AIDS after 1985 was an astonishing deadly risk for sexually active people as a whole. The days of promiscuity and one-night stands were being re-thought due to the possible contraction of this new disease called AIDS. Fear of sex was brought upon the people and “as the AIDS threat [grew], the mating call [was] no longer ‘free-love,’ but ‘safety first’ (Kantrowitz 40).” AIDS had been thought of as “gay” disease or a disease of intravenous drug users, but as the epidemic grew so did knowledge that AIDS was an epidemic of all people regardless of their class, race, age, or sexual preference. An article in The Village Voice, entitled “The Facts about Straight Sex and AIDS”, answers the questions of whether or not AIDS was a heterosexual disease. When in fact “as early as 1979, Haitian women in Miami were dying of what turned out to be AIDS. In Africa, AIDS [was] primarily a heterosexual disease (Fettner 21).”
Randy Shilts was quoted as saying “This is never going to be a middle-class heterosexual disease (Fettner, 21).” Contrary to Randy Shilts’ position, the primary change in the AIDS discourse in 1985 was a shift from a mainly homosexual disease to a homosexual/heterosexual disease. The heterosexual population [including the middle-class] had to acknowledge that they too were too at risk. By 1990 about two-thirds of people with AIDS in the United States contracted the disease from sexual intercourse (Willis 32).
Due to this fact condoms became a form of not only birth control but also disease control. Condoms were being promoted as a safe sex device versus its traditional role as a contraceptive. Furthermore, to enhance the appeal of condoms, they were eroticized to make the condom a sexual tool versus a sexual crutch. The popular conception of AIDS was changed to be a disease that heterosexually active people could contract. The new issue was how do we prevent ourselves from contracting this deadly disease?
The two main forms of preventing AIDS from sexual transmission were abstinence and the use of male condoms. Abstinence was fine for people who weren’t sexually active, but for the majority of sexually active people condoms were the preferred method. An article in The Village Voice showed promise for a “super” condom. The article hailed “condoms capable of preventing transmission of HIV, the virus thought to cause AIDS (Fettner 22).” These condoms were not like “normal” latex condoms.
They were impregnated with antimicrobial drugs that would kill many sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. The condom was said to “render HIV harmless by preventing the virus from replicating (Fettner 22).” The new condoms, however, did not catch on as the manufacturers had hoped. Instead, plain latex condoms with no additives became the norm. An article in Newsweek by Barbara Kantrowitz stated, “Condoms seem to be the most reliable form of protection against the AIDS virus, which!
is transmitted through exposure to the blood or sexual secretions of infected people (Kantrowitz 40).”
Condom sales rose from $182 million in 1980 to an astonishing $338 million in 1986 (Kantrowitz 1986). Men not only bought condoms but over half of all condom sales in the United States were also by women (Kantrowitz 1986). Safe sex became an issue for men and women alike. Among the homosexual community safe sex was being embraced even more. People began wearing large safety pins on their clothes to signal that they practice safe sex (Kantrowitz 1986). Prostitutes began to promote the idea of never having sex without a condom. A prostitute in Edinburgh, London states: “my life is not to be bought. Clients will offer 20 pounds or more extra for sex without a condom (Sanders 23).”
Prostitutes began pushing safe sex within their own industry, which was a somewhat unorthodox practice for prostitutes to unite over. However, an interview among 103 female prostitutes reported that 29 sometimes agreed to unprotected sex for extra money (Sanders 23). Of those 29, 18 said they use drugs intravenously and 11 were HIV positive (Sanders 23). Even in a time of AIDS and other various sexually transmitted diseases some prostitutes still practiced unsafe sex.
The dilemma that prostitutes and some heterosexuals faced was noted in an anonymous article appearing in the 1990 issue of The Lancet, “At one extreme, a prostitute may fear to lose her client if she insists on condom use; at the other, a woman in love with an HIV-positive man may feel that her own safety is less important than the risk of appearing to reject her partner if she insists that he use a sheath (The Lancet 1497).”
Prostitutes were not the only group facing the decision of using condoms; heterosexuals too faced the problem of using or not using condoms. The prostitutes that regularly used condoms noted that they switched to the stronger condoms that were once only used for anal sex due to their lack of breakage (Sanders 23). Those prostitutes saw condoms as a way to participate in their industry safely without health issues to themselves or their clients.
So have condoms become mainstream prevention against AIDS and another sexually transmitted disease? The answer is an abundantly YES! By 1990, the Sixth International Conference on AIDS in San Francisco had met and the best method available to reduce the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases were condoms (The Lancet 1297).
The condom was also recognized by the FDA as a means of prevention of viral sexually transmitted diseases like HIV in 1987, 3 years prior to the International Conference’s acceptance (Willis 33). This was primarily due to the FDA’s plan to increase condom regulations and standardize the industry. Prior to 1987 and the increased regulation of the condom manufacturers, the FDA only certified the condom for birth control and bacterially sexually transmitted disease (Willis 33). The general consensus was that condoms indeed were an effective measure to reduce the risk of AIDS, but they are inconsistently used correctly and are not entirely!
socially acceptable in all parts of the world. In some developing countries where a woman is more subservient, they do not have the power to force their men to wear condoms.
