I saw a post on Smart, Safe and Sexy’s Blog about how the concept of safe sex started and why. I thought I would borrow parts of it and piggy back off of her post.
Richard Berkowitz, a gay man, who believed he was the first gay rights activist in his state of New Jersey in the 1970’s is essentially the inventor of the concept of “safe sex” along with fellow activists Joseph Sonnabend and Michael Callen. Berkowitz advocated for safe sexual practices in response to the AIDS epidemic in the early 80s. His early work noted risk factors for infection such as drug use and having multiple sex partners, and he supported condom use for all who were sexually active.
Berkowitz, Cullen, and Sonnabend revolved their lives around safe sex, and despite their efforts to deliver positive messages, were persecuted by the public for being sex-negative and anti-gay. Other gay activists were upset because they felt Berkowitz was linking being gay with safe sex and the AIDS epidemic. The AIDS epidemic may have motivated Berkowitz to start the whole concept of safe sex, but he was interested in protecting all people, not just the LGBT community. At the time it was very controversial since AIDS was then considered a gay disease. Some people still think this way and believe they are safe from contracting HIV because they aren’t gay. This is completely FALSE! HIV and AIDS affect millions of people and most of those people are heterosexual. People fighting for gay rights today are still trying to fight against the stigma of HIV and AIDS being linked to the LGBT community.
With years of perseverance Berkowitz was eventually successful in disseminating his message and enabling sexually active people to retain their sexual freedom and exploration while remaining safe and avoiding risky behavior. Today the concept of safe sex is definitely not tied just to the gay community or to HIV. The fact that high school and college age students are by far contracting the most STI’s every year is the reason the concept of safe sex is used today. Promoting safe sex is helping to educate people about all of the sexually transmitted diseases, which affect millions of Americans each year. The only 100% effective way of not contracting an STI is abstinence. Using condoms are the best way to protect yourself from contracting a sexually transmitted infection if you are sexually active in any way.
The 2009 film Sex Positive by Daryl Wein documents Berkowitz’s life and the pioneering of safe sex. It’s a really interesting story that sheds light into the lives of the sexually active community in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and of those who stood with and against Berkowitz during his quest for safer sex practices. Berkowitz stated that “It’s never too late to start having safe sex”, and I could not have said it better myself! His mission to stop the AIDS epidemic ultimately changed the practice of sex forever, and has made the concept of safe sex universally understood and widely appreciated by today’s generation.
Hats off to Berkowitz and his fellow activists who found a way to promote safe sex through positive messages and for making “safe sex” a household name. Check out the trailer for the Sex Positive documentary here! It’s truly an enlightening story that needs to be told and should be seen! http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1057293081/