Little Blue Pill

This daring PrEP video puts the sexy back in HIV prevention

Leo Forte, Chris Hanner, and Rock Evans in a scene from “The PrEP Project.”

“PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy that deals with sex, namely bareback sex,” says film student Chris Tipton-King on the eve of HIV Testing of the June 27 National HIV Testing Day. “And I got tired of people tip-toeing around that fact.”

The young Bay Area resident had never seen a PrEP video that didn’t somehow sanitize sex or the desires of gay men. “Everything I had seen about PrEP just felt… awkward.”

And so, without a dime of governmental funding, Chris used an assignment for his master’s degree in cinema to create “The PrEP Project,” a four-part video series that speaks honestly – and quite explicitly – to gay men about their sex lives and why more of them should be using PrEP.

The result is a sexy video series on the topic. It’s exactly what PrEP advocates have been waiting for, because it isn’t beholden to stiff health department guidelines or even political correctness.

Stop everything and watch it right this minute, as long as your boss doesn’t mind some ass and explicit sex talk. Each episode is only five minutes.

Did we mention the series features leatherman sexpert Eric Paul Leue?

The first classic prevention message that Chris didn’t promote in the video was “use a condom every time.” The vast majority of people, gay or straight, do not use condoms consistently. “The rate of consistent condom use among gay men has been estimated to be as low as 17%,” Chris says, “and PrEP is the answer to that. But we still conflate condom use with morality, which just isn’t helpful.”

Instead, the film speaks to the sex lives of gay men as they actually are.

The initial backlash against PrEP as an alternative to condoms – the “Truvada Whore” argument — doesn’t bother Chris. He knows where it comes from. “Condoms became an emotional topic,” he says, after a generation that provided few other options. “Now that there is an alternative, people have a hard time letting that message go.”

Rest assured, “The PrEP Project” outlines the risk of other sexually transmitted infections that can occur without condoms. It just refuses to draw a false equivalency between the consequences of HIV and those of other STI’s.

When the first video in the series launched on Facebook, it got more than 40,000 views in the first day. That is, until Facebook pulled it down for violating their irksome, often vague community standards.

“That really pissed me off,” Chris admits. “I should have expected it because it is somewhat graphic sex, but I believe the people who pulled it didn’t like the message. It wasn’t about the sex. I got a lot of hate mail.”

Lucky for you, we’ve included the entire series right here. Enjoy!

Want to know more about PrEP or ask questions to experts and advocates? Check out the PrEP Facts: Rethinking HIV Prevention and Sex page on Facebook.

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20 Comments

  • Orgoglio Masch

    Love a good threesome or moresome. Condoms have worked fine for me thus far. Cheaper and safer too.

  • assiandude

    I do think that the use of PREP should be mainstream in active gay men and although in theory, HIV could be eradicated, as no STD has ever been eradicated, it seems unlikely. Also, the long term consequences of PREP are not insignificant. My concern is that the message is more that PREP substitutes for condoms. There is some mention about other STDs, which are at the moment treatable and so followup is needed which is a great plan if nature was static. I was involved in AIDS/HIV treatment since the beginning of the epidemic and the one thing that I noticed which wasn’t emphasized is the coincidence of the Gay revolution and two epidemics, Hep B and HIV which are not that easily transmitted except through blood or semen. When the epidemic was first described, I thought it was something old with an unusual presentation, but it quickly became apparent that it was something new.

    My concern is that without condoms, any blood borne pathological organism can enter into our community and spread quickly. I do recognize that it was my generation of gay men who had the first condomless party with many many partners and consider myself lucky that I wasn’t infected. For the past 30 years, gay men have used condoms, obviously not all the time, but it was part of our culture. If we lose that, we drop that epidemiologic barrier.

