Sex, Drugs And HIV-Phobia: 10 Lessons From Early AIDS Awareness Posters

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1989 – If You’re Dabbling in Drugs
created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control

AIDS campaigns posters in the late ’80s also began targeting intravenous drug users—possibly the most marginalized group at risk for HIV. Intravenous drug use is illegal almost worldwide and many IV drug users turn to sex work to pay for their fix, HIV-infected users face a confluence of health and legal challenges further complicated by social stigma and a wealth of other factors such as criminal background, nonexistent family support structure, homelessness, use of other drugs and mental health issues.

Even now roughly one tenth of new HIV infections result from needle sharing; almost 25 percent of the young American men who died of AIDS in 2007 contracted the disease from IV drug use—among women that figure was 38 percent.

The poster above uses an informal style of tough talk to discourage young people from “dabbling” with IV drugs:

Skin popping, on occasion, seems a lot safer than mainlining. Right? You ask yourself: What can happen? Well, a lot can happen. That’s because there’s a new game in town. It’s called AIDS. So far there are no winners. If you share needles, you’re at risk. All it takes is one exposure to the AIDS virus and you’ve just dabbled your life away.

While the poster conjures memories of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, it slyly wields a bit of sex appeal as the handsome young man in the tank top and track pants locks eyes with the viewer.