“SAFER SEX GUIDELINES FOR GAY MEN (& EVERYONE).” New York Native, 2 May 1988, p. 45.
safe sex is sexy!
The New York Native is a bi-weekly newspaper that ran from 1980 to 1997, which began its publication in December of 1980. Gay men and lesbians comprised the newspaper’s audience, whose home-base was in New York City, New York. Over time, this NYC newspaper grew in influence, eventually becoming one of the United States of America’s most prominent gay publications of its time. In 1984, the New York Native claimed a readership of 80,000 people, though it later suffered great controversy and public disdain.
Issue 263 of the New York Native, published on May 2nd, 1988, features guidelines to safer sex presented by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in small font under its LOVERS ONLY header. Copyrighted in 1986, GMHC’s guidelines offer informed instructions on safe sex towards readers without shyness or imprecise expression. Hoping to impress upon readers the importance of safe sex, GMHC assures readers that safe sex can also be “fun, exciting-hot, horny-and completely satisfying.” Condoms or other barrier methods of birth control and STI prevention have sometimes been stigmatized or portrayed as unattractive or burdensome, yet the GMHC promises that even with condoms and other forms of protection, “it is absolutely possible to continue having great sex!”
Additionally, GMHC acknowledges that great sex comes in many forms. Though this column’s title, “Safer Sex Guidelines for Gay Men (& Everyone),” seems to include persons not fitting the description of “gay men” as an afterthought, the column’s content provides a range of safe sex practices for partners of multiple genders. Safe sex should be employed by “everyone” and in every sexual encounter, unless you are a member of a couple that has been “exclusively sexually monogamous since 1978.”
First, the column article dispels myths surrounding the transmission of AIDS and HIV, one of the most devastating myths being that only gay men contract HIV. The GMHC states that “Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of exposure to the AIDS virus.” Additionally, it only takes one sexual partner carrying the virus to infect his or her lover, so reducing one’s number of sexual partners does not guarantee safety from its transmission. The article then lists that AIDS can be transmitted “through the exchange of certain bodily fluids,” but not through hugging, kissing, or sharing bathrooms or kitchens. Frottage (rubbing against another person’s clothed body), cuddling, showering together, massaging, and mutual masturbation are similarly not considered to be modes of transmission, and are safe forms of contact.
However, the exchange of cum and pre-cum should be avoided during oral sex and sexual intercourse. A condom should always be worn during vaginal and anal sex, and should only be used with water-soluble lubricants such as KY jelly. For instance, Vaseline is a petroleum-based jelly that will degrade a latex condom and render it ineffective, thus it should not be used.
At the time, using spermicidal jelly containing Nonoxydol-9 was also encouraged by some experts. Now, spermicide usage is heavily encouraged. Spermicides kill sperm specimens and now are often manufactured with the lubricant on condoms nowadays. Sometimes, separately-sold lubricants contain spermicide in them, however this is not always the case. One can find spermicides at drug stores in the United States and apply them to condoms. Spermicides do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
The following are some of the specific instructions given for activities one might engage in during sex:
“…avoid putting the head of the penis into your mouth.
…never allow anyone to ejaculate in your mouth.
…withdrawing before ejaculation, even with a condom, is safest, since a condom can break.
–Fisting is dangerous!
…and carries the risk of AIDS transmission through the exchange of blood. If you do it, always use a rubber glove.
-if you are bisexual, avoid contact with menstrual flow. Use a condom.
Oral contact with fecal material (rimming) should be avoided to reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted diseases. One should use a condom, finger cot or rubber glove if giving a rectal massage. Avoid oral contact with fingers after this.”
do the guidelines give sound guidance?
Though this information is decades old, it is not entirely inaccurate. We now know that HIV (human deficiency virus) is contracted first before AIDS is able to develop in the body, which the GMHC guidelines were intermittently expressive of. The known modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS and other types of STDs is through exposure to infected blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, breastmilk, and vaginal secretion. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these fluids must come in direct contact with a mucous membrane, such as those found in the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth. Infected fluids that are injected directly into the bloodstream, or come into contact with damaged tissue or open wounds can also transmit the HIV virus.
GMHC was correct in stating that saliva alone does not have the potential to infect people with the HIV virus. Saliva has to be mixed with the blood of an HIV positive partner for transmission to occur during kissing or other oral activities. Even oral sex is not considered to be a high-risk activity for HIV transmission. The CDC acknowledges that oral sex (putting one’s mouth on the penis, vagina, or anus) could transmit the HIV virus, but generally there is “little to no risk of getting HIV from oral sex” (CDC). If oral ulcers, bleeding gums, genital sores, or other sexually transmitted diseases (which may or may not be visible) are present in the mouth, then the risk of HIV transmission through oral sex will increase. Though seminal ejaculation of an HIV-positive person into another’s mouth could technically transmit the virus, this is an “extremely rare” occurrence according to the CDC.
The GMHC stressed that oral sex performed on a penis was dangerous, and asserted that one should “never” let someone ejaculate into one’s mouth. Now, the paranoia surrounding oral sex and HIV transmission has quieted due to increased scientific knowledge. GMHC’s guidelines are still valuable, however, because they show the state of knowledge at the time of their release and the focal points of HIV protection among the queer community written for the queer community.
GMHC was correct in stating that “oral contact with fecal material (rimming) should be avoided” due to the probability of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases. The CDC states that if feces enters one’s mouth during anilingus, rimming, or oral sex on the anus, one can contract hepatitis A, hepatitis B, parasites such as Giardia, or bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli.
Still, we now know the main activities that often spread HIV. Vaginal or anal sex with an HIV positive partner without a condom or the consumption of HIV preventative or treatment medication is one such activity that spreads HIV most often in the United States. Receptive anal sex, or bottoming, is considered by the CDC to be the highest-risk behavior for an HIV negative person. However, topping, or insertive anal sex, may also transmit the virus. Partners engaging in vaginal sex are less likely to get HIV than if they engaged in anal sex. The sharing of equipment (such as needles, rinse water, or syringes) used to inject drugs with someone who is HIV positive is another risky behavior associated with the transmission of HIV in the United States.
The GMHC also claimed the following:
“-Poppers (inhalents) have been linked to Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer associated with AIDS. DON’T USE POPPERS.”
Poppers create a “high” or euphoric feeling in consumers, while also relaxing the throat and anal muscles. In the 1980’s, poppers were popularly used during sex in the gay community, and still are used today. Poppers have not been found to lead to the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma with significant scientific consensus, however, likewise stated by the GMHC, alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s judgement. According to the CDC, alcohol consumption as well as the use of drugs such as GHB, ecstasy, and poppers, lower one’s inhibitions and impair one’s ability to make informed, safe decisions regarding sex and other drug use. While poppers do not cause Kaposi’s sarcoma, they might cause users to engage in unsafe sex, which could lead to their contraction of an STD like HIV/AIDS.
then vs. now
The CDC’s informational page on HIV transmission was last updated on June 6th, 2017. Today is October 20th, 2017. GMHC’s guidelines appear to have been released in 1986, given the copyright date found at the bottom of the article. Scientific research has expanded and improved remarkably since 1986, so one knows that the credibility of the CDC has also risen with time.
The following video gives an overview of the current information known about HIV/AIDS, prevention and protection against HIV/AIDS, as well as how to live with them.
Even though some parts of the GMHC’s guidelines are incorrect, they still promote accurate methods of engaging in safe sex. Information about HIV transmission was not predominantly incorrect or misleading, which shows that these guidelines would have been trustworthy then, and to an extent, even now.