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Monday, August 11, 2008

HIV: The New Gift Givers

posted by on August 11 at 13:35 PM

I’m sorry, but this is completely retarded. The Centers for Disease Control, desperate to slow the spread of HIV among young gay men, is going to hand $1.5 million worth of gift cards to “gay opinion leaders” in the hopes that they will “talk up safe sex” among their peers and, with any luck, bring down HIV infection rates. The CDC wants us to know that gift-card program—which originated in London and was attempted in North Carolina—really and truly works:

These opinion leaders [in North Carolina] were given four $25 gift cards, along with marketing materials, to talk up safe sex. A study of the effort, published in June in the American Journal of Public Health, indicated more men were practicing safe sex.

The research was based on repeated surveys over time of about 300 men. It found a 32 percent reduction in unprotected anal intercourse during 2005, and a 40 percent reduction in the average number of sexual partners.


I’d like to read that study. Who conducted the interviews? Who wrote up the results? If it was the same folks handing out the gift cards I wouldn’t put much stock in those reported reductions in rates of unsafe sex and reductions numbers of sexual partners. It’s possible that the 300 men enrolled in the program were telling the gift-card-givers what they wanted to hear in order to keep the gift cards coming. Or, if the gift-card-givers had a stake in the success of the program, it’s possible the gift-card-givers were inclined to read good results into inconclusive data. It’s also possible that the gift cards weren’t the catalyst for behavior change if, indeed, there was measurable behavior change. Knowing that they were going to be asked again and again about the sexual choices they were making—knowing that they were going to be called to account—might have inspired some of the men in the study to make better choices. Or claim that they did.

And the devil, as always, is in the details:

The funding ran out and the program ended. And the surveys weren’t backed up by HIV testing.

So… the enrollees weren’t tested for HIV, and the story doesn’t mention if there was any measurable drop in HIV-infection rates in North Carolina while gift cards were being passed out to opinion leaders. So… let’s roll the program out nationally!

The saddest thing about this story is this: It rests on the premise—and broadcasts it to straight people everywhere—that gay men, from our opinion leaders on down, care so little for ourselves and our sex partners that we will do the right thing only when bribed with piddling $25 gift cards. For $25 worth merch we’ll make better choices and encourage our friends to do the same. But if you don’t come through with the gift cards, well, looks like we’ll just keep spreadin’ that virus around.

The reality is that are tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands, millions—of gay men out there who regularly encourage their friends and lovers to do the right thing. For free. Hell, I’ve been doing just that in “Savage Love” for ever. If you’re going to start passing out gift cards for it, CDC, I figure you owe me a stack. I’ll take mine for Snowboard Connection, Cupcake Royale, and Mr. S. Thanks.

RSS icon Comments


If I have to give up anal creampies because you need new napkin rings from Crate and Barrel, Dan, you just tell me.

Posted by Ziggity | August 11, 2008 1:39 PM

The money quote: "The idea is to give gift coupons to popular, influential men in the gay community and encourage them to talk up condom use, regular HIV testing and other responsible actions."

Hmmmm. OK. So...

My sense is that the popular boys in the younger demographic abandoning safer sex are not exactly popular because they can marshall a cogent argument and carry the day at some queer Algonquin Round Table, especially an argument involving sex.

Hell, in the modern online age, some of these boys are popular because they are six-packed hot messes of sexual promiscuity (cf Manhunt).

So the boy that makes everyone's taco moist at Purr is going to save the world? And perhaps most laughable of all, that dreamboat is going to start talking to people? People he doesn't want to fuck? I can't get my arms around this...

I want to believe that the popular kid at school, the quarterback-with-straight-A's, exists and that he has a sense of mission to fight AIDS. But I'll be damned if I've ever seen it, on a wide scale, in my lifetime.

Color me jaded.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 11, 2008 1:44 PM

I'm not sure about the gift card part of this program, but it seems like educating a sampling of gay men and other high-risk groups to evangelize safe sex practices might not be a bad idea in itself.

Posted by boxofbirds | August 11, 2008 1:45 PM

To the rescue!!!

Here we have another wonderous use of a positive train wrecking crew useage in pictorial language.

Get it through your ears Ziggity....You are what you paint when it comes to HIV.

And on other sign fighting fronts... (yes Virginia it is true...) One needn't be GAY or even BI to defend poor visual aide packages...

just visually alert for poor visual aiders!!!!!

Vanna... Don't give the "R" to the gay haters!!!!!

Posted by danielbennettkeieneker | August 11, 2008 1:46 PM

well it's better than getting paid to promote unsafe the stranger does...hello dan, the biggest spreader of hiv in town, z club, advertises right here on the slog...nice.

Posted by huh | August 11, 2008 1:51 PM

Dearest boxofbirds.

Perhaps you should move to fire island, circa 1973 post spraying season and count carcasses.

That's how I feel about evangelization of Gay Samples in an Election season full of revivalists.

Do you think the military and it's heinous warfare divisions planned to invoke the pulpit when they designed the flag, the church and the hot-shot injection needle at boot camp or do you think they saved some of the books they burned when they sacked Troy and Alexandra called up and said give me some of what I want?

Get a grip on something besides Rhetoric.

The Games are on everyday.... take it from a wet nurse....

we need more more moremore more more moremoremoremoremore.

