Down An’ Dirty: an online resource for sexually adventurous men (SAM)admin
Down An’ Dirty: an online resource for sexually adventurous men (SAM)
HIV Australia | Vol. 10 No. 1 | June 2012
James May explores an HIV prevention initiative of the Sexually Adventurous Men’s (SAM) project in Victoria.
Down An’ Dirty (www.downandirty.org) is an online information resource and HIV prevention initiative of the Sexually Adventurous Men’s (SAM) project – a joint venture between the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre (VAC/GMHC), People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) Victoria and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS).
The project was established after research found an increased risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among sexually adventurous men.
The behavioural attributes that define ‘sexually adventurous’ include: having multiple sex partners; being highly engaged socially and sexually with other gay men – particularly with HIV-positive gay men; having broad sexual repertoires and being sexually experimentative; frequent use of illicit drugs and sexual enhancement drugs; engaging in unprotected anal intercourse with non-regular partners; and use of riskminimisation strategies as an alternative to condom use.1,2
The Down An’ Dirty website has been created to assist men to access information about sexual practices, recreational drug use and safety. It allows men to ask questions about sexual health to medical practitioners, and to read the questions from other men who engage in sexually adventurous practices.
The site encourages user interactivity through online videos and moderated comments. As such, it has been designed to evolve and adapt to users’ needs over time.
There are two men leading the project: Carlos Sepulveda from VAC/GMHC and Wolf Graf from PLWHA Victoria. Both have extensive knowledge of SAM networks in Melbourne such as the Bear, Leather and BDSM (bondage, discipline sadism and masochism) communities.
According to Carlos, ‘the website is about minimising risk on each and every practice and is a response to the fact that SAM will often use methods of risk reduction other than condoms. SAM are generally more susceptible to STIs as a result of this and having multiple partners.’
Carlos explains that it has been a lengthy process getting Down An’ Dirty up and running. Gathering information from SAM was the first step. ‘This is very different to outreach programs. Organisations are not telling guys what they need but rather, asking what they want from us. SAM are steering the project, not us.’
Down An’ Dirty involves key players from the gay community as well as SAM who are active in the scene. Carlos and Wolf have liaised with venue owners, sex party organisers and various interest groups such as VicBears, Mega-Fist and Melbourne leather groups.
Retailers such as Manhaus, Lucrezia & DeSade and Eagle Leather have also provided feedback. ‘It’s important to have a good relationship with stakeholders in the community,’ Carlos says. ‘We’re constantly drawing information from these groups.’
Down An’ Dirty: Overview
The Sexual Practices section of the website provides a thorough overview of the different practices engaged by SAM. These include BDSM, fisting, watersports and anal play as well as more obscure sexual practices.
Information is provided about how to use sex toys such as dildos, butt plugs and vibrators as well as how to clean them properly. There is useful discussion on how to minimise the risk of physical harm and/or STIs such as using gloves, trimming fingernails, washing and disinfecting hands.
Other activities popular among SAM such as piercing, tattooing and scarification are also explored in detail. In each example, much attention is given to undertaking these practices in a way that maximises pleasure and minimises the risk of physical injury and/or STIs.
Methods for risk reduction other than condom use during anal intercourse are common among SAM and close scrutiny is given to these within the website. These strategies include:
- negotiated safety: where two men agree to have safe sex outside a relationship, limiting unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) to between partners in a regular relationship
- withdrawal prior to ejaculation
- strategic positioning: when the HIV-positive partner takes the receptive position during UAI
- serosorting: choosing to have sex with partners of the same serostatus, and
- undetectable viral load: partners of different serostatus choosing not to use condoms where one partner has an undetectable viral load.
The pros and cons of these strategies are highlighted and strong clarification is given that these methods are by no means a safeguard from STIs, including HIV.
The Enhanced Fun section of the site provides information about a variety of recreational and sexual enhancement drugs, detailing each the effect of each drug, their potential long-term physical and psychological impacts and possible consequences of mixing various substances.
Importantly, the section warns that any drug-taking prior to sex can lower inhibitions and impair decision-making processes, thus leading to a greater risk of physical harm and/or STIs.
Multiple links on both pages also refer the reader to current VAC/GMHC sexual health campaigns such as ‘Wherever Sex Happens’ and ‘The Drama Down Under’ which provide detailed information about STIs and proper condom use as well and other essential information.
There is also a Useful Links page which provides access to a variety of relevant websites such as GLBTI counselling services, drug and alcohol services, fetish groups, bars, clubs and sex-on-premises venues (SOPVs).
The Ask A Specialist section gives readers the opportunity to post questions regarding sexual health and sexual practices. The questions are then directed to the most appropriate channels ie: a sexual health clinician, VAC staff member or someone who is experienced in that particular sex practice.