    I think that as a culture, we need to find a role for unprotected and protected sex in a positive fashion. Perhaps when we commit to an individual that we trust, but something we can push as a general consensus. Of course, it’s not a guarantee, but it’s as a public health intervention it can have a huge effect. The other avenue is to limit the number of partners, ie “slut shaming”, which would have a similar affect. I recall that the data at the beginning of the epidemic that gay men with AIDS had well over 1000 lifetime partners when asked but the number without AIDS was pretty close although. (I recall, that the straight colleagues were a bit incredulous about these statistics, but the gay men after doing our own mental calculations were not surprised).

    If we did go PREP and condomless, the party will restart and I can say that it will be fun for all involved until something terrible happens. Perhaps it never will and HIV was a fluke, but perhaps all parties come to an end. I don’t want to be around if another virus enters because of the communities behavior, I doubt if the sympathy or support will be the same. I suppose this is a “bogeyman” argument, but HIV was truly worse than most monsters that we could have imagined.

    • hohochan

      Before anyone get ballistic on your comment, I’d like to commend you for your frank view on this subject. Not trying to “shame” anyone in any sense, but it would be tragic if PrEP were to be found to contribute to another epidemic in the future, simply because bareback sex would never be as safe as sex with condoms. We’ve spent so many years trying to drill into the public in general, and our community in particular, about safe sex. I for one is still sceptical about a drug that doesn’t have a record / study on its long term effects. I do worry, is all …

    • salumbre

      You are absolutely right, assiandude. I have a feeling this campaign is targeting the bareback crowd, and as such is a lot better than nothing.

      I have been a very sexually active and non monogamous slut (and proud; yet, as Margaret Cho, so aptly puts it, “Where is my parade?”), yet condoms have done the job for me. No HIV and no other STDs to date. Were I sexually active right now, I might give PrEp a shot, but as an extra security measure, not as a magic panacea.

    • Jody

      >My concern is that without condoms, any blood borne pathological organism can enter into our community and spread quickly

      I guess my issue with that line of thought is that condoms are always conveniently overlooked for oral sex, gloves for hand jobs, and latex dams for anything involving ass-to-mouth. I’m not really sure the argument presented is about miming risk as it is just some overwhelming fear of anal sex.

      There are risks to sex…any sex. PrEP is designed to eliminate the risk from the single deadliest STI we’ve encountered: HIV. It does it breathtaking well. It also encourages regular testing for the rest of the STIs that are out there, ones that just aren’t that lethal.

      Can another blood borne illness come out of the blue? Sure. But then so could an illness that is passed from oral sex. Or a flu that rips through gay communities faster than straight ones. You can posit endless scenarios about new and ever deadlier diseases that will destroy us and the world. But just because you can conceive of one, doesn’t actually make it a real risk.

      Regardless of PrEP, if we were just able to get all sexually active MSM into regular testing, 2x-4x a year we’d be able to identify and greatly eliminate the amount of STIs circulating. We’d also be able to hook HIV+ people into care, suppressing the virus, keeping them alive, and preventing new transmissions. PrEP allows us to do this.

      Those people who like condoms will continue to use them along side of PrEP. Those who don’t like them stopped using them or used them inconsistently before PrEP came around. PrEP allows us to meet people wherever they are in terms of sex and partners. It allows us to prevent new HIV infections as well as treating STIs as well as monitoring for any new infections that might break out in our community.

      This is an incredible, incredible advance.

    • Tobi

      “There is some mention about other STDs, which are at the moment treatable…”

      There are now strains of syphilis and gonorrhoea that doctors believe will shortly become untreatable.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-36065314

  • BriBri

    “This daring PrEP video puts the sexy back in HIV prevention” Pharmaceutical greed is more like it.

    • pharaon.em.joe

      I hare pharmaceuticals too but the FDA recently approved a generic form of Truvada so hipefully prices will significantly drop.

