When staff of AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM) were looking for a new idea for a hot way to sell safer sex and promote HIV testing, they naturally turned to the internet.
After all, there is a wide range of risqué material and a permissive, anything-goes attitude online. But when ACCM posted its saucy new videos last year, one video-sharing site, Metacafé, yanked them, citing a violation of “community standards.”
ACCM’s communications coordinator Alex Wysocki-Najar says he’s truly surprised by Metacafé’s response, given that the videos – which are more suggestive than outright graphic – have not been censored by the notoriously prudish YouTube.
The point of the campaign, says Wysocki-Najar, is not to exploit but rather to promote the idea of taking care of oneself.
“When we were thinking of how to get people to think about their own health, we thought about how we could do something that was not about prevention,” he explains. “We wanted instead to promote something, like the idea of having fun but protecting your sexual real estate at the same time.”
The campaign, called ATOM-c, suggests that men who have sex with men should become recruiters by asking their friends to get tested for HIV. Those who manage to recruit rack up points, which can be exchanged for prizes like iPods. Wysocki-Najar says the point is to convince more and more gay and bisexual men to get tested.
Wysocki-Najar says Metacafé’s “community standards” excuse is particularly weak, given that the site hosts some gal-on-gal videos that are way more explicit. “I think it’s a guy-on-guy thing,” he says, though he adds the company has not got back to him after repeated emails. Metacafé did not return Xtra’s emails, either.
But with or without Metacafé, Wysocki-Najar is proud of the new ACCM videos, which he directed.
“I got to get together a bunch of really hot guys for an afternoon in a sauna and ask them to take their clothes off,” he says. “It was a great way to spend some time. We wanted the videos to look like porn. So who better to go to than porn actors themselves? Some of the guys are porn actors, others are dancers from strip clubs. They all agreed to work for practically nothing as they could see it was for a really good cause.”
Like many AIDS organizations, the ACCM has grappled with how best to reach a population of gay and bi men who seem less and less concerned about HIV. The choice often comes down to a familiar dichotomy: fear or pleasure.
“So much of the safer-sex campaigning has been about ‘Use a condom or die,’” says Wysocki-Najar. “We liked the idea of saying getting testing is like going to the gym to take care of yourself; it’s a way of taking care of yourself and your body.”
And in the end, the controversy around Metacafé’s squeamishness has probably helped draw more attention to the ACCM campaign.
“We’ve had a lot more hits lately,” Wysocki-Najar. “And as a result, I think a lot more men will consider becoming recruiters. Which is the whole point of this.”