A major feature of the site is the Video Section which allows members of the SAM community to upload their own video content.
There are currently five videos online, four of which were produced in conjunction with VAC/GMHC/PLWHA. These films were produced in the men’s private settings and offer intimate accounts of their personal lives, sex lives and relationships. Viewers are also given space to comment on the films.
Feedback from site users
Vincent has explored group sex and multiple partners but his favourite activity is watersports or ‘playing with piss.’ He attends watersports parties at venues such as Club 80 in Melbourne and private garages.
Vincent finds the Down An’ Dirty website very instructive. He says it provides a lot of information and it’s easy to navigate. He says it needs on-going review though. ‘They’ve gotta get people used to interacting with it – push the fact that it’s an interactive resource.’
Alex mostly hangs out in the gay male Leather scene. He gets into flogging, corporal punishment, fisting, watersports and breathplay. ‘I’ve got a Master, I’m in a Leather family and I train Submissives.’
Alex loves the lifestyle and aesthetic of the Leather scene. ‘It’s hot to look at but it also has a cultural context. It goes back to the post WWII military era and the bikers in the fifties. Leather etiquette is steeped in military protocol,’ he says.
Alex only engages in SAM practices with people he trusts and says that it turns him on sexually and helps him unwind. Alex thinks Down An’ Dirty is a great resource, describing it as ‘really detailed, the safe sex input is good. He says that it could be updated to embrace transmen and others in the broader kink community though.
‘Leather women have a lot to offer too. This could make it more diverse and promote more online discussion.’ Alex also enjoys learning about the more obscure practices on the site.
Duke is into fisting and arse play. Duke has his own play room at home with a sling in the shed as well as a digital projector and sound system for porn. A mixture of gay guys and closeted guys come to his place. ‘We have threesomes on a regular basis but sometimes up to six guys will attend. My sex partners become mates.’
Duke says that some guys don’t know much about sexual etiquette though. The Ethical Slut is a book that talks a lot about this – it’s a must for all SAM.’
Duke is impressed with Down An’ Dirty. ‘It’s very comprehensive and helpful and well laid out. I particularly like the question and answer section.’
He recommends having some specific books earmarked in the Sex Practices link and says that the Question & Answers could be used to market the site further. ‘GPs can’t answer everything because they’re not on the scene,’ he says.
Moderating the site
According to Carlos Sepulveda, there is a need to moderate feedback on the site to avoid abusive posts. For example, one video tells the story of a couple in an open but committed relationship. ‘A disgruntled reader posted some rude comments about the status of their relationship and I felt I had to respond.
The guys on the videos have been great to share their personal stories and I won’t have them berated by strangers.’
Carlos says that feedback needs to be monitored and approved because there are lots of egos, strong opinions and strong personalities among SAM.
The SAM project recently held three focus groups with sexually adventurous men at VAC/GMHC in November 2011 and will conduct more in 2012.
According to Carlos, the participants agreed that the visual elements of the website engaged their attention and encouraged them to explore it further.
Also, as the website is produced by VAC/GMHC and PLWHA, and their logos are displayed throughout, participants immediately assumed that the website had an HIV prevention purpose.
‘There was an extremely favourable response to the videos,’ Carlos says. ‘Participants found them interesting, thought-provoking and engaging and frequently commented on the diversity of the men profiled and the diversity of sexual practices addressed.’
They also commented favourably on how the videos cover a broad range of issues related to sex and relationships. ‘The videos were described as making HIV prevention ‘more real’, even if they do not always explicitly talk about safe sex,’ Carlos says.
The men I spoke to for this article were, overall, very impressed with Down An’ Dirty. While they did express the need for ongoing review, they were more than satisfied with the information and resources provided and the ease of navigation.
Minor improvements were suggested, such as the provision of books and the need to market the website more proactively – possibly expanding the breadth of information to include other members of the GLBTI community such as transmen.
Ultimately, the SAM community needs to be encouraged to interact with the resource, if the website is to keep thriving.
Does getting down an’ dirty with SAMS work? Carlos’ presentation at the AFAO/NAPWA Gay Men’s HIV Health Promotion conference in May 2012.
1 Hurley, M., Prestage, G. (2007). Intensive sex partying: contextual aspects of ‘sexual dysfunction’. Journal of HIV Therapy 12(2), 1–5.
2 Smith, G., Worth, H., Kippax, S. (2004). Sexual adventurism among Sydney gay men. Monograph 3/2004. National Centre in HIV Social Research (NCHSR). NCHSR, Sydney. Retrieved from: http://nchsr.arts.unsw.edu.au/media/File/Sexual_ adventurism.pdf
James May is a freelance writer in Melbourne and regularly contributes work to the HIV sector in Victoria. He has also written for various magazines including MCV, Positive Living and HIV Australia.