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1 min

Play nice

It’s time to get real about safe sex, Ontario.

That’s the message behind “Be Real,” a new campaign from the Ontario Gay Men’s HIV Prevention Strategy Working Group which launched this month.

The campaign is aimed at getting men who have sex with men (MSM) to protect themselves and their sexual partners by appreciating everyone’s special circumstances, with the slogan, “His life may be different than yours, but it’s just as important.”

“[The campaign is about] getting everyone to realize we’re all real people, we may just have other things going on in our lives,” says John Maxwell, director of communications and community education for the AIDS Committee Of Toronto (ACT).

Maxwell says this campaign builds on other safer sex programs — like the current How Do You Know What You Know? campaign — by focussing on accepting where any given sexual partner is coming from, whether it be background, race or creed.

“It will expand to look at social determinants of health. It will be more, ‘Life is important,’ beyond, ‘Use a condom all the time.'”

Ads for the campaign, paid for with $1 million from the Ontario Ministry Of Health And Long-term Care, include men of all ages and races, including trans men.

The campaign is all over Toronto, not just in the village. The plan is to also target areas of high immigration, including Asian and South Asian communities, says Maxwell.

According to the World Health Organization, there are about 60,000 thousand people infected with HIV in Canada, up 20 percent from 2000.

Although overall deaths from AIDS have declined since 1996, Health Canada research finds infection rates still rising among men who have sex with men; they make up 45 percent of new HIV diagnosis.

So why aren’t guys using a condom all the time?

“It may be due to stuff that’s going on, older men not feeling valued, or a man being with someone he feels is more attractive than him. Some see wearing a condom as disclosing their [HIV] status,” says Maxwell.

Despite the enormous amount of public education, Maxwell says a stigma continues to persist surrounding HIV and AIDS.

“It’s better than it was in 1983 but it exists in different kinds of ways. You see ads of guys cruising, looking for ‘clean men only.’ The flip side says if you’re HIV-positive, you’re dirty.”