Have a query about our services? Here are the questions that we get asked most often.
Yorkshire MESMAC FAQs
MESMAC stands for ‘MEn who have Sex with Men – Action in the Community’. It is an acronym that we no longer officially use, although we are often asked what it means, out of curiosity. The name reflects both the grassroots origins of the organisation and our commitment to a community development approach to our work.
Yorkshire MESMAC is a sexual health project, established in 1990. With offices in Bradford, Leeds, Rotherham and Hull, we are one of the biggest sexual health projects in Britain. We undertake HIV prevention and sexual health promotion work with men who have sex with men, people of colour and other marginalised races, young LGB&T people, women who are dating after divorce or separation and other community groups. We offer a range of services including:
- One to one information and support – in person or by telephone or email – on issues such as HIV, sexual health, coming out and how to contact community groups.
- Free access to a professional Counselling Service.
- Free HIV testing, Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea screening.
- Free condoms, lubricant and sexual health information – distributed to Gay pubs, clubs and saunas across Yorkshire, and to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGB&T) community groups.
- Outreach on the Gay ‘scene’ (i.e. Gay pubs and clubs) and in public sex environments (cottages, cruising areas and saunas) for the purposes of HIV prevention and sexual health promotion.
- Support for existing and new LGB&T community groups (free access to meeting space, the chance to apply for small grants, etc.).
- Training and consultancy for professionals and organisations.
- Lobbying to improve local services – such as local councils, health services, police authorities, schools, etc. – for Yorkshire’s LGB&T communities.
The work of Yorkshire MESMAC is underpinned by a fundamental commitment to:
- Supporting individuals by giving them access to accurate and up-to-date information so that they can make informed choices about their emotional and sexual lives.
- Challenging the structures of inequality that stand in the way of individuals making informed choices.
We use a community development approach to our work, for two reasons - first, it brings people together so that they can explore what they have in common and share their experiences. This helps to end feelings of isolation and powerlessness, whilst allowing individuals and groups to recover their confidence, self-esteem and collective voice. Second, this community action manifests in a range of community groups and networks, providing an effective vehicle through which we can pursue our work.
Yorkshire MESMAC also possesses a national, if not international, reputation as a leading player in the field of sexual health. We have close links with the Department of Health and have been instrumental in developing the national HIV and sexual health strategy and the Community HIV and AIDS Prevention Strategy (CHAPS).
Yorkshire MESMAC was formed at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when many thousands of Gay and Bisexual men were dying. Our formation reflects our grassroots commitment of Gay and Bisexual men who, having watched many of their friends and lovers die, were determined to take action to fight the HIV virus. The need for an effective, community-based health promotion response was recognised by the government of the day.
It financially supported a number of Gay and Bisexual projects across the country, including MESMAC. In doing so, the government agreed that health promotion initiatives designed and put in place by Gay and Bisexual men themselves, rather than bureaucrats in Whitehall, was the best way to move forwards. After all, Gay and Bisexual men possess the necessary insight, knowledge and skills to combat this virus within their own communities.
Three decades later, Gay and Bisexual men remain the group that is most commonly infected and affected by the HIV virus. For this reason, significant public health funding continues to be distributed to sexual health promotion projects working with Gay and Bisexual men. However, we do provide information and support to other communities. We also work with:
- Heterosexual partners of Gay and Bisexual men.
- Trans people (while recognising that sexual identity and gender identity are not always the same).
- Health professionals.
- Lesbian and Bisexual women who are part of LGB community groups that are supported by Yorkshire MESMAC (we also provided the seed money to establish a professional Counselling Service for Lesbian and Bisexual women).
- People of colour and other marginalised races.
- Women dating after divorce or separation.
- Sex workers.
- People engaging in risky behaviours such as drug taking.
- Boys and young men who are being or at risk of being groomed.
The terms ‘Gay’ and ‘Bisexual’ are terms of identity rather than description. In other words, men describing themselves as Gay or Bisexual are comfortable and secure in themselves about doing so. This is not true for all men. Many will identify themselves as heterosexual, with girlfriends or wives, even though they sometimes have sex with other men.
Equally a person who identifies as a gay man may never have had sex with another man. The term ‘men who have sex with men’ is therefore a description rather than identity. In other words, it describes what these men do rather than how they identify.
Polari is an old Gay language that enabled Gay men to communicate with each other without people in the immediate vicinity knowing what they were talking about. The word ‘cottage’ usually refers to a public toilet. Cottaging describes men looking for sex in public toilets with other men.
Homosexuality was illegal in Britain before 1967 and for hundreds of years, Gay and Bisexual men were persecuted by the State (Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing probably being the most well-known examples of this). For this reason, and in the absence of visible Gay pubs and clubs, community groups and social media platforms that we take for granted today, public toilets were one of the few places where men could meet for sex. This is a situation that persists to this day. Although the rise of dating apps means that it is less common than it previously was.
Cruising refers to men who are looking for sex with other men in outdoor places, such as parks or lay-bys, often at night.
If you are planning on going cruising, you can find some essential safety tips by clicking here.
Dogging refers to Bisexual and Heterosexual couples who meet other couples in outdoor places for one-on-one or group sex. Some of these men and women engage in same-sex activity.
You can find details of local cottaging, cruising and dogging areas on websites and social media platforms.
There is no law specifically prohibiting cruising, and sex in public places is not illegal except when other people can see or hear you having sex and are offended. Sex in public toilets - also known as cottaging - is also illegal.
Police guidelines state that the police should only respond to complaints from the public and should not mount proactive operations designed to catch people cruising. However, there are circumstances when the police may mount patrols or intelligence led operations, for example if there are reports of homophobic attacks or robberies.
It is not against the law for people to loiter, engage in conversation or walk around a cruising ground with the purpose of meeting others. In other words, you cannot be arrested simply for going cruising.
Cruising areas may be targeted by homophobes who may attack you or try to blackmail you. A safer way to meet sexual partners is to go to local Gay pubs and clubs, saunas, community groups or to use dedicated websites and social media platforms (for example, sites such as www.gaydar.co.uk or apps such as Grindr). These are all completely legal ways of meeting other men for sex.