The PrEP Project tries a new approach to HIV: admit gay men aren't using condoms
For Immediate Release
San Francisco, California - May 1, 2017 - Current estimates place consistent condom usage among gay men at less than 17%, and PrEP use at 12%, despite approximately 40,000 new US infections per year. San Francisco Filmmaker Chris Tipton-King seeks to address this with a campaign launching May 16 aimed squarely at the condom-averse crowd.
Since the availability of PrEP, a daily pill that prevents HIV, transmission rates in San Francisco have fallen dramatically: by up to 18% per year. However, the success in San Francisco is an exception in the larger picture of HIV in the US, where as recently as 2015, only 66% of providers were familiar with the drug.
“Even among the 68% of gay men who are familiar with PrEP, there’s still a cultural reluctance to fully embrace it, whether that’s from lack of information or shame about sexual practices,” says gay San Francisco Filmmaker Chris Tipton-King. “Until very recently, ‘barebacking’ was not something you openly discussed, especially with your doctor, even if you knew all your friends were doing it.”
The first scene of the series includes Leue doing something that runs counter to prevention logic of the last thirty years: describing in graphic detail what he dislikes about condoms. "We realize we're taking a risk here," says co-director Robyn Kopp, "but we wanted to signal right up front that we get it, it's OK to own your choices about what you do in bed, and we're here to help you still be safe." Tipton-King adds, "we're not trying to make an anti-condom statement; we just think it's important to address what people are actually doing."
While initially controversial in the medical community due to fears of a rise in other sexually transmitted infections, PrEP (which requires STI screening every three months—much higher than the US average) is now endorsed by every reputable HIV organization and has been proven to be 99% percent effective. Despite this, PrEP usage remains low, and communities of color, specifically African Americans, are becoming HIV positive at disproportionate rates. In 2015, African Americans accounted for 45% of new HIV diagnoses, though they comprise only 12% of the entire US population.
Seeing an opportunity to expand PrEP use among the millions of at-risk men who would benefit from it, Tipton-King is launching “The PrEP Project,” a hybrid documentary web series that tackles taboo issues head-on with a “fun, sexy, and outrageously frank” approach. Marking a break from the fear-based campaigns of the past, the YouTube-distributed series is sex-positive, poz-friendly and kink-friendly. Featuring a diverse cast that includes a Latin adult film star, a Miami drag queen, and both positive and negative actors, the series combats misinformation, stigma, and shame, with the goal of empowering gay men to take control of their sexual health.
“I don’t have to answer to any committee or government organization, so I can walk a lot closer to the edge than other campaigns have,” comments Tipton-King, referring to scenes with bare butts, glitter-filled exploding condoms, jell-o shots served in urinalysis cups, and lip syncing, a concept borrowed from the popular YouTube series “Drunk History.” The series weaves together interview footage featuring Eric Paul Leue (Mr. LA Leather 2014 and notable PrEP activist), staged flashbacks, on-screen narration and fictional scenes, to produce an engaging and viral-ready confection.
The series will consist of four planned episodes, running about five minutes each. Premiering on YouTube on May 16, The PrEP Project hopes to reach hundreds of thousands or more viewers through a Kickstarter-funded social media blitz. As of May 1, the project had successfully raised $15K to fund production, editing and marketing.