Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Questions for Barack Obama | Winfrey for Barack Obama »

Monday, November 26, 2007

Condoms and Crystal Meth

posted by on November 26 at 9:55 AM

“Last night at the Madison Pub, volunteers from Lifelong AIDS Alliance were going around and handing out their safe sex kits,” Stranger reader Dave writes. “I always thank the volunteers when they do this, because I think it’s an important and good cause. But after last night, I’m not so sure that Lifelong is truly thinking of the gay community’s best interests.”

What upset Dave was an image Lifelong included in their new condom-and-lube packet.


Dave apologizes for the quality of the image—he took this photo at the bar using his camera phone—and just in case you can’t make it out: That’s a condom packet walking hand-in-hand with a rock of crystal meth. “Condoms + Crystal Go Together… FUCK Without Fear,” reads the text. The message, ostensibly, is that condom use and crystal abuse aren’t mutually exclusive—in theory, at least. In practice very few crystal addicts manage to use condoms.

The New Yorker published an excellent essay on the interplay between crystal meth and unsafe sex in May of 2005:

Crystal methamphetamine is highly addictive, but its allure is not hard to understand; the drug removes inhibitions, bolsters confidence, supercharges the libido… The first thing people on methamphetamine lose is their common sense; suddenly, anything goes, including unprotected anal sex with many different partners in a single night—which is among the most efficient ways to spread H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“I couldn’t believe Lifelong seriously thought this was a good idea,” Dave writes. “I can understand trying to encourage existing crystal addicts and users to engage in safe sex, but the message being presented here paints the entire community as crystal junkies and/or endorses the usage of crystal meth.”

This isn’t the first time LLAA has wrapped crystal meth use up in images of gay pride and community in a misguided effort to “de-stigmatize” crystal meth use—an activity which, when you consider the consequences for individuals and the gay community as a whole, gay health organizations should be working harder to stigmatize. An image of condom packet walking hand-in-hand with a rock of crystal will not reach men that are currently using crystal—most of whom abuse crystal meth to annihilate their inhibitions and engage in casual unprotected anal sex—while communicating to men that aren’t using crystal that they can “safely” use the drug and “FUCK without fear.”

“I spoke briefly with the volunteers and they were just as shocked and uneasy about the image as I was,” writes Dave. “The volunteers ended up leaving, but not before being spoken to by a number of people over this. What in the hell is going on at Lifelong, and who in their right mind thought this was OK? First Gay Bingo loses Glamazonia and now this?”

RSS icon Comments


haha, what the hell!? is this a joke?

how is making seem less harmful a good idea?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 26, 2007 9:59 AM

No good, yo. This campaign is stupid.

Posted by Michigan Matt | November 26, 2007 10:10 AM

Ugh, that's a gross campaign.

Posted by brappy | November 26, 2007 10:12 AM

Who thought up this stupid campaign?
Any crystal user would sell the condoms for more meth and then use the packet to store the stash. Does the Lifelong group think anything should be stigmatized, ever?

Posted by Heather | November 26, 2007 10:16 AM
“I can understand trying to encourage existing crystal addicts and users to engage in safe sex, but the message being presented here paints the entire community as crystal junkies and/or endorses the usage of crystal meth.”

That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

It's a terrible ad and Lifelong should fire the dumbshit who came up with it, but the notion that the ad is doing harm by rendering the community a certain way or, fuck sake, "endorsing" a certain behavior is fucking retarded. Queers in general and club queers in particular aren't cloistered high school students. You generally go through certain stages of understanding in order to arrive in that environment and, by the time you're there, you know certain things. You may choose to ignore the things you know, but you do know them -- and a badly rendered ad on a fucking ziplock bag isn't going to turn anyone into a fucking meth-head.

I had this same discussion with some wide-eyed hippie at The Rubber Tree about 15 years ago. I was applying for a gig there and she asked me what the most important factor in AIDS prevention in the gay community was.

"Availability of condoms in environments where they'll get used," I said.

"No," she said. "Education."

Which was like, yeah, okay, find me a queer in 1993 who didn't know what AIDS was and how it was spread. There were a lot of very fucked up reasons why people were getting AIDS back then, but lack of awareness wasn't one of them.

