Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Queens Advocacy: Pursuing Passions

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

When Catriona Gray landed in the top 5 and bagged the Beauty with a Purpose award in Miss World 2016, she was recognized for her passionate work in Paraiso Bright Beginnings Project. Since then she has gone on to not only win the Miss Universe-Philippines crown to represent the country later in December, but has also added the HIV advocacy as one of her top passion projects.

Catriona Gray talking to select volunteers
Photo by: Catriona Gray
When a friend of mine passed away from AIDS-related complications. It really caught me off guard because he never told anyone about it. There was this ‘hush’ over his condition and he suffered in silence. That's really what drove me to do something to be able to help others not reach the same fate.” ~Catriona Gray, Miss Universe - Philippines

In July 2017, Catriona expanded her advocacy work when she supported internal events in LoveYourself and sharing her knowledge and experience to continually inspire volunteers. The HIV advocacy has been close to her heart ever since her friend passed away from AIDS-related complications. She wanted to move forward and make a change the public's perception of HIV.

Catriona Gray co-hosting Love Gala 2017
I'm honoured to lend my voice to the cause (literally) but I hope that in my participation, all of those around me my circle of friends and family and those who follow me - can become aware too. I'm a part of the ripple effect and that makes me feel empowered and proud.” ~Gray

Catriona joined in celebrating World AIDS Day at the Love Gala on December 1, 2017. As one of the co-hosts for the event, she was honored to participate in Asia’s Premier Charity and Awards Gala and bore witness to the first Ripple Awards.

Cationa Gray supporting Fit to Love
By removing the stigma, we can fight HIV & AIDS and not the people suffering from it. No one should die because of collective ignorance. We are capable of change, or learning and educating. We are all human and we all love.” ~Gray

On March 2018, Catriona continued to support LoveYourself’s projects towards empowering self-love. At the photoshoot campaign Fit To Love, she emphasized that everyone has the innate ability to show and receive love no matter one’s HIV status. During the Philippines’ first community-led multi-site HIV testing day in May 2018, Catriona surprised volunteers as she joined the registration committee in welcoming participants.

Signing of the the Paris Declaration to Fast Track Cities: Ending the AIDS Epidemic
Photo by: Carlos Diego A. Rozul
“It took losing a good friend of mine at the age of 26. It just didn’t seem fair that at that age, you haven’t even been given the chance to go about your life, to pursue your dream, to pursue your career that your life is just snatched away from you by something that could have been prevented.” ~Gray

This August 9, 2018, Taguig City in partnership with UNAIDS, LoveYourself, and The Red Whistle signed the Paris Declaration to Fast-Track Cities: Ending the AIDS Epidemic. Catriona together with actor JC Santos bared witness to the event and is in full support of achieving the 90-90-90 vision. The project aims that by 2020, 90% of Filipinos in Taguig City will know their HIV status, 90% of those who test reactive enroll into antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those in treatment achieve a suppressed viral load.

When one takes the opportunity to pursue their passions, it’s amazing what one can really do. Would you follow suit? Click here to sign up as one of LoveYourelf’s stronghold of volunteers.
Carlos Diego is an HIV counselor and the Head of Editorial for LoveYourself. Outside of volunteering, he is a clinical audiology student and a registered psychometrician. He aims to facilitate a deeper meaning to health by discussing the importance of aural, sexual, and mental health.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Matching Safety With Satisfaction: Choosing Condoms

