Adam Shanley of MPOWER: The path to good sexual health and wellbeing starts with empowerment

MPOWER today launched Ireland's first free HIV self-test service and will continue to support the community throughout any COVID-based restrictions.

A split screen of a smiling man in front of a rainbow flag and another of four masked men outside a building
Image: Babs Daly

As part of a new series, we highlight the people behind the MPOWER programme at HIV Ireland. First up, Programme Manager Adam Shanley shares the many ways in which the service is here to help the community. 

The MPOWER team provide an essential service to gay and bisexual men and other MSM in Ireland. Their main aim is to empower queer men with sex-positive and judgement-free services and resources. But just who are the people behind it? And what exactly does their day-to-day look like? One of the team – Adam Shanley – explained why the work they do is so critical.

Adam Shanley is the manager of the MPOWER programme. His job is to consider the sexual health and wellbeing needs of the community and find ways to address them. Only today, MPOWER launched the country’s first free HIV self-test service which can be delivered directly to a person’s home. Alongside the tests, the MPOWER team will be available to support users throughout.

For Shanley, outreach represents the cornerstone of their work. Typically, Adam and the team would provide that outreach in a variety of places: bars, clubs, saunas, etc, but the COVID-19 pandemic has naturally changed everything a little. The team have been focusing on the digital side of things, so hook-up apps, WhatsApp, Zoom, or even chatting on the phone, although they will continue Rapid HIV Testing as an essential service throughout Level 5 restrictions.

“The MPOWER Outreach team is fully trained and knowledgeable on all things sexual health, we’re not here to judge, just to give you the best information and connect you with the resources and services that will help you to have a fun, pleasurable and healthy sex life,” Shanley explained. “We know some folks find it tough to talk about the sex they enjoy, some might worry about getting tested, using condoms or PrEP, and some might just not know where to start at all.”

Adam also emphasised the importance of inclusion – particularly when it comes to a service like theirs. While MPOWER may primarily deal with cis gay and bisexual men, their resources are by no means limited just to people within those categories. “Many trans men identify as gay or bisexual, in addition, non-binary folk who want to access gay-identified services will see the programme reflect their needs,” he said. “Equally, the programme aims to speak to the needs of men who are questioning their sexuality or indeed have sex with men but prefer to identify as straight or are in heterosexual relationships. We’re here for you too.”

Another urgent issue facing the community is the use of drugs during sex, as Shanley explains; “GHB and Crystal Meth are having a profound negative effect on our friends, our lovers, our partners and our chosen families. Many in our community are in control of their use and enjoy it recreationally but there’s a rising number of those who need our support.” Something which the team are ready to give.

Despite recent progress for LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland, Adam pointed out that there are still decades of shaming which need to be undone. “In a post-Marriage Equality Ireland, there is a narrative that rights have been achieved and all should now be equal and good. However, low self-esteem, self-worth, depression, addiction, overdose, accidental death and suicide are realities for our peers.”

MPOWER are committed to playing a role in turning that tide by helping people to achieve a better relationship with themselves, their sexuality, and the sex that they actually want.

“Ultimately, the key message underpinning the work of the MPOWER programme is that the path to good sexual health and wellbeing starts with empowerment – we’re here to help with that. Reach out.”

For further information, visit the MPOWER websiteFacebook and Instagram pages.

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