Dan Wohlfeiler, Director of Building Healthy Online Communities, points to an early lesson in public health as a spark that led to working with dating site owners. “A friend told me, ‘You all in HIV and STD prevention are trying to do the hardest thing in the world – changing people’s behavior. We in injury prevention put banks in the curves of freeways to make sure no one gets hurt.’ This became the mission of BHOC: to look for the banked curves for HIV and STD prevention along the information highway – especially dating and hook up sites.”
Wohlfeiler had been talking to a number of app owners about the different ways they could work together to support their users’ health. Some of those strategies are just like those banked curves on freeways. For example, BHOC encouraged them to make their profile options much more specific than they used to be. Years ago, most dating site profiles just had one box to check: “safe sex” – yes or no. Now, thanks to all the advances in prevention, there are many more options. There are still condoms. There’s PrEP. There’s reaching and maintaining an undetectable viral load, so one can’t transmit the virus to anyone else. Now, nearly all the apps offer all those options.
BHOC also worked with apps to promote regular HIV and STD testing through reminders. BHOC does a lot of research with users and public health experts to find out which strategies will be the most acceptable to users and what will have the greatest impact. And of course, BHOC also works closely with owners to find out which strategies they’ll support.
Wohlfeiler had been talking for some time with Carl Sandler, the CEO of Daddyhunt, about how Daddyhunt could incorporate these strategies. “He sent me the first season of the DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL, and I was hooked,” shares Wohlfeiler. “It had incredibly talented actors, terrific production values and a really compelling script. We started talking about how we could do a second series with a story line about some of the big issues that gay men are facing when it comes to HIV…PrEP or condoms? Or both?”
“I’d previously met Dan Wohlfeiler at an AIDS Conference,” said Carl Sandler, CEO and Co- Founder of Daddyhunt. “After watching the first season of the DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL, Dan contacted me and asked if there was a way we could work together on a Season 2 of the Serial and maybe include a public health component to the storyline. I immediately thought that this was a great idea because we want to educate our users about condoms, PrEP, the importance of routine testing and other safe sex practices. By working together with BHOC, we have managed to reach not only Daddyhunt users but millions of viewers, entertaining and educating them about these important topics.”
Wohlfeiler adds, “It was a challenge to write it in such a way that it raised all the issues and gave enough information without turning into something that feels like a sex ed class. Though wouldn’t it be nice if sex ed did deal with condoms and PrEP? We wanted to get just enough information in there to raise the issues and make it clear that there are a lot of options – and that the important thing is to have a sexual health strategy. Since we had all these great actors in one place, we filmed five PSAs that had much more specific information. Some are about very specific issues. It’s safe to say that the one called, ever- so-poetically, “Butt and Throat,” is the first one to tell viewers that they need to get checked for STDs wherever they might have been exposed. Other PSAs in the series aim at helping people make the choice that’s right for them about PrEP, condoms, and being undetectable.”
As of now, DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL Seasons 1 & 2 have cumulatively received an incredible 5.7 million views. Season 2 won numerous awards including “Winner: Top Shorts Online Film Festival.” The positive feedback online has confirmed that gay men are hungry for this kind of show and information.
“When BHOC and Daddyhunt started talking about doing a Season 3 of the Daddyhunt Serial, we realized immediately that we needed to reach more minorities to promote our safer sex practice message. We are seeing an attack on HIV-testing and fund cuts (thereof) in the Southern U.S. under the current administration,” explains Casey Crawford, Daddyhunt’s GM and Executive Producer. “As a gay black man, having been raised in the South, and working for Daddyhunt, I feel like I’m in a position to change that via our public- private partnerships with organizations such as BHOC. The stigma faced by men of color causes some to forgo testing and treatment, and we’re hoping to change that via the Serial and PSAs. Being HIV-positive isn’t a death sentence. Avoiding any type of HIV and STI testing or treatment is counterproductive. Get-tested. And if needed, get treatment.”
The team then decided to create the Season 3 with two goals. The first was to have a much more diverse cast, since HIV disproportionately affects African-American men. The second was to go deeper into other important issues that so many gay men face, such as what it means to have an undetectable viral load, and how to tell a partner that you may have inadvertently exposed them to an STD. They also filmed a new set of PSAs, on these same themes, as well as some different ones. There’s one on writing a profile that helps you make informed decisions about your own health and the importance of keeping it friendly rather than the kind of “no femmes, no fats” language that so many people use.
STDs are going up – they’re at their highest level in decades. And HIV is far from being over. As many are looking for the reason why, a lot of people point fingers at the dating apps. Wohlfeiler states, “What this project has shown is that apps also are ready, willing, and dedicate resources to helping prevent new HIV and STD infections. It’s been the most gratifying part of my career – to build those partnerships that result in lasting change and also deliver important information to people in a way that they can hear it.”
ABOUT BUILDING HEALTHY ONLINE COMMUNITIES (BHOC)
Building Healthy Online Communities is a public-private partnership between dating sites and apps and HIV and STD prevention organizations including the National Coalition of STD Directors, NASTAD, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Project Inform, and AIDS United.
Responding to a surge in those who subscribe to the Daddy label, the Daddyhunt app and website has become one of the largest and fastest growing social networks for men seeking a more authentic approach to meeting guys. On Daddyhunt, members never need to lie about their age — or anything else — just to meet other men. Daddyhunt celebrates older men and their admirers.