  • jmanzella

    I completely agree with assiandude and I find that Eric Paul Leve’s arguments are just naive. Especially when he justifies bare-back-sex by stating how he wouldn’t have been conceived if his parents used condoms.
    As someone who was twenty-five-years old in 1981 when the story about a rare cancer, that was being diagnosed in gay men, was published in the New York Times, and through all that occurred during the following years, I find the attitude in these so called “experts” not only cavalier but dangerous. Anything can be justified as illustrated in these videos, but I believe it’s great disservice to gay men to continue to espouse the mentality that everything will be ok if I just take a pill.
    Being more mindful of one’s health should never be taken lightly. As a psychotherapist that works primarily with LGBTQ individuals, couples, and families, the issues are much more complex than presented in these simplified videos. Should sex be enjoyed? Absolutely! But to state that all one has to do is be checked every three months for other STD’s is reckless at best. Syphilis rates have increased dramatically and let’s not forget all the other STD’s that are still out there including herpes. To feel empathy for the poor guy that has to break the feeling of the moment by having to either lie with a full condom, or to have to take it off and not stain the hardwood or carpet is ridiculous. I wish I had such problems.

  • Chris

    This is a topic on which there’s bound to be a generational divide. Those of us who buried brothers (like I did), friends, and even strangers because of AIDS will respond through the lens of those experiences. Those of us to whom HIV is a manageable, long-term illness (much like herpes), will view these adverts through the lens of their own experiences. And as one commentator has noted: each of us should ask ourselves “who profits, financially, from these sorts of messages?” ….. My own reaction is tempered by remembering how I responded to people whose support of various wars was tempered by their participation in WW-II versus those of us (like me) who came after. La meme chose.

  • theszak

    The Strategy. BEFORE sex test TOGETHER for A VARIETY OF STis Sexually Transmitted infections including HiV Human immunodeficiency virus then make an iNFORMED decision, google… tested together before sex

  • Geeker

    I’ll stick to condoms thanks, last time I checked unless you have a latex allergy they didn’t have any unknown side effects.

  • Liam

    Lots of egoist crap posted. As I knew any honest pro-sex ad would garner from a certain subset of the gay community.

    I applaud the ad.

    • gymnofrater

      My sentiments exactly, Liam. Just goes to show how infected many gay men are with a sense of anti-sex shame.

  • Prax07

    What I don’t believe is the stuff about the person on prep that’s being checked every three months for other std’s being the “safest” person to have sex with. If a person is sleeping around that much that they need constant monitoring for std’s then I would never want to have sex with that person. Prep still equals slut to me, especially when looking at the guys on the apps that are always on there looking for random sex. I see many guys with “nsa only, on prep”. That doesn’t say hey I’m safe, it says hey I’m a slut.

  • designdude

    This video is worthless. PrEP was already sexy: Living is sexy. This PSA just reinforces our community’s non-stop sexualization of our lives. Smart is much more than convenience and sexed up. Alas, our community believes our penis is king, not our brain. How sad that left to them, our only head would be on on our shaft..

  • beachcomberT

    Disappointed this drug promo totally omits the cost factor. Why should guys expect the government or insurance companies to shell out thousands per year just so they can have the thrill of bareback sex? Our healthcare system already is under strain paying the costs of AIDS treatment. Why add to that burden when condoms provide safer prevention for just a few dollars. Queerty, how much were you paid to run this native advertising?

  • Kieru

    These videos sort of glorified PrEP as this means by which you can excuse no longer relying on condoms. This isn’t how PrEP is marketed or how your doctor will qualify the purpose of PrEP.

    I realize that it is how some people are going to use the drug, but it seems woefully irresponsible for videos like this to recommend a usage that is completely opposite of what the drug’s guidelines suggest. Hell… it even passed off missing a day as no big deal.

    And honestly… why does HIV prevention have to be sexy? There is nothing sexy about putting a condom on nor is there anything sexy about taking a pill every day. These aren’t sexy things- they are necessary steps to ensure that you are able to enjoy yourself sexually without life-long consequences.

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