Since the apex of the epidemic, a lot of new queers coming into the scene do need to be educated. But the times haven't changed so much that a gay boy in a club doesn't know that meth is bad for him and that barebacking is a good way to get dead and, to reiterate, a badly rendered ad on a fucking ziplock bag isn't going to change that.

Posted by Judah | November 26, 2007 10:17 AM

Ah, at last we agree on something, Judah. When we discuss HIV/AIDS images and ad campaigns we always get sucked down this rabbit hole. We talk about HIV/AIDS ed materials as if they're super fucking consequential, the presumption being that all gay men everywhere see them and internalize their messages. Most gay men don't see 'em, and most gay men could care less.

But barebacking isn't a good way to get dead anymore -- it's a good way to get a chronic illness. So you can't rely on gay boys in clubs making the unprotected sex = death connection anymore because... well, it's not true.

And the fact is that these messages do reach some gay men -- often the dumbest ones, the ones that need to hear some sort of health message before they snort or fuck something. If we don't think they reach anyone, we not only shouldn't debate them scrutinize them, Judah, we shouldn't create them or fund them.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 26, 2007 10:26 AM

this makes me sick.

Posted by adrian | November 26, 2007 10:30 AM

Here's what I want to know: what good is anonymous sex without a little fear? Doesn't the fear halp make it a little fun? Even for people who take all the precautions?

Posted by erostratus | November 26, 2007 10:30 AM

I'm over Lifelong. I tried volunteering for them last year. I had to sit through 3 hours of orientation then it turns out that there are very few volunteer opportunities on the weekends when I would assume most people would have the time to help out. The firing for Glamazon is ridiculous, she's the only reason I ever went to bingo.

Posted by Suz | November 26, 2007 10:41 AM

I find this horribly offensive. Assuming that the people they are handing this out to are majority meth users. I also have a hard time with lifelong as a whole. They seem very hypocritical. I even had someone from lifelong approach me about the HIV vaccine a while back, describing it as "they give you a bit of the HIV virus, as in most vaccines so your body can reproduce the anti-bodies". I know this statement was untrue, but what a way to get people to take the vaccine. Would you like to get HIV? Just take this shot and you never will, with a 2% chance you may. No thanks.


Posted by Will in Seattle | November 26, 2007 10:42 AM

why do they even bother wasting time and money on a "campaign"? even with a clever gimmick or a sensible message, THEY DON'T WORK. just put some condoms and lube packets in a bag and be done with it.

Posted by brandon | November 26, 2007 10:42 AM

Well, we don't agree about everything, Dan. I'm not convinced that the age of getting dead is over. I think we probably both know some people whose systems just mysteriously gave up under the strain of the cocktail. Also, all those countries where patent and funding problems make it hard for people who start the cocktail to stay on it are basically breeding grounds for drug-resistant strains of the virus. So until we find a cure or a vaccine, it seems pretty clear to me that what we're experiencing now is a temporary reprieve at best.

Also, I didn't say the ads don't matter. They just don't have the kind of immediate causal effect implied by the tipper. The gay community, such as it is, does have collective wisdom about things. They have to, because the government and various religious communities spend so much time lying to them. So there is community consensus around certain practices, and advertising campaigns like the ones Lifelong undertakes contribute to the discourse that creates community consensus around things like barebacking and drug use. I think the tipper is being an alarmist by acting like the ad is somehow a threat in itself. But I also think it's a shite ad campaign because it does send the wrong message and, over a period of time, those messages can lead to a misinformed consensus. Like, for example, "AIDS doesn't kill you anymore."

Posted by Judah | November 26, 2007 10:47 AM

Mr. Savage, isn't it true that you have smugly touted studies that show the anti-drug message of DARE, and the message of abstinence-only sex education, have had the opposite of their intended effects? So if this is in fact a pro-meth message, why wouldn't it backfire too?

In fact, all of these attempts to propagandize postmodern people into doing this or not doing that are so much piss in the wind. Kids have their own reasons for trying pot or sex or meth (with or without condoms). Forget the message and put a picture of a kitten or a pretty flower on the condoms.

