It's sexy, provocative and adults only. Says the My Fucking Life website, "The guys at Health Initiative for Men have teamed up with Pull Focus Film School to create a six part web series that explores the creative and complex ways gay men love and fuck each other. More than 70 men shared their stories, talents and private parts in this series of sexual adventures."
We will be featuring some of the videos on PositiveLite.com and you can see a sample below, or go to their website to see all six. But first let’s talk to Jody Jollimore, HIM’s young and energetic Program Manger, about HiM’s campaign with a difference.
Bob Leahy: Hi guy. Thanks for talking to PositiveLite.com about your latest campaign for young gay men. You’ve called it "My Fucking Life". Intriguing title! Do you want to talk about the F-bomb and why you chose this title?
To be honest, we were more excited about the ‘double-entendre’ than the shock value of the F-bomb. In the end, using "Fucking" in our title caused us all kinds of headaches with social media rules and regulations, including Grindr who refused to promote our series.
That said, our philosophy at HIM is to meet guys where they’re at and that includes using familiar language. This particular series was targeting guys who may be using the internet for sexual networking, where the ‘F-bomb’ is used frequently.
I’m really not sure whether or not our funders would go with that here. Did you have to fight off any misgivings about using a title like that, or are all you B.C. guys a liberal lot?
No, our funders were incredibly supportive as they understand it is one of the reasons HIM has been so successful: we know how to engage gay men. Really the trouble came from a very conservative application of Apple rules by Grindr. It was quite disappointing given the popularity of Grindr and the demographic we were targeting.
Well, we love what you’ve created - this sense of adventure and of being gay, being out there and all about sex is very fresh and appealing. Reminds me of when I was young and full of questions and hardly knew what being gay was all about. But there is also a real gay sensibility behind the chatting. Now you described the series to me as being waaaay gay. Explain that could you?
The series was created by doing a call for gay sex adventures among the HIM networks. We collected a number of sexual exploits, which we then used local gay actors to re-enact, as well as young gay men to provide narration. At HIM, we’re always surprised and delighted by how much gay men want to share with us. In total the project involved more than 70 volunteers and artists.
So do you think we have sometimes missed the mark in our sexual health messaging in that we can often be all business and no fun?
Absolutely. Public health is an extension of the government, which is run by political leaders. They cannot produce the kinds of social marketing and health communication campaigns required to engage certain gay men who have sex with men. For that reason, agencies like IiM are funded to do and say some of the things that Public Health cannot. I think it is a very important role we play.
OK. let’s talk about how you are getting the message across. The My Fucking Life website has on it a series of six videos, sexual adventures you call them, about five minutes each. Tell us what the themes are and how you chose them.
The themes came from the stories we collected and the data we have available to us. For instance we know a certain proportion of gay men go to the bathhouse and use drugs while having sex. We also wanted to approach the subjects that are normally taboo to discuss even among the closest of gay friends, things like HIV disclosure, group sex, substance use and addictions. These are gay realities that are tough to talk about.
So these are the themes that emerged that are most needing addressing in order to promote good sexual health in gay men, and ultimately I suppose reduce the number of HIV and other STI new infections.
That wasn’t really the objective of the series. We wanted to create an entertaining series that promoted a dialogue around gay men’s sexual health. The themes emerged from the guys themselves. They shared their lives and we made a series to reflect them. The link to sexual health is subtle. We try to explore a balanced perspective, free of judgement, but with honest consequences. For instance we don’t condone or condemn drug use, we simply present it as is: common and sometimes problematic.
Got it. Any other themes you would have liked to explore in more depth?
Wow. There is only so much you can explore in five minutes and each episode required tremendous work in order to ensure good production values. I’d want to collect more stories before I decided on future themes.
So I’m wondering what the reaction will be – or has been? Do you think, for instance, the average gay men wants to hear or even think about HIV these days or not?
That’s the beauty of My Fucking Life, we address HIV as a reality in our community, but not the only reality. Several characters were HIV positive, some in sero-different relationships. My Fucking Life is an example of how we think HIV should be discussed, openly and honestly, without shame or stigma.
So how willing were you to talk about alternative forms of HIV prevention, or at least harm reduction. I mean the field has expanded to more than just condoms now, right?
Harm reduction was the central theme in several of the episodes including Double Taboo, Sex in A Box and A Numbers Game.
Anything for poz guys here?
Absolutely, two of the main characters are HIV positive. They discuss HIV disclosure in terms of online hook ups, bathhouse culture and threesome relationships. Many of the other themes (group sex, bathhouse culture, drug use and addiction) are relevant to poz guys.
OK back to the videos then - they are pretty explicit. Is that real sex going on?
No, all simulated sex, with varying degrees of acting. Thanks to a great editor, we were able to create some very steamy shots. We always made sure the cameras were turned off for the after-parties…
Pity. :-) So how did you recruit guys to do the sex scenes?
They are mostly HiM volunteers or other guys who are connected to the organization, with the exception of the bathhouse episode where we recruited a few guys on the spot!
And the four guys who are the common theme throughout the series – Allan, Ron, Brendan and Michael. Tell us about them. Looks like they are all young gay men that have a pretty mixed range of experience levels, sex-wise, including pretty inexperienced, if not naive. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. We knew that the stories we collected were not representative of all gay men, so we needed to include some less experienced voices in the project. The young men are used to advance the plot in some cases, ask questions in others and underscore varying levels of experience within the community.
We’d like to have a close look at all six videos. Do you want to set up the first one and tell us what this one was designed to achieve? (You can see it below.)
In this one we’re setting up the series and introducing the characters. Group sex, bathhouses, threesomes and drug use. We’re going there! This episode is a compilation of the entire series, similar to the last episode.
OK thanks Jody. We’d love to continue this by letting you talk us through the other videos if you can. Will you get back to us on that?
Sure. In the meantime there are brief descriptors attached to each episode on the Youtube channel and on our website.