By Jeffrey Venzuela
Have you ever heard people say , “Since sex became easier to get, love has become harder to find”? In these modern times, finding dates can be fast and easy with the use of dating apps. A few taps here and a few swipes there, you'll find a match. Whether you’re looking for love or a casual hook-up. It's inevitable that you'll meet guys who don’t want the same things as you do. Yes, it may lead to disappointment. They may even end up breaking your heart. But you can't always protect yourself from that. What you can protect yourself from is contracting HIV and other STIs.
One action you can take to prevent any additional hurt is to do timely testing and treatment.Having the initiative to know your status every three months after a possible exposure can be part of your self-care regimen. And there are even more when you live in the Triangle of Self-Care. There’s practicing safe and satisfying sex, exploring what satisfies you while still maintaining your safety. And completing the triangle is correct and consistent use of condoms and lube.
However, not everyone manages to uphold the Triangle of Self-Care. In 2015, the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH) investigated condom use among males who have sex with males (MSMs). Results show that some men do not use condoms due to the perception that it can decrease pleasure, that without them, the sensations are heightened and better. Some even implied that the use of condom can be painful and putting it on takes them away from the heat of the moment. Some participants even admit that the desire for pleasure overtakes the need for protection.
New Condom Options!
This shows how there is a misconception that the use of condoms automatically decrease sexual pleasure. Sex can still be satisfying with a condom on. It’s just a matter of finding the right one that works for you and your partner. It’s 2018 and technology is continuously improving the products we use, and that includes condoms. Okamoto, a Japanese company and global brand, have dedicated themselves to innovating condoms, prioritizing thinness and softness as much as they do safety.
“To help you let go and truly enjoy sex without compromising quality and safety,” that is Okamotos goal. They developed a material they call Sheerlon, which they claim is thinner and stronger than any condom out in the market. Keeping with its namesake, the latex is 0.03 millimeters thin from top to bottom. It feels as if you’re not wearing anything at all! They are also colorless. Combined with its thinness, the condoms are almost transparent. Another thing that makes these bad boys stand out is that they are odorless. Okamoto have managed to remove that rubber smell usually found in latex condoms.
Their latex condoms come in three variants: 003 Platinum, 003 Real Fit, and 003 Aloe.
003 Platinum
The 003 Platinum comes with an “easy rolling” technology for easy usage. Putting it on a condom has never been smoother. It surely won’t mess with your flow.
003 Real fit
The 003 Real Fit aims to bring maximum sensation as it is designed to adhere to the penis’s natural shape. It has no receptacle tip so no need to remind to pinch the tip. Just roll it onto the penis and you’d notice how it fits just right, especially on the head.
003 Aloe
What makes 003 Aloe stand out is it comes pre-coated with a water-based lubricant enriched with Aloe Vera. The plant extract, famous for its use in skincare, brings in a different kind of moisture, avoiding dryness and irritation of you and your partner’s skin.
Condom Use
Of course, these innovative condoms alone will not do the job for you. There are certain habits you need to follow to enhance your sexual experience without compromising your safety.
  1. Avoid using your teeth to tear open the condom wrappers. There’s a chance that you’ll bite the condom within the wrapper as well, ripping it as you tear the wrapper open. If you must use your teeth (slippery lubed hands and all), make sure you squeeze the side of the packaging to push the condom aside.
  2. Always use appropriate lubricants before and after putting on a condom. Coating the penis with lube enhances the sensation for the person wearing the condom. Also keep in mind that latex condoms work best with water-based or silicone-based lubricants. Oil-based products will increase the chances of your condom breaking.
  3. Pinch the tip. This makes sure that there’s no air bubble at the receptacle end of the condom. The presence of air inside the condom during sex may build up pressure and cause the condom to break.
  4. Make sure to change condoms when changing positions, or partners. The mouth, vagina, and the anus are orifices involved during sex. It is important to change condoms when penetrating one after the other. You don’t want to introduce the microbes from the anus to the vagina or to the mouth.  
  5. Avoid using two condoms at the same time (double bagging). While a lot of people believe this is one way to ensure safety, it’s actually the opposite. The friction between the two synthetic materials may cause breakage, exposing you and your partner to risk.
  6. Do not reuse condoms. A worn condom, no matter how vanilla your sex was or how much lube you have used, has already been subjected to friction. Using at again has a higher chance of it tearing.
  7. Be consistent. Condoms should be worn all throughout whenever there’s penetration involved. That also includes oral sex. The presence of even the smallest cuts or sores (singaw) in the mouth can be a portal of infection.

Love may be worth the risk but making love surely doesn’t have to be. Just as we protect our hearts, we can also take measure in protecting our sexual health. There are a lot of options for condoms today, not just by brand, but also by design, flavor, size, and thickness. There are also varieties of lubricants out there. Start your personal journey of mastering the balance between safe and satisfying and correct and consistent use of condoms. Remember, when it comes to sex, safety is sexy.

Okamoto is available at Lazada, 7-Eleven, Watsons, Family Mart, Robinsons Supermarket, PCX and Nice & Nawty

Images by Gab Calderone
Jeffrey is a pleasure-seeking guy who loves eating out and drinking with friends. He can't sing but has an eclectic taste in music. Current obsessions: Bleachers and First Aid Kit. He plays Suikoden 2 and for nostalgia and watches One Tree Hill for comfort. Jeffrey goes to Taco Bell because he's not on an all-carb diet.

