1. Click here to find events near you.
The following conferences take place in November and December. Click on each title for more information and to register.
National Sex Ed Conference, Dec 3-5, Meadowlands, NJ Be on the lookout for presentations by SHR’s Kait Scalisi and the CSPH’s Megan Andelloux