Posted by reverand sicko | August 11, 2008 1:52 PM

And look how we thank 'em:

Edit and advertising are walled off from each other.

Posted by Dan Savage | August 11, 2008 1:54 PM

Well if you meet me in the stranger hallway with my medical charts and YOUR ID i'll take a look at your supeona for Z CLUB.

Give me an hour and YOU can buy me a smoke and a beer and well take a look at your profile.

Posted by mrs. unsafe sex | August 11, 2008 1:56 PM

@7, But I've heard there's a hole in the wall, behind the filing cabinet, that, if editorial sticks its cock through, advertising will suck it off. True?

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 11, 2008 1:57 PM

Dan, it's not OK to call something completely gay (when it isn't) and it isn't ok to use completely retarted.

I love you but there is no acception.

Posted by Non | August 11, 2008 2:02 PM

Cupcake Royale?


You need to seriously think of upgrading to Trophy Cupcakes...they're not dry with greasy frosting like Royale...

Posted by michael strangeways | August 11, 2008 2:07 PM

@10, Gross spelling errors.


Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 11, 2008 2:09 PM

Don't be retarted, Jube. I meant exception.

It's HARD to be a self-righteous drunk!

Posted by Non | August 11, 2008 2:16 PM

This is based on the "popular peer theory," which basically states we all listen to the cool kids on the playground. The theory recognizes the fact that messages sent from above--think "Just Say No"--are ineffective at best, ridicule-worthy at worst, and they are undeniably ignored.

When I was an HIV counselor back in the day, we stopped making the cheesy "Safe Sex Starts With Me" posters, and we gathered up the various "cool kids" in the community: the popular drag queen, the hot guys everyone liked, the guys who were rich. And we brought them out to dinner, and presented a program to them on how you can protect yourself from HIV infection. And then we released them back into the wild.

Honest to God--it totally worked. They started talking about it with their friends, and people heard the messages better. The drag queen talked about HIV in her shows. And people would reference what they heard, using the language we taught our group.

I know it looks odd on paper, but these programs do work. You just need to make sure those $25 gift cards start out in the right hands.

Posted by Dan Renzi | August 11, 2008 2:20 PM

@13, Continued gross spelling errors.

Fail, and one week's detention.

FYI -- "Retarted" is rarely used outside pastry kitchens.

Carry on.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 11, 2008 2:22 PM

Is "retarted" what happens to Dina Martina when she reapplies her makeup?

Posted by Fnarf | August 11, 2008 3:34 PM


just drop it from your "this is funny" vocabulary.

Posted by LMSW | August 11, 2008 4:05 PM

If they want to be effective, they should hand them out to hot gay guys and hot bi guys, cause it's not the opinion leaders people are listening to on the dance floor, it's the johnson in their pants.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 11, 2008 4:18 PM

K, Dan, we get what doesn't work. Can you mention some programs that do? What's the latest on HIV prophylaxis?

Posted by Gitai | August 11, 2008 4:40 PM

@14 But how do you know it worked? It could be that was more discussion about HIV, but that doesn't definitely mean less infection.

I've heard that this tactic can work well for products, people see someone they consider influential or a trend setter in their peer group and want to be like them. But sex safety seems way more complicated than what kind of jeans to wear or where to eat.

Posted by djsauvage | August 11, 2008 5:21 PM

Why is there a weird cupcake battle for so many people? Is it possible some like Trophy better (yum) and some like Cupcake Royale better (mmm)? Some of us even enjoy both.

Posted by maybelle | August 11, 2008 6:13 PM

Make it a gas card and I'm sold. How do I get one of these things?

Posted by Tim Hulsey | August 11, 2008 6:33 PM

#14, the reasoning here is specious. The popular kids on the playground are functionally equivalent to 'messages sent from above', and what they say holds no more validity than what my parents say.

Just because a celebutard (I'm sorry but it's a beautiful word) speaks her mind on a television show meant for people of lesser intellectual capabilities - or even on a blog where the standards are higher - doesn't mean that her sociology is anything more than crystal divinations. Celebrity, please stay out of science.

If you've got some peer reviewed study you can point me to that shows this works causally, and not correlatively, I'll have some delicious crow for dinner, but I'm not willing to stake chunks of a budget on a program that works because someone *just knows in their heart* that it does.

Posted by turingcub | August 11, 2008 6:52 PM

Also, most of the hot guys aren't as smart as me, so if they walked up and told me something, I'd probably do the opposite. And bang them, too, of course.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 11, 2008 7:34 PM

I'm so glad Dan is up on basic statistical methodology. Perhaps he could educate ECB what it means to "control for factors" when one compares men's and women's pay. And perhaps he could remind himself that P(A|B) is not the same a P(B|A) when he argues abou the effect of sexual orientation of childrearing.

Posted by David Wright | August 12, 2008 2:08 AM

I've checked the table of contents for the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, and couldn't find the study referred to in the AP story. Here's the link to the June issue:

Let me know if the study is there. I'd like to read it.

Posted by MPetrelis | August 12, 2008 10:42 AM

@24: Keep telling yourself that.

Posted by maybelle | August 12, 2008 12:10 PM

Posted by Mike | August 13, 2008 12:55 AM

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