Quite Purposeful: The Unbelievable and Thoughtful Response From the Team Behind That PrEP PSA

Remember this PSA about PrEP and Slut Shaming, starring JD Phoenix?

I had some pretty hardcore feels about this video, and if I’m being perfectly honest, it was difficult for me to revisit it without getting pissed off about it all over again. But I got some of the most thoughtful and intelligent responses to my questions and enragements from the team behind its creation, so let’s do just that, and revisit it:

That still strikes me negatively. But after this interview with Savas Abadsidis (the Chief Media Strategist for Connected Health Solutions, who actually got my attention by jumping into y’all’s scary comments with both feet) and Kenny Neal Shults (The President of CHS), I have to seriously rethink why that is. Here’s what they had to say about the PSA and JD Phoenix’s participation in it:

Firstly, let me say that I think you eloquently summed up what your intent was with writing and producing this advert in the comments of this post. And I think you addressed the complaints of lots of other blogs and twitter posts in that explanation, but not necessarily mine.

To start with, could you clarify your role in the creation of this PSA and maybe your general involvement with the public health org listed at the end?

Savas Abadsidis: Connected Health Solutions, Inc. is a consulting firm that works with non-profits and social service organizations to help them integrate new media solutions into their efforts. “Outreach” in the non-profit world is the concept of getting people in the community to be aware of services, key pieces of information, healthier behaviors, etc. We take this non-profit outreach into the new millennium by helping them develop social marketing campaigns and materials that are designed to reach very specific populations.


While I think the message about PrEP shaming and just general slut-shaming is important and clear in this short film, the inclusion of the line “I like to party,” with the raised eyebrows and the “oh well!” shrug that JD offers instantly erases any significance of the previous message and makes it sound like a public health organization is addressing  (I’ll say meth as a shorthand, because that is so often what people mean when they say “party”) meth as a foregone conclusion. Why include a line like that in the final edit?

Kenny Neal Shults: It was quite purposeful.

Personally I don’t believe PrEP is right for everyone. But it’s not my place to determine for whom it is right. It is our job to try and reach men whose drug and sexual behaviors place them at very high risk for HIV infection, and let them know that they deserve to avoid getting HIV until they have figured out the other parts of their lives that contribute to their risk. I would love to make crystal-using men stop using meth; I’d love to force them to use a condom every single time they have sex; I’d also love to possess the power to make high risk gay men stop fooling around at the clubs and fire island and go to college and pursue their dreams. These are overarching goals of any program that attempts to contribute to the betterment of the gay community. But we can’t sound like a nagging parents wagging our fingers in men’s faces. Not only does that not work, but also there are a lot of social determinants that influence the attitudes and behaviors that shape men’s lives, and that’s what we try to focus on when producing highly target social marketing campaigns. As public health professionals we have to address and attempt to change behaviors that contribute to HIV infection without judgment. We felt it was our job to focus on true, primary HIV prevention and give men in high risk groups the knowledge, and the respect, they need to consider PrEP as a means for staying negative.

I did needle exchange in the 90s out of a van in Austin TX. Of course I felt that the people we were serving shouldn’t be shooting heroin. It went without saying that this is not an ideal situation for them or anyone. No one was arguing that. But while they were shooting up they deserved to know how to stay HIV free. What struck me most about doing that work was how many of the “regulars” were open to accessing treatment for their addiction as a result of being cared for enough by the people trying to keep them negative. The first step in addressing substance abuse is to show compassion and understanding – when these are present people are far more inclined to take steps toward a healthier life.

I would LOVE an opportunity to use funding to address the crystal meth problem with strong social marketing campaigns. I feel very strongly about how decimated the community has been by that fucking drug and would love to work on ways to address it directly. Offering solutions to crystal users for the prevention of further life complications, such as HIV infection, is a good start however.


What purpose could an “oh well!” attitude about a phenomenally dangerous and pervasive drug (or even about drug use in general) accomplish in a public service announcement?

KNS: The thing is, it is not our role to address substance use. We know it’s an enormous factor in transmission of HIV and STI’s, but we can’t solve the HIV problem by attempting to get men off drugs. We aren’t funded to do that and it’s far to Sisyphean a task for HIV Prevention to take on. So we focus on what substance using men can do to stay safe.

Here’s the other thing; I don’t consider it an “oh well” attitude. I wrote this script and in it simply instructs JD to say “I Like to Party.” You should see the hilarious reel of takes of that line. He said it a different way every time. And this was great, because the team at Public Health Solutions were able to make a choice about which conveyed the intended sentiment. Which was not “oh well” but more like “this is a fact that I am expressing without shame.” We wanted this lack of shame about substance use to appeal to the intended target audience – substance using men.

