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Safer sex emerged as a strategy to prevent the spread of disease with the advent of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen, two gay New Yorkers, first outlined the theory and application of safer sex in their 1983 tract, ”How to have sex in an epidemic.” As an alternative to the confusing, all-or-nothing early approaches to HIV prevention, safer sex offered a practical strategy. People were going to have sex. As such, it was best to do it in a safe, mutually satisfying, caring manner. Berkowitz and Callen presented a harm-reduction approach now recognized around the world as a model that allows for both intimacy and protection. The result was a revolution allowing for personal and political protection, both for sex and for the movement that liberated it. With time, safer sex practices spread around the globe as a theoretical and practical approach to preventing the spread of HIV. Safer sex became the model for sex-positive discourses that rejected the politics of sexual shame, temperance, and prohibition.
Future research will need to contend with the problems of safer sex and explore alternative technologies, such as microbicides, which can serve as substitutes for latex. In the two and a half decades since the birth of safer sex, new practices of safer sexual activity have emerged. These include community-based approaches such as ”jack off” clubs, where men meet to have the safest type of safe sex – mutual masturbation – and more distant approaches such as telephone sex and cybersex.
- Berkowitz, R. & Callen, M. (2001)  How to have sex in an epidemic. In: Bull, C. (ed.), Come Out Fighting: A Century of Essential Writing on Gay and Lesbian Liberation. Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York.
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