'Safe Sex Is Hot Sex' and Other Messages We Got From HIV Awareness Campaigns

By: HIV Plus Editors

The public awareness campaigns surrounding HIV/AIDS have been a staple of urban billboards, bus shelters, and LGBT magazines for decades. The messages promoting prevention and testing have taken every possible tack. But which message works best? Do the menacing ads promote stigma? Do the ads with muscled, smiling men reduce the urgency of testing? The images’ transformations over the years tell the story of developing priorities and innovative strategies, and a growing awareness that HIV doesn’t discriminate.

Have a look at the campaigns and images on the next few pages that are widely considered to have made a huge impact on HIV education and awareness.

Smart Card
The Play Smart cards are one new strategy that uses provocative art — sexy pin-up images from queer artists including Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Slava Mogutin — to combat HIV. The packs include two trading cards (the reverse side of each has safer sex information), a sticker, and condoms and lube. Visual AIDS (VisualAIDS.org), which supports HIV+ artists and fights AIDS with art, began producing Play Smart four years ago in conjunction with The Men’s Sexual Health Project (M*SHP), an organization that promotes sexual health in MSM, and provides free testing.

Amos Mac for Visual AIDS, Rocco, 2012; Chritopher Schulz for Visual AIDS, Rigo, 2012


Luna Luis Ortiz for Visual AIDS


Aaron Cobbett for Visual AIDS


Greg Mitchell for Visual AIDS


Inked Kenny for Visual AIDS


Jayson Keeling and Carmine Santaniello for Visual AIDS, Nightwing, 2013; Jayson Keeling for Visual AIDS, Untitled, 2013; Carmine Santaniello for Visual AIDS, Embrace, 2013