Posted by elenchos | November 26, 2007 10:51 AM

Are there any worthwhile charities for HIV/AIDS to give to in Seattle anymore? Getting ready to do my Christmas contributions and thinking it just may all to to the Urban Reststop. At least what they do is postive.

Posted by Just Me | November 26, 2007 10:53 AM

AIDS doesn't kill you quite as efficiently as it once did -- chronic manageable illnesses are still illnesses, of course, and I do know people who have died on the cocktail. The age of getting dead isn't over, but the age of potentially living long enough to die of something else is upon us--at least in the West, at least for now. And gay men in Seattle are having sex in the West, and having sex now.

And most people on the cocktail are doing well and that factors into folks' decision making processes around sex. Men assess the costs of going without condoms (primarily HIV infection) with the benefits of going without (immediacy, intimacy, whatever), and too many -- in both our opinions, I think -- decide to go without condoms.

I agree, and I've written time and again, that we may see a new, super-powered virus emerge or, even worse, a new potentially fatal STI that no one saw coming. It happened once already, it can happen again.

I'm not as sure that the gay community's collective wisdom is passed down to newbies--young and old--as effectively as it needs to be. So ad campaigns matter and for the reasons you mention. I don't think Dave felt this one condom packet could create a whole new community norm around crystal use. But he recognized, as you do Judah, that it won't help.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 26, 2007 11:01 AM

Aside from the breathtakingly stupid ad itself, does anyone else find it odd that these volunteer efforts are directed at the crowd at Madison Pub? Is this really the group crying out for this sort of "education?" I would think anti-beer, anti-cigarettes, or anti-billiards-and-darts campaigns would make more sense there.

Posted by fixo | November 26, 2007 11:13 AM

It's a hoot and a BIG waste that 40somethings at LLA are pushing campaigns to 20somethings. I went to the BB seminar hosted by King Cnty. The audience (about 40) was mostly 40+ gay men, while the HIV conversion statistics given where for 20+ Latino/AA men. What makes any one think users of Meth what a preacher in their face?

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | November 26, 2007 11:24 AM

That *is* a fucked up message.

Elenchos @ 13. Funny theory, but I think there's difference between the the reason D.A.R.E. failed and this campaign. D.A.R.E. exaggerates risk -- which creates a cookie-jar temptation, and people are generally suspicious of warnings from the government. This campaign gives a false sense of safety -- which people don't want to doubt, and they trust Lifelong. At least they did.

Posted by Dominic Holden | November 26, 2007 11:24 AM

The campaign concept comes from the school of though that people will use Meth anyway so it is ok to promote an image of a condom walking hand in hand with a meth. But it legitimizes meth usage by gay men. At times I feel gay culture wants to have it's vices as part of who we are, a group that is fun but in reality legitimizing meth use in any way comes across as dumb.
We come up with concepts like this saying even though I do meth i will put a condom on later so everything is going to be ok for me. No! You do meth and now have a false sense of security that says it is ok for you to do meth tonight because you think you are going to put on a condom. GREAT! hours later you are wanting to be tied to a bed while some guy hosts a bareback gang bang in your ass. The idea of using condoms is the last thing you give a damn about all you want is the sex rush you signed up for by taking meth in the first place. Making a rational decision at the hight of your meth high is not something you have the power to do and to be honest not something you were planing to do in the first place. Thinking of putting a condom on while high is an idiotic concept thought up by a gay group that accepts drug use in gay culture. If you are high on Meth you probably won't be the condom wearer because you will not be hard at all. it will be others wanting your ass and you will be leaving the decision up to them.
You can't say no more Meth then turn around and say meth is ok if you use a condom. You can't have it both ways.

Posted by -B- | November 26, 2007 11:24 AM

The exact second some I knew told me he'd seroconverted, despite having worked at Lifelong for five fucking years, I knew that the organization was worthless. If they were so ineffectual that they couldn't prevent their own employees from contracting HIV, how the fuck were they going to prevent the community at large from contracting it?