The thing I love most about this ad is the opening line. “When straight guys have a lot of sex they’re called studs…” As an adolescent health specialist I get to witness a great deal of young-straight-male behaviors and attitudes. Hell, the young straight men in my own Brooklyn neighborhood are empirical evidence that young straight men also like to party. Alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and many other drugs are enjoyed widely across this nation by young straight males. This is a part of being young. Many of those men go on to have serious addiction issues. And many others use substances for a while and move on. Not all gay men who use crystal or other drugs are addicts, but recreational users. But, of course, we know that the disinhibiting nature of these substances puts them at greater risk for HIV infection. So whether you are an addict or consider yourself a highly responsible occasional “partier” you need to take precautions.

The fact that crystal and other stimulant use is so rampant in the gay community is due partly to the fact that it helps men cope with internalized shame. We were attempting to provide a contradiction to it by showing a man not at all ashamed, but in fact proud of himself for remaining negative. The funny thing is that that’s exactly who J.D. is.


I think JD Phoenix took a beating on social media that he wasn’t necessarily due for appearing in this spot. Do you have any comments about the way blogs and twitter, especially, held him accountable for the message here?

SA: I purposely cast JD because he’s been open about his battles with meth and his experience in porn. He’s young and quite articulate on the subject and not a shrinking violet. He’s spoken at high school’s and college campuses about it and his responses to some of the vitriol has been measured and poised. He took it in stride and I (as should we all) respect him greatly for that poise in his response.


I personally don’t think people are due outwardly inflicted shame about their sexual choices. But to my understanding, PrEP is a step in a safer direction. Do you think there really is a greater degree of slut shaming aimed at people on pre-exposure medications? Isn’t that backwards? And further, do you think that shaming is in line with or reflective of (not deserved, but maybe escalated at a consistent gradient with) the level of promiscuity people taking PrEP seem to engage in?

KNS: I think PrEP is new. And I think most gay men under the age of 60 literally have never imagined a sex life that wasn’t rife with barriers and fear. I was 38 years old the first time I didn’t use a condom (with a partner after getting tested together). That would be unimaginable to most straight men. But for many of us barrier free sex is terrifying, whether we’re coping with that fear by using drugs and alcohol, or all the way at the other end of the spectrum and coping with it by abstaining or using condoms for oral sex. Early HIV prevention strategies didn’t include an option for removing the barrier from the relationship. We were never told in the 90’s to be monogamous or get tested together – there were literally no options given for long-term personal HIV prevention. (When I first started doing HIV prevention in ‘94 the standard guidance to gay men from HIV Prevention was to use a condom for oral sex and a dental dam for analingus.) As such, we live in a world where some men just say, “fuck it” and abandon condoms altogether. The unrealistic notion of “Use a Condom Every Time” created some very real problems in HIV prevention. We all knew unconsciously that this was an impossible standard, but no one ever talked about it. We were like people in church nodding our heads as the HIV Prevention Preachers told us what we should be doing and feeling awful, and often abjectly terrified, when we faltered.

All this is to say, that for the first time in many men’s lives there is something other than condoms to prevent HIV infection. So it’s understandable that there will be a leveling out period where some men take advantage of the opportunity to perhaps experience something they never have before. I mean, if we decided not to expose anyone to fire until they turned 18, and then said “OK you guys use this fire responsibly now…” there would be a lot of terribly burned 18 year olds. We have never let gay men be in charge of their sex lives. We have always told them what to do and what not to do. Now we are paying the price for having never allowed men some agency over their sexual choices.


If you were going to summarize the intent of this spot in a few – maybe two – declarative sentences, what would they be?

KNS: If you are partying, be careful – you are at greater risk. But there are ways to stay negative and you can do it!


Do you think most people absorbed that message, based on social media response?

KNS: I think the reaction was exactly what we expected. There would be an initial outcry and concern that we’re promoting drug use, and then the folks who “got it” would help explain the true intent of the PSA on social media. Many people wrote nasty comments and called the piece irresponsible, but many other applauded it and engaged with the detractors, which ultimately fosters discourse and awareness.


Do you have any thoughts for someone whose response to watching this clip was to further shame someone like JD (because that seemed to be a common take)?

KNS: I think those people who shamed him learned something from what others had to say to them in response. I think this piece has done a wonderful job of shedding light on the nuances of the epidemic and the reality of many gay men’s lives. The Gay Community can be a highly critical and judgmental place – we turn on each other all the time just as women, people of color and many other communities who have internalized their disenfranchisement do. This is why the “Use a Condom Every Time” was so damaging. We told gay men to judge each other by this standard, even though none of us could live up to it, and that’s what we did. We shamed each other for not using condoms and never allowed a space for men to even mention their ambivalence about condoms. I once saw an HIV prevention educator get on a stage at a drag club, do a demonstration on how to put a condom on a penis with their mouth prior to oral sex, and then, after a few drinks, give head in the alley behind the bar without a condom in sight. There are always going to be gay people who judge and shame, because that has characterized our experience as gays for centuries and it’s now what we do to one another. This PSA is an effort to contradict this tendency and embrace a group of people in order to help them stay negative.