Monday, July 30, 2018

LGBT… QRSTUVWXYZ: I’m Confused with My Identity

By Mark de Castro

SOGIE and LGBT are language tools that may still continue to evolve, used to better capture the experience of human diversity. Due to its complexity, confusion in understanding sexuality is inevitable.

The term “Third Gender” was the closest common, non-derogatory vocabulary for non-heterosexuality before the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Today, the term LGBT has been adopted by a majority of sexuality and gender identity-based communities in the United States from about 1988.[1] In the Philippines, the initialisms used are LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, and a few others. These variations may be caused by groups giving emphasis on what the group’s main objective is and on the diversity of their members which may include queers, allies, and others that are not found in the initialism LGBT.

The initialism LGBT, the list of initials have sometimes gotten as long as LGBTTQQIAAP: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual[1], with the possibility to continuously evolve through time. And even if there are already a lot of different identities defined, there are still those who cannot find their place within these groups.

Due to the stereotypes that exist people are implicitly limited by how they may express themselves to fit a certain criteria. Can a gay man still be gay and be attracted to a lesbian? Can a transgender man wear a dress, a blouse, or a skirt on a daily basis, and still identify as a transgender? Or can a straight person have sex with the same sex and still be called straight? The answer for all of these questions is yes. These are only some of the possible scenarios that might be confusing for some, but are true for those who experience them first hand.

In the Philippines, there exist labels within the LGBT community which may be derogatory, depending on how they are used like Pamin and Effem. Pamin (pa-men) from the word “Paminta” (Pepper) which means “like a man”, referring to masculine gay men. Effem from the word effeminate which means acting or showing characteristics of a woman. However, when used against a person, pamin is being used to address gay men who are trying to act manly are more feminine in the perception of those who see them. As for Effem, this is commonly used by people who doesn’t prefer being associated with feminine gay men usually seen on dating apps with tags like “no to effem” or “effems back off”. The terms Bakla and Tomboy are the Filipino terms for gay and lesbian respectively. Despite being accepted and used by the community, they can be derogatory depending on the manner they are used.[2]

These remarks are associated with a person’s characteristics, appearance, and preferences, creating dangerous stereotypes. And because a person’s behavior, perception, and judgement towards themselves and others are determined by the concepts they get from their culture[3]; understanding one’s Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) will show that these stereotypes are not enough to label the unique individualities that exist. To further simplify this concept, the illustration below provides a graphic representation of SOGIE.

The illustration shows separate categories which are independent of each other: Identity, Orientation, Sex, and Expression. This means that each person is different in where they stand in the SOGIE Spectrum.
  • Sex refers to a person’s sex assigned at birth as it is expressed physiologically: defined by the X and Y chromosomes (chromosomal sex), bone structure evident in the hips and shoulders (skeletal sex), secondary characteristics like facial hair and the mammary glands, and the genitalia they are born with, which may be Male, Female, or Intersex. If a person’s Gender Identity and Sex are the same (e.g. Assigned Male at birth and identifies as a man), they are considered Cisgender, if the person’s gender identity does not match with their sex at birth, they are Transgender
  • Gender Identity refers to a person’s perception and deeply felt internal and individual experience of their own gender as a Man, Woman, or Others which may not necessarily correspond to their sex assigned at birth.[4]
  • Sexual Orientation (Attraction) refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes according to the American Psychological Association.[5]
  • Gender Expression refers to the characteristics shown by the person whether they are Masculine, Feminine, or Androgynous. 
One thing to remember when learning about SOGIE is that it was not designed for us to be able to define someone else’s SOGIE which oftentimes lead to bias or judgement; rather, this is a concept for individuals to be more aware of themselves and understand their own sexuality.

Mister, Miss, Mx

We no longer live in a heteronormative world; the number of unique SOGIE identification can go on and on. There is even an English language neologistic honorific title “Mx” using the letter x as a wildcard if one does not wish to refer a person by their gender which is widely accepted by the Government of the United Kingdom.[6]

Despite “Mx” having been introduced in the 1980’s, social media platforms have only started adapting more open gender/identity profile options.