Frankly, starting with the story of the SFO HIV+ AIDS educator who was fucking people bareback in backrooms a few years back and continuing with this bullshit, I'm tempted to say that NGOs need to get the hell out of prevention efforts and leave it to the government. At least I know that KC Health can be easily held accountable.

Posted by Gitai | November 26, 2007 11:29 AM

Is the issue that we somehow have to find the "right message" or the right way of delivering the right message? This was certainly the way things worked in the early years of HIV prevention--here's what you have to know, here's what you have to avoid, etc.--but I just don't think that's what works these days.

I don't know, honestly, what to suggest, or what works, or what can be done to change behaviors. Add the problem of drug addiction to the mix, and you pile on layers and layers of confusion on an already messy situation. This campaign feels like desperation, a capitulation to the meth problem that obviously makes a lot of us very, very uncomfortable.

Posted by Boomer in NYC | November 26, 2007 11:32 AM

Harm reduction efforts must be conducted in a manner that will reach the intended demographic. A needle exchange program in Medina isn't the best idea, nor is the unfortunate Condom + Meth combo we see here.

I don't really know any methed out gays, but I would bet money that Lifelong's current campaign is not reaching or helping them. The Mad Pub on a Sunday night? Really?

People will always engage in risky and unsafe behavior. Knowing how to help reduce the effects of such behavior is half the battle. Lifelong needs to get its fucking head in the game.

This is seriously one of the worst ideas I have seen in a long while.

Posted by kerri harrop | November 26, 2007 11:46 AM

Boomer @ 21. The notion that truthful messages based on science don't work "these days" is dead wrong. That thinking leads to the sort of government scare-tactic ads aimed at "a more reckless generation" that have proven time and again to fail. The lesson: we can't make people stop engaging in dangerous behaviors by exaggerating the risks. Now or ever. But messages based on truth -- this activity may be fun, but here's why it's dangerous, here's how you reduce risk, and here's how to quit -- are the only public health messages that work. The big questions are where do these messages need to be delivered (in this case, bath houses, Neighbours, Broadway and John, where gay tweakers hang out), and, the other question, who are the credible, non judgmental messengers (gay tweakers and former tweakers)? The other key is to deliver the message with the wit and savvy of any modern media campaign. Obviously, Lifelong was going for that in-your-face marketing when they shot themselves in the foot.

Posted by Dominic Holden | November 26, 2007 12:05 PM

Here's a campaign I'd like to see: "Don't Fuck A Meth User, Dummy." I don't care if you're straight, gay, or bi, why would you wanna fool around with someone who smokes the same stuff you can find in the cupboard under the kitchen sink?

Posted by Jason Josephes | November 26, 2007 12:12 PM

I'm with Jason.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 26, 2007 12:13 PM

Me too.

Posted by David Schmader | November 26, 2007 12:19 PM

Not that I'm love with a meth addict, I don't plan on it either ... but maybe THAT particular message is only intended for a very localized and incredibly fucked up demographic.

Posted by OR Matt | November 26, 2007 12:36 PM

Jeebus, why not just include a pipe in the baggie? This is (literally) fucked up.

Posted by andy niable | November 26, 2007 12:37 PM

Why are you agreeing with Jason, Dan?

They are "GGG" right? What do you care if they snoof a little hoochie before taking a ride on the poop express without a pair of golloshes?

You make me sick. Your ignorance about the nature of the urban gay community is astonishing. I guess unless they walk little shitty dogs around your posh capital hill neighborhood, and adopt children to take to cocktail parties and brag about how hard it is to balence being a promiscous whore with teaching your kids morals, then you are "shocked" when you actually get a taste of what I have been saying here.

I doubt all the outrage expressed thus far in the comments really reflects how many crystal meth loving little fags are out there (a majority of them) and how many will never care what you say. You just give a blacnket to them to continue to hide under.

The best anti-septic is sunlight. Please, for the sake of all our young (and not so young) gay brothers out there, STOP MINIMIZING THE PROBLEM!!!!!

Posted by ecce homo | November 26, 2007 12:38 PM

Oh, Ecce. I'm glad you're back. We missed you.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 26, 2007 12:45 PM

@29 A majority? You actually think that a majority of gay men use crystal? Are you sure you're not Peter LaBarbera?