The taboo aspect of condom use was still very much alive in 1990, even after AIDS had been much publicized and people everywhere were contracting AIDS at an alarming rate. In America condoms still remained an anti-climatic point in sex. Nathan Newman wrote in his article “His Point of View” that condoms are “’ like taking a shower with a raincoat on.’ Worse than having to wear one is not having one when you really need it. Or stopping in the middle. Digging around for one. Trying to put it on. Worrying about its breaking. Or coming off. Pulling out right away. Jumping up and running to the bathroom.
Flushing it. (Or forgetting to flush!) Ah, romance, I reflect as I begin my desperate search for an all-night apothecary (Newman 86).” Not a very romantic overtone, but a possible life saving one. The stark reality of sexual practice was wearing a condom, like it or not. “Sex has become something of a life-and-death issue (Newman 86).” Sex was more about life than a macho man stroking his ego and refusing because of the apparent uncomfortable aspect of the condom. After all the social stigmas and grunts attached to condom use expressed the reality was men became better lovers when they wear condoms.
Newman closes his article by saying: “It increases our sexual stamina. We can go a lot longer if we don’t feel as much. I’ve had the best sex of my life using a condom (thank you, you know who you are). Sure, it forces us to use a bit more creativity-but isn’t that what great sex is all about (Newman 86)?” The new dynamic in promoting sex was the eroticizing of condom use. The logic was if condoms were eroticized, then people would be more accommodating of their use during all sexual acts.
The medical fact was that condoms blocked the HIV virus from entering the body. The condom had been labeled as an effective means to prevent sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV since 1987 (Willis 32). Condoms were heavily regulated and inspected by the FDA. Even foreign condoms went through a thorough inspection by U.S. Customs before being imported into the United States (Willis 33). Condoms also had to pass a series of standard requirements. Random tests were conducted to examine condoms for leaks, and if an average of 4 condoms per 1000 leaked a recall would be performed on the condom manufacturer (Willis 32). Condoms were a highly effective safety measure for preventing pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
So with all this vast knowledge about AIDS prevention and methods of transmission why did not all people use condoms? The answer to this question was simply put by a quote from Phil Sudo’s article “Teenagers & AIDS: Are You At Risk?”; “I didn’t think I’d ever sleep with somebody who was bisexual or did drug…I was too good (Sudo 12).” People still believed that AIDS was not going to affect them even though they were at risk as much if not more than other groups. In particular, teenagers and young adults counted for more than 20 percent of the population of people living with full-blown AIDS in 1991 (Sudo 12). Yet, even with this fact “they don’t see any of their peers with AIDS, so they think they can’t get it (Sudo 13)” The problem was identity over behavior. People used their own status as a safety net and a justification for their own ignorance. Instead of identifying that AIDS could potentially affect them, they hid this by claiming that it was not apparent in their go!
Education is the key to creating awareness about AIDS and how to prevent it. By 1991, 28 states, plus the District of Columbia, mandated AIDS education in public schools (Sudo 13). While this was a step in the right direction teenagers still would continue to have unprotected sex. Even if they did not know or understand about AIDS they needed condoms to protect themselves. Many plans of education models developed during this time about condoms in the classroom. The issue was still emerging in 1992 and would soon come to light in the mid-1990s.
The issues of safe sex and AIDS prevention are still topics of conversation today. Even with all the knowledge about AIDS people still, don’t use condoms regularly. Education is and might always be the best paradigm for preventing the AIDS epidemic from progressing, but how and where should the education be distributed? These issues may never be worked out, mainly because there are no correct answers. However, one answer to preventing AIDS sexually is the condom. Condom distribution in schools, as well as public areas, will at least get people to carry protection. The issue will not be of having a condom or not, but rather of how to properly use them.
Education about the proper usage and application of condoms is a necessity. First, by making condoms widely available so everyone will have them at their own disposal. Second, proper education about condoms, in specific proper usage and disposal will get people more comfortable with their use. It may seem trivial enough about how to put a condom on and the proper usage of one, but as simple as it may seem people still don’t use condoms properly. With proper usage, the condom becomes an extremely effective barrier to HIV. Education has brought safe sex to where it is today. Through education and the media, people broke through the stereotypes of safe sex and embraced it. Safe sex has become fun and widely accepted practice.
Looking at the history of safe sex and condom use, in particular, gives the issue of where safe sex came from a new light. This novel idea of safe sex did not just come from nothing. Safe sex evolved into what it has become today, a routine that all people need to participate in regardless of their sexual preference and practices. Understanding safe sex as a historical issue gives a new outlook to where safe sex may be evolving. Examining where it has been allowing researchers insight into the social issues instead of just the medical and other various issues. Prevention and education of AIDS are the most important significant issues of the AIDS debate today. We may be years away from a cure for AIDS, but we have the prevention of AIDS sexually today. That prevention is the condom used properly.
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