Kenny Neal Shults, JD Phoenix, Connected Health Solutions, CHS, Meth, PrEP, Pre exposure, Tina, Crystal, Drugs, Gay, Community, Commercial
Kenny Neal Shults and JD Phoneix


Because I have no reason not to be perfectly honest with readers of Manhunt Daily, those responses to my questions basically blew my face off. I am so impressed with the nuance and care that Mr. Shults and Mr. Abadsidis invested in their replies that I have genuinely spent my last hour rethinking exactly why my initial response to this PSA was “EW NO.”

I don’t know if I have a good answer to justify my personal offense, though I suspect a lot of it is tied up in my lifelong fears of HIV/AIDS and my experiences as an addict. What Connected Health Solutions has put forth here, with the help of JD Phoenix, if nothing else, is a conversation starter. It encourages people to have opinions, and – best case scenario – maybe examine why those opinions exist.

What did you think?



5 thoughts on “Quite Purposeful: The Unbelievable and Thoughtful Response From the Team Behind That PrEP PSA

  1. I’ve never called a guy a stud…. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that adjective used in that manner. A slut’s a slut. 3

  2. Yes!! Although, I like to think the best case scenario is that people will get better educated, get tested, and do what suits them and their circumstances.

  3. “I wrote this script and in it simply instructs JD to say “I Like to Party.” You should see the hilarious reel of takes of that line. He said it a different way every time. And this was great, because the team at Public Health Solutions were able to make a choice about which conveyed the intended sentiment.”

    I didn’t think much of the creators of this accident when I thought they were clueless. The more they try to justify themselves, the less I think of them. The fact that this was the BEST reading of the line is telling. The phrase “lack of direction” describes this video on too many levels.

    Forget for a moment the risk posed to gay men by syphillis, chlamydia, and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea (new infections of which spiked after the introduction of PreP – who could have guessed). You might have at least suggested the slightest sense of consequence to taking meth. The creator’s entire response is self-exonerating drivel.

    “I think the reaction was exactly what we expected. There would be an initial outcry and concern that we’re promoting drug use, and then the folks who “got it” would help explain the true intent of the PSA on social media.” You must be on different social media than my friends and I and everyone who I know who watched this video is on.

    This production was clumsy and poorly thought out at best and cynical and shallow at worst. Hopefully this firm doesn’t do work on smoking. I can picture the ad now. “I know smoking is bad for me, but I like to party. That’s why I only smoked FILTERED cigarettes – and I don’t french inhale… unless I do.” *Shrugs dismissively*

    Readers and watchers of this video. Ignore the message of this video. If someone you know and care about is having sex on meth, rather than making sure they’re on PreP, focus on getting them off meth.

    *Addendum* “I would LOVE an opportunity to use funding to address the crystal meth problem with strong social marketing campaigns.” If only you controlled some kind of organization that specialized in social media marketing campaigns. Oh wait, you do! You mention the issue of funding which raises the question, who paid for this campaign? Someone trying to encourage the use of PreP, perhaps? Hopefully, someone will one day figure out how to make money off of preventing meth abuse. Until then…

  4. I hate being gay. gay men make me feel like it’s controversial to want to avoid getting HIV. There should have always been a push to tell gay men that they don’t need to go to clubs and have dangerous sex to fit in. Young naive gay men are thrown into the world and try to seek a community and their community basically just says you should have risky sexual encounters because you wont ever have a normal happy life and rather than address the issue of getting pushed into an over sexualized life style that most gay youth are relatively ignorant about they complain about slut shaming but not ostracizing men who just want to be around gay men but can’t without being pressured into having reckless sex. Even with these drugs they can’t guarantee you wont be infected, I remember reading about Prep when they were doing studies and while the group that took prep did have a lot less infections many still go infected and it stands to reason many more of them will be infected over time. The only reasonable way to avoid HIV is to have a monogamous relationship and avoiding drugs otherwise you’re going to be dishing out money for condoms and or drugs when there is probably a good chance you’re going to get infected anyway at some point and also they’re expecting people who they say have no self control and do drugs to be responsible enough to take a pill that might not be covered by their insurance and get tested regularly and that’s somehow a more reasonable thing to push than trying to get them to stop being reckless and doing drugs?

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