Posted by Gitai | November 26, 2007 1:07 PM

A majority of young (under 35) urban gay men are more than occasional crystal users. Yes, I mean that.

Posted by ecce homo | November 26, 2007 1:15 PM

You can "mean" anything you want, Ecce Home. You're still a depraved fool. And I'd hope by now even a meth-head would recognize that fact in your ravings. You have one (at least) serious mental health defect, and your moral position on anything is intrinsically drawn from a stunted, angry, confused mind.

Stick your "majorities" in the same place you've been hiding your meds.

Posted by Donovan | November 26, 2007 1:39 PM

Oh, ecce.

Posted by tsm | November 26, 2007 1:42 PM

Are people really less scared of HIV now that it can be "managed?" As an old fogey, that is hard for me to understand.


Posted by Jim | November 26, 2007 1:54 PM

Plain factual messages worked in the early days of the epidemic because everyone hearing that message was also seeing something else -- the very ugly deaths of people with AIDS. Teaching people how to use condoms was enough when those people already had a strong motivation to stay healthy. But without that motivation, plain facts are almost never enough to modify behavior.

The challenge for HIV-prevention today is how to create that motivation. I don't know how to do that. (But I agree that this moronic Condoms+Meth campaign isn't helpful.)

Posted by JonboyDC | November 26, 2007 2:15 PM

Jim @ 35: Yep, there really is some truth to it. Think of it kind of the way young people used to regard the dangers of smoking.

In behavior theory jargon it's sometimes referred to as "discounting the future." That is risks/dangers/penalties that take place in the future are minimized in place of todays pleasures/rewards.

The further out the consequences the less of a motivating factor they are.

Posted by gnossos | November 26, 2007 2:26 PM

@36: What if we start publicizing the cost of a year's worth of drug cocktails and hospital bills?

Posted by Greg | November 26, 2007 2:27 PM

Well, I for one am convinced by this new ad campaign.

Quick, someone find me a condom and a meth-addict!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | November 26, 2007 2:31 PM

Ecce - I have having trouble finding any published peer-reviewed study that supports your assertion that the majority of under-35 urban gay men are meth users. Could you provide a reference? Most studies that I can find top out at about 20% of gay/bi men for having any experience with meth, even once.

As for the campaign...
I think it was a poor choice. It would have been better to leave the fuck without fear part out - unprotected sex and meth use are still behaviors that have risks, ones that I hope were addressed somewhere else on the package or even better, by those handing them out.

Posted by greg | November 26, 2007 3:15 PM

the underlying issue is mental health and wellness. until that is takled we will see rising drug use and HIV rates...its the hardest battle yet.

Posted by Jiberish | November 26, 2007 3:51 PM

I'd also like to the see the study that shows that I'm promiscuous -- that would be a fun read. And the one that demonstrates how frequently I take my kid to cocktail parties.

Posted by Dan Savage | November 26, 2007 4:39 PM


Thanks for really made me think about some behaviours in my own life. Seriously.

"In behavior theory jargon it's sometimes referred to as "discounting the future." That is risks/dangers/penalties that take place in the future are minimized in place of todays pleasures/rewards."

Posted by thanks | November 26, 2007 5:01 PM

(drinking...not sexual promiscuity)

Posted by thanks | November 26, 2007 5:02 PM

I'm with Jason, Dan & David (@24, 25, 26).

Better message: Fuck with meth and die.

Forget about the condoms. Most meth users do anyway. I understand the harm reduction logic of associating condoms with meth, but this is a seriously fucked up ad campaign. Talk about unintended consequences...

Posted by MichaelPgh | November 26, 2007 7:05 PM

That... seems like a really bad idea. Encouraging condom use is high risk populations is one thing, but this is quite another. Couldn't those volunteers have been picked up for distribution for handing that shit out?

Posted by Ferin | November 26, 2007 8:12 PM

Frankly, the message on the condom packet is irrelevant - when you're getting the free condom, are drunk and about to hookup - all you care about is ripping up the packet fast enough to get to the condom so you can fuck the guy. I doubt any significant number of people even bothered reading the message till it was pointed out here.

