I went to a fantastic session on Wednesday on using sensuality to promote safer sex among MSM. The workshop, which was facilitated by Anupam Hazri of the SAATHI project, included a series of participatory activities on sensuality and safety, as well as presentations of work being done by the Pleasure Project and Australia's Victoria AIDS Commission. All of these organizations are putting pleasure front and center in their HIV prevention programming - through sex-positive IPC, safer-sex porn, and multi-media campaigns that play on desire rather than fear.
What would sexier programming mean to us at PSI? First and foremost, framing safer sex in the context of pleasure rather than safety. Would this be appropriate in all settings, or with all audiences? Probably not - but considering it as an option seems like an important first step. Central to this approach is the recognition that safer sex doesn't have to just mean using a condom. At SAATHI, staff talk to male masseuses about using a "ladder process" when negotiating safer sex with a client - first discouraging penetrative sex; then (if the client refuses or wishes to continue) alternatives to penetrative sex (such as intercrural or "thigh sex"); then penetrative sex with a condom; and finally, as a last result, refusal or "extreme excuses." This reflects both a pragmatic approach to condom negotiation and an appreciation of the fact that the universe of sexual opportunities is broad and varied.
The idea that people have multiple identities and "gender performances" that play into the different aspects of their lives and influence their decision-making is also key. We spend a lot of time segmenting our audiences according to their behaviors and demographic characteristics, but we don't always take the next step and think about the "whole" person, including those parts of them that may be less obvious or less directly linked to the behavior we seek to change. Developing comprehensive audience profiles - something we emphasize at PSI - helps with this, but we need to be especially conscious of the many facets of gender and sexuality.
Finally, promoting safer sex with a greater focus on sensuality has implications for our work with couples, providing an opportunity to address sexual equity and communication in a way that is fun and empowering.
For more information on erotic promotion of safer sex and case studies of some of the organizations that are doing it well, see the Pleasure Project's new Global Mapping of Pleasure report at: http://www.thepleasureproject.org/content