The Avenue Community Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity in Saskatoon will soon be home to a new sexual health clinic for men. The clinic will offer a full range of testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in a queer environment.
“People don’t get tested because they don’t feel comfortable about it,” says Gens Hellquist.
Hellquist is developing a new social marketing campaign for The Centre aimed at improving sexual health for gay men and men who have sex with men. Part of that campaign will encourage gay men in the Saskatoon area to get tested regularly for STIs.
“In a homophobic culture, going to a medical professional and exposing that you’re gay, or you might be gay – that you had sex with another man – is scary for a lot of people, and for good reason,” he says. “I think the more options we provide people to be tested, especially in environments they feel comfortable, the better success we’re going to have at getting people tested.”
The clinic is expected to open in the new year and will be modelled after the Health Initiative for Men’s Clinic in Vancouver, but it will operate on a smaller scale and with fewer hours initially.
Getting tested is only one aspect of sexual health for the men’s social marketing campaign. Looking at rates of new infections in Canada, which haven’t gone down in more than a decade, Hellquist says the simplistic message “Use a condom” isn’t working.
“Human beings are complex creatures, and to try and give one simplistic message that’s going to work all the time for everybody just doesn’t make any sense,” he says.
Instead, the campaign will move beyond STIs and condoms to include discussion about self-esteem, mental health and substance abuse.
“I think sex is as much what goes on between our ears as it is what goes on with our genitals,” says Hellquist. “Certainly when you grow up in a homophobic environment, where you’re often cast as being worthless, that has an enormous impact on people’s mental health. We know that human beings in stressful situations adopt certain coping mechanisms, like resorting to alcohol or drugs. We also know that those get in the way of people making good decisions sexually.”
The Centre is looking for a diverse group of men to participate in a focus group for the campaign. Participants will be asked to give feedback on materials and talk about what sexual health means to them. Hellquist expects to create a web page and release a short video in the new year. The campaign is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The Centre will fundraise for the new clinic.