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Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture

Condoms as Safer Sex

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Safer Sex Comix #8, 1987

By the late 1980s, AIDS service organizations such as New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) began to develop explicit materials to engage men who had sex with men in a process of changing the way they had sex with one another. This type of AIDS prevention aimed to capture the imaginations of gay men to sustain their condom use over a lifetime, a strategy supported by significant public health research suggesting that behavior change required positive reinforcement. In a series of almost a dozen (pocket size) three by five inch comic books, GMHC presented sexually erotic, detailed suggestions for men, including how and when to use condoms, whether with long-term partners or short-term dalliances. GMHC distributed the comics to clients, as well as in public spaces, such as bars and community venues.

The erotic content of the comic books caused a furor among some elected members of Congress. In October 1987, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC ) held up Safer Sex comic books while addressing his colleagues on the Senate floor to protest the use of federal funds to promote homosexuality. While federal funding was not used to produce or distribute the comics, the senator’s sentiment led directly to the passing of legislation that insisted, “Education, information, and prevention activities and materials paid for with funds appropriated under this Act shall emphasize—(1) abstinence from homosexual sexual activities.”

  • Publisher(s):
    Gay Men’s Health Crisis
  • Type:
    Comic
Black and white drawing of a man sleeping on a bed, with another man in a cape and crown gesturing towards him.