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Dear Michael Weinstein: There is no ‘condom culture’

What’s up with Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation?

For months now, they’ve been at the forefront in opposing new HIV prevention methods like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which uses drugs like Truvada to stop infection in HIV-negative individuals (read more about PrEP and how it works here).

Yesterday, writer Josh Barro highlighted Weinstein’s and AHF’s opposition in a short write-up for The New York Times:

Mr. Weinstein has called the use of Truvada to prevent H.I.V. — a practice known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — “a public health disaster in the making.” He has called Truvada a “party drug” and asserted that his loudest opponents on the issue have “all been associated with bareback porn.” Starting this week, the foundation is taking out advertisements in gay-oriented newspapers around the country under the headline, “What if you’re wrong about PrEP?”

Mr. Weinstein shows up in lots of news articles about Truvada in part because he runs a large H.I.V.-care organization, and in part because he gives colorful quotes. But he also shows up because he and the foundation stand more or less alone within the world of H.I.V.-prevention groups in their skepticism about PrEP.

(Disclosure: I am the editor of a “gay-oriented newspaper,” and I am not aware if this ad or any similar ads will be running; as editor I do not have any control over advertising in the newspaper, nor do I manage or sell advertising for the newspaper.)

Weinstein’s new ads include this special line: “Truvada poses a significant risk to the condom culture, which while it has eroded, has still prevailed among gay men for three decades.”


I hate to break it to Weinstein, but there’s no such thing as “the condom culture.” At least not anymore.

Have they been to a gay bar (outside of L.A.) lately? I haven’t seen condoms (with some exceptions) in my local or statewide gay bars in ages.

Have they not seen the stats?

One survey in New York found nearly half (46.4%) of gay men, bi men and MSM on apps like Grindr, Scruff and Manhunt said they had “bareback sex always, often or sometimes.”

The CDC reported last year that the “percentage of MSM reporting unprotected anal sex at least once in the past 12 months increased from 2005 to 2011, from 48% in 2005, to 54% in 2008, and 57% in 2011.”

There are myriad reasons for the increases in condomless sex. The proper public health, educational and preventative reaction to these increases should be to target those specific reasons — and to come up with new prevention methods (like PrEP, or “treatment as prevention”) that take into account this new reality.

But what Weinstein and AHF want is a return to olden days — decades-old public health strategies and safer sex messages that have proven, time and time again, to be ineffective. It’s almost puritanical — “You’re not having sex the right way,” Weinstein screams.

Public health policy cannot be predicated on hopes and dreams. It must be rooted in fact. Instead, Weinstein and AHF are living in a mythical fantasy world that doesn’t deal with honest facts about today’s gay men and their sexuality and sexual behaviors.

Did you miss it? After a hectic news month, I returned yesterday with a “Weekly” Wrap reflection on a month of marriage equality madness. Check it out.

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