Screenshots from Grindr Account Settings

Grindr, one of the first and most popular Gay Male Dating Applications in the country offers options for sexual identity which is categorized into three options: Man, Woman, and Non-Binary. The App also has an option for setting one’s own preferred Pronouns with an open “Custom Pronouns” option as well.

Screenshot of Scruff Account Settings
Another popular App that has been available for download along with Grindr is Scruff which also has its own way of categorizing sexuality and sexual practices in its personal account settings, placing “Bisexual” and “Transgender” along with “Leather”, “Military”, and “Discreet”

Caption: (left) Screenshot of Facebook sign up homepage. (right) Screenshot of Gender setting in Facebook account settings.

Facebook has also added a way to customize one’s own Gender in its account settings, despite not being available upon signing up from their homepage, there is a “Custom” setting which can be adjusted after creating a profile.

Not all social media platforms however are open to this. It may be because it is not an essential part of its usage like Twitter which is originally meant for quick and short updates that only has few profile information like website and birthday, or Instagram which offers “Male”, “Female” and “Not Specified” in its gender setting, which does not hinder anyone from sharing their pictures online.

Screenshot of Facebook Sign Up (left), Screenshot of Gender Setting in Account Settings (right)
Now that more people are being vocal about gender inclusivity, where there is still a thin line differentiating acceptance from tolerance, and preference from discrimination, there has already been many changes favoring equality and acceptance. One example of this is the much awaited passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill which will prevent acts of discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression; it was first filed in the Philippine Congress back in the year 2000 which has already passed its 3rd reading in the Philippine Congress in 2017, and is still fighting its way through the Philippine Senate.[7]

As more people start to understand their own sexuality through the concept of SOGIE, the initialism LGBTTQQIAAP will keep on growing. It is not only the term “Third Gender” that changed through time, many battles for equality and acceptance has already been won; however, there are still some that are yet to be concluded. And as this concept continues on getting popularized, each individual’s understanding of their own sexuality may lead to the dissolution of discrimination and exclusion, towards inclusion and acceptance.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Victoria Court: Being Victorious Advocates of HIV in the Philippines

By: Karl Faustino
It’s amazing knowing how HIV awareness has been receiving so much love from the community’s numerous allies - from popular celebrities such as former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach and the current Miss Universe-Philippines Catriona Gray , to different companies who celebrate diversity and advocate socially relevant causes  as part of their company’s corporate goals.
One remarkable company who has been doing this for so many years now is Victoria Court. Founded by Angelo King in 1970, the motorist hotel company has grown from its humble beginning from the simple Anito Lodge in Pasay City into a dynamic group of 10 amazing locations throughout the country. From its 24-hour service to its uniquely themed rooms, Victoria Court has definitely gone a long way. They don’t just provide quality service, they have amazing programs that has been paramount in the HIV advocacy.
Screenshots from the Stop HIV website
Becoming an Advocacy Corporation

