Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes at gay men’s health charity GMFA, has spoken to HOMOVISION.TV about the recent criticisms of HIV health campaigns as well as the work and aims of the charity, their policy on bareback porn and the effect the internet and sex-clubs have on HIV prevention.
Hodson says that the main aim of GMFA is to provide clear, honest, accurate and accessible information, and stresses the need for a balanced approach towards HIV prevention: “There isn’t one campaign, one booklet or piece of group work that will work equally with everyone,” he says. “We strive to give gay men information. The work we do works to empower gay men. We look at those issues like self-esteem and we do that with counseling, group work or mentoring. If gay men have the information, the ability and the resources for safer sex – that’s what we are striving for.”
In the interview, he also questions the results of the Soho Live Survey – featured in Gary Leigh’s article on HOMOVISION – stating that such research may simplify HIV prevention campaigns: “I think the problem with some of the criticism recently, is blame culture. I think this is the main problem with Gary’s research – it was asking people who’s to blame – and people could say it’s bareback porn, or the failure of HIV prevention agencies. But actually when people have unprotected sex, it’s not just because they saw a bareback porn film, it’s a whole range of different influences that go into that decision. That will be what their understanding of HIV is, what their understanding of HIV transmission is, how they feel about themselves, self-esteem, what they think their partner’s status is etc. These are really complex things. I think the problem with Gary’s survey is that it tried to make it really simple, and say there’s one reason why people are having unprotected sex, and I don’t think that relates to people’s experience.”
According to Hodson, most gay men now meet their first sexual partner online, which has lead to new challenges in the ways HIV prevention campaigns are developed: “Sixty percent of gay men meet their sexual partners on online dating websites. It’s the most significant place for people to meet. Ten years ago people were most likely to meet in cottages or cruising grounds,” he says. “There’s a real change in the way gay men organise their sex lives now, and this is something that HIV prevention agencies need to work with.”
Hodson is also admits that some advertisements for sex clubs in gay magazines are questionable: “I don’t think it’s up to me to say to a magazine who they should accept advertisements or not. I couldn’t name the club, but sometimes I have flicked through a magazine and seen an advert for a club and been quite shocked by the way its depicted because I think there’s a lot that does suggest that there’s sometimes quite hardcore and potentially dangerous activity.”
He adds: “I don’t think it’s damaging the work of GMFA, but I do think there are some things that make HIV prevention activity harder. But this is the environment we have to work in, and that’s why it’s really important that we put out our messages which are clear, unambiguous and honest.”
As to the future, Hodson admits that HIV prevention campaigns must be relevant: “There’s always new people to the scene and you’ve got to get information out to them,” he says. “We’ve got to look at new ways of using the Internet, which is a large part in which gay men organise their sex lives. And it is also about saying ‘We’ve got to take responsibility for our own behaviour’. I also think there’s new challenges which are presented by the fact that treatments are improving because it isn’t the death sentence it was 15 years ago and I think there is a real challenge because we can’t say “Don’t catch AIDS because you will die” because we’ve seen deaths drop by 80%.”