In a powerful discussion held at Gather Labs in Beverly Hills, a panel of entertainment and medical leaders shed light on the pressing need for the LA community – especially those in the adult film industry, those who use popular apps for casual dating, and those who are newly sexually active – to have access to better, more thorough information about safe and healthy sex practices.
The discussion was moderated by Susan Karlan, a well-known contributor to Fast Company, and shed light on the culturally significant factors that often hinder or prevent individuals from seeking routine STI testing and support, including stigma, shame, and limited access to affordable diagnostic resources.
Ginger Banks, an LA-based adult entertainment actress and educator, was one of the prominent voices in the group and emphasized the significance of creating an environment that is welcoming and less intimidating for individuals seeking information about safe sex practices and testing. She brought attention to the impact of lockdowns on testing rates and the inevitable discussions around sex on social media platforms.
With the recent ban on explicit sexual content and the restricted use of sex-related terminology on popular platforms like TikTok, addressing the issue of STDs and STIs has become increasingly complex. However, both the entertainment community and leaders in Los Angeles are determined to find innovative solutions to overcome these obstacles and prioritize sexual health.
Banks highlighted the challenges faced by platforms that restrict the discussion of such topics, necessitating the use of euphemisms and emphasized the need for individuals to confront their own sexual hang-ups to facilitate wider and more open discussions. Additionally, she revealed her efforts to soon create a platform that allows for the advertisement of safe and healthy sex products on ethical porn websites.
Rachael McCrary, CEO and founder of Gather Labs and the host of the event, highlighted her motivation for creating a safe space for the discussion. She spoke about how lengthy testing processes often discourage people from getting tested promptly, which is one of the motivating factors that led her to create Gather Labs — a spa-like experience that not only facilitates faster testing but also helps combat the stigma associated with it. She told her story of her corporate career and entrepreneurial story and experiences of successfully raising VC funding for women’s products with the added challenges of raising capital during a pandemic during a volatile financial climate. She also shared her experiences as a woman in business with the added vulnerabilities of having nude photos online, and underscored the importance of supporting individuals against societal obstacles.
Hannah Hutton, co-founder of Personal Fav Co. – a company dedicated to creating beautiful, clean, and plant-powered personal intimacy products – joined the group as an advocate for sex education and combating stigma. She discussed how she’s had a hard time advertising her intimacy products online and the role of social media in perpetuating shame around STIs and sex. She emphasized the need for increased access to education and pointed out the historical neglect of female anatomy in clinical studies. Hutton underscored the importance of dismantling vice clauses on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, that hinder the growth of sex-positive brands and products, especially in women’s health spaces. She advocated for positive solutions such as prioritizing education, creating safe spaces online that don’t ban education and safe sex products simply because of the word sex, and shifting the focus from fear to pleasure in discussions around sexual health.
Dr. Joshua R Gonzalez, MD, a board-certified and fellowship-trained urologist and sexual medicine specialist who focuses on managing sexual dysfunctions in men and women, discussed how he’s seeing a concerning rise in non-HIV STDs/STIs in Los Angeles and the limitations of relying solely on PrEP medication for HIV prevention. He stressed the need for comprehensive testing that includes not only blood and urine but also swabs from the rectum and mouth. Dr. Gonzalez called for healthcare providers to approach their patients without assumptions and acknowledged the lack of sexual education within the medical field. To address these issues, he emphasized the importance of educating people on all aspects of sexual health and combating misinformation with accurate and easily accessible information.
Rachael Kim, a policy advocate and the CEO and co-founder of My Comma – an organic period care subscription platform amplifying women and BIPOC brands to power new period routines – drew attention to the far-reaching consequences of STIs, including their impact on infant mortality rates. She expressed concern about government funding plateauing and the subsequent limitations in availability and education. Kim accentuated the need for intentional community efforts to ensure access to sexual health resources and to advocate for policy changes that prioritize comprehensive education and support.
Frances Tang, the founder of Awkward Essentials and an advocate for destigmatizing conversations around pleasure, highlighted the challenges associated with discussing topics related to sexuality. She stressed the importance of normalizing such discussions to foster a more open and informed society and called for increased knowledge about women’s bodies, as there is still much information yet to be uncovered. To address these challenges, she urged the community to engage in creative and diverse conversations that embrace different angles and perspectives.
It really takes a community to create change and tackle the challenges posed by social media restrictions, lack of accurate information and easy access to testing. It’s great to see Los Angeles influencers, activists, entertainers and health experts employing creative strategies to disseminate accurate sexual health information.