Victoria Court started to make strides in the advocacy in 2006 with the release of their Stop HIV campaign. It was launched alongside an all-star
video directed by renowned photographer Marc Nicdao. Several models and celebrities from media and fashion highlighted not just the prevalence of HIV infection, but also explained how  of HIV transmission  has contributed to the increasing number of cases in the country, especially among the youth. It ended with a strong call to action, encouraging people to start talking about it by spreading the love, and not the virus. With online forums being popular at the time, the website became a portal for people to start openly discussing the issues surrounding HIV infection and prevention, and  access correct information about HIV. Their Stop HIV website was recognized in the 9th Philippine Web Awards when it became a finalist for Best Website under the non-profit category. The campaign evolved in 2007 through a video making contest, encouraging people to become HIV advocates as well. The winning entry’s simplistic yet powerful imagery of using a condom as the passenger’s fare showed how easy it is to raise information to stop the spread of the virus.
LoveYourself Volunteers at Victoria Court for HIV Screening Event
The journey continued  in 2011 for their 25th Anniversary celebration. Hosted by the Boys Night Out radio jocks Sam YG, Tony Toni and Slick Rick at Club Manor, Eastwood, the celebration released a new video featuring advocates and people living with HIV (PLHIV) speaking their minds based on their experience fighting HIV or taking care of someone infected with the virus. On the same year, Victoria Court has partnered with Red Whistle as they became the venue for Red Whistle’s HIV Headshots photoshoot campaign. The shoot was a fundraiser to support Red Whistle’s projects. Starting 2012, Victoria Court has been opening its doors to organizations such as LoveYourself and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for their community based HIV screening events. With their locations being easy landmarks in the city, HIV testing got easier for people to access. This partnership has since helped the organization increase its reach to hundreds of people who want to know to know their HIV status.
As HIV cases continues to rise in 2017, Victoria Court also stepped up its HIV program with the launch of Project Rainbow which provides special discounts to people who identified as LGBT when they avail of Victoria Court’s services and facilities. It was released alongside a video featuring actual LGBT talents. Part of this initiative involved having focus group discussions with the LGBT community, conducting gender sensitivity training and learning sessions about the basics of HIV to their frontliners, a feat that only a few of hospitality brands have taken into consideration. This helped pave the way not only in revolutionizing their HIV advocacy.
Gender Sensitivity and HIV training session for Victoria Court's frontliners
The Secret to Success
With the industry’s sexually-skewed connotations, Victoria Court bravely used this thinking and turned it around to develop an advocacy their organization can rally with. Angelina Mead King’s courage to advocate, and her strong social influence to empower not only the LGBT community but also her employees was a huge factor as to the success of Victoria Court’s HIV programs.
Their efforts have not gone to waste. Victoria Court’s online videos became a source of information in a then limited pool of resources that touched  understanding HIV. Their latest video for Project Rainbow has now generated more than 873,000 views, 19,000 social reactions, and 5,100 shares. They also currently provide free condoms in all their rooms, and continues to be a partner of non-profit organizations such as LoveYourself and the HIV & AIDS Support House (HASH). Clearly, #EveryonesWelcomeHere

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Connecting People to Information with Blued

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Today, we make connections with each other in so many different ways. May it be through our workplace, common interests, or chance encounters, we could all learn something new about ourselves when we meet the right people. Blued is a gay social app that creates a space where people can build relationships. More than a social app, they take responsibility in looking out for their users' wellness.

LoveYourself and Blued

Blued has been a proactive supporter of LoveYourself's campaigns in their efforts to raise awareness about HIV among their users.

"Blued takes into heart our responsibility to help gay men understand HIV and get tested regularly." - Evan Tan, Blued Country Marketing Manager
Image result for blued
From HIV screening events to fundraising campaigns, they have built a relationship with LoveYourself that has enriched the community's understanding of HIV through strategic and memorable campaigns.

"HIV is not a death sentence. Take the first step, and get tested regularly. You can live your life to the fullest. With proper treatment and self-care, you can reach your full potential and live your best life." Tan shared.

Currently, they continue to rally to end the myths surrounding HIV especially when it comes to living with the virus. For Evan, taking one test can set you on your journey towards self-care.

Blued's Role in the HIV Advocacy

"We try to make conversations surrounding the HIV issue as normal as possible. Outside the Philippines, we are even helping people locate HIV testing facilities closest to them. Blued hopes to build a community of gay men who are educated about HIV and are not afraid to access testing and treatment." Tan said.

Evan shares how social apps such as Blued play a significant role in promoting self-care. By connecting the correct information and services to the right people, they can bridge the knowledge gap that is present in the community.

As the leading gay social app in the world, Blued has helped This is Me: Brave and Free to reach a total of 1,145 sign-ups - one of the highest in the history of LoveYourself's HIV screening events.

Beyond HIV

Blued has been empowering Filipino gay men when it comes to sex and sexuality. Recently, the launched a series called BluedTube that has touched on relevant topics such as coming out, bottom-shaming, and harmful gay myths. This year, they will launch the second season of their original web series Ur_Tadhana that aims to dismantle toxic masculinity and homonormativity that still lurks in the gay community.

The evolution of how people connect nowadays has affected how the message of love and self-care is delivered. With plenty of resources brought to an online platform, Blued does its part to link these opportunities to people in search. You can become part of the growing community that Blued has shaped by downloading their app on the Google Play Store and on iTunes.
Carlos Diego is an HIV counselor and the Head of Editorial for LoveYourself. Outside of volunteering, he is a clinical audiology student and a registered psychometrician. He aims to facilitate a deeper meaning to health by discussing the importance of aural, sexual, and mental health.