Posted by J | November 26, 2007 9:19 PM

Ecce, I've begged you to stay sober, or at least swear off the slog after you've had a few snorts.

We all know you're hurting. Downtown Auburn is a lonely place at night - especially when all you have is that studio apartment with those white, white walls. There's a K-Mart up in Kent. Why don't you go get yourself a nice poster or two? That might cheer you up.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 26, 2007 9:39 PM

Stigmatizing meth users only pushes them further into addiction. Had I found support rather than condemnation, I would have probably quit much more quickly than I did.

Posted by eric | November 26, 2007 10:42 PM

what 49 said.

Also relevant is who the target audience is. Without actually seeing the flier in question and knowing who it's intended for none of us is in any position to say whether it's a good promo piece or not.

Good promos are tightly geared to a specific behavior and/or group (just like ads, movies, etc.) and may have no meaning (or even be offensive) to outsiders.

One of the best AIDS pieces I've seen was a poster at the Vancouver needle exchange. At the top was a black and white photo of a male forearm with a caption that read "If you prick this...put this on your prick" with a photo of a condom below it.

It was simple and stark and it really got attention.

Totally appropriate and meaningful for where it was. And probably wouldn't have worked many other places.

Posted by gnossos | November 26, 2007 11:17 PM

lifelong = Heroes season 2. what the fuck were they thinking?!?

Posted by duh | November 27, 2007 1:00 AM

If you stop Meth addicts from having unsafe sex, who are the bug chasers gonna nail?

Posted by ecce homo | November 27, 2007 2:03 AM

Haven't any of you heard of HARM REDUCTION principles??

Posted by thaddeus | November 27, 2007 9:56 AM

Awww...that crystal meth crystal is sooo cute...I'd fuck him/her too...and then I'd find another 20-50 to fuck before sun up.

Posted by Mr Blifil | November 27, 2007 6:22 PM

Look, speaking as someone who made it through the dark night of Meth alive and healthy, you have to realize that ads like this really do NOT affect either the majority of meth users OR the majority of those who do not use the drug. People are going to do it no matter what you say, or do, or advertise. Meth is as popular as it is for a reason. I knew and know a lot of guys who can't seem to wrap their cock sober, much less fucked up on anything. I also know a lot of addicts who wrap it EVERY SINGLE TIME. I spent a year of my life in a drug induced fog, and I know what it can do, but to think that a little ad like this on a bag of condoms and lube is going to change sexual habits one way or another is just naive. I do agree that the drug should be wiped out; it destroys lives and it's a horrible blemish on the gay psyche.

Posted by BeauBoi | November 27, 2007 8:01 PM

We can debate this forever in terms of what is the most effective prevention for either drug abuse or HIV infection. But what cannot be denied in this situation is the fact that gay people have formed an unfortunately educated opinion on crystal meth, and very strongly agree that it's an evil and destructive thing. We all want to prevent HIV, but when it happens we can find a way to live with it, and stigma will indeed make things worse. We must never find a way to live with crystal meth in our midst, and frankly the desire to stigmatize its use only grows with intensity the more you personally witness the destruction and evil it has brought to the lives of wonderful people.

Posted by Kevin | November 28, 2007 4:21 AM

Sounds great! Where do I get some of this so-called "crystal meth"?

Posted by Jamey | November 28, 2007 6:48 AM

I want to know how large an ass LLAA needs in order to put their collective heads up it.

SO. I have been very generous w/both time & money to LLAA in the past, but I don't know that I want to support an org that rolls out campaigns like this. What other AIDS/HIV-related orgs are there in our area that do a good job? I like my donated funds to do the most good (duh).

Posted by Granthor the Barbarian | November 30, 2007 7:43 AM

ptsbghqm zind usgafnw qeibnw ybdzto pcfask eywrkuxnt

Posted by okrwzc adrkh | December 5, 2007 4:43 AM

wdmsnx mkbwczru kspjn eitjopbg vxenwgjmp pozeyntck nryqi

Posted by jaysenk apqzwu | December 5, 2007 4:44 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).