safe but still sexy

The 15 best safe sex anthems by queer artists & allies

As much as we love a music banger that lays everything out there in the name of sexual liberation, there is something so cool and refreshing about music artists who use their talents to send an important message, such as practicing safe sex. 

Even more important is how the idea of safe sex has evolved over time. From the HIV/AIDS epidemic to proper consent and today’s #MeToo movement, feeling safe during one of life’s most intimate moments is important now more than ever.

The following 15 songs prove that point with their timeless, catchy and, at times, critical lyrics underscoring safe sex is the best sex…

“We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” by Jermaine Stewart

Released in 1986, the title of this song says it all, and the late, great Jermaine Stewart’s delivery is cooler than cool in the very ’80s-esque video that accompanied the song.

A gaggle of smiling girls dance, play instruments and get splashed with water—proof that they can indeed have a good time without taking their clothes off, and Stewart looks like a star singing along.

Although Stewart’s life was cut short by an AIDS-related illness in 1997, he has given the LGBTQ+ one helluva positive parting message that dancefloors still sing along to today.

“2 Become 1” By Spices Girls

Somehow “2 Become 1” became the Spices Girls’ most spicy song for the way they seemed to directly allude to having sex, and also having sex with protection. From the group of five, Baby Spice (a.k.a. Emma Bunton) was given these very direct words to sing: “Be a little bit wiser baby, put it on, put it on,” and it set off a massive debate about whether the girls were really singing about what everyone thought they were singing about. (Spoiler: Yes! Considering the song came out in 1996, at the height of many safe sex anthems, the message couldn’t be more obvious.)

“Sign O’ The Times” by Prince

“Sign o’ The Times,” the album and the accompanying song, was  Prince’s opportunity to address the hot topics of the time, which included drug abuse and its connection to AIDS. In true Prince fashion, he put his thoughts into punchy lyrics, singing, “In France a skinny man/Died of a big disease with a little name/By chance his girlfriend came across a needle/And soon she did the same.”

“Dreaming of the Queen” by Pet Shop Boys

In this very poignant track, “Dreaming of the Queen” tells the story of a character who has just lost his lover, seemingly to AIDS, and he dreams that he too will fall victim of the disease, but eventually meet Diana, Di, as she shook hands with HIV/AIDS patients.

The whole message and song is haunting, but the Pet Shop Boys manage to keep things light with a bouncy beat. 

“The Queen said: ‘I’m aghast/Love never seems to last/however hard you try’” they sing. And then Princess Di shows up to tell a hard truth: “And Di replied that/’There are no more lovers left alive/No one has survived/so there are no more lovers left alive/and that’s why love has died.”

It’s a beautiful tribute to those who have been lost and the Pet Shop Boys show off their musical genius. 

“Sex in the ’90s” by Gloria Estefen

“Love and romance just ain’t the same anymore,” sings Gloria Estefen in the second stanza of her 1991 track “Sex in the ’90s.” And as the song dives further into why things just “ain’t the same anymore” in the ’90s, it’s very apparent that Estefen is talking about the compounding HIV/AIDS crisis of the time.

“What can you do, accept or ignore,” she sings, “I thought I was wise about the ways of the world/But you gotta be crazy to have/Sex in the 90’s.”

Although the song seemed to have been an attempt to scare people into not having sex at all, Estefen’s true message seemed to be more about proceeding with caution when it comes to coming together.  

“Where All Life Begins” by Madonna

Off Madonna’s Erotica album, the song “Where All Life Begins” includes some seriously sultry lyrics that borders on parody at times.

“Colonel Sanders says it best,” she coos in an awkward nod to KFC’s popularity at the time. “Finger-lickin’ good.” 

And then she takes the rest of that moment home with, “Are you still hungry?/Aren’t you glad we came?/I’m glad you brought your raincoat/I think it’s beginning to rain!”

Many had come to believe that the reference to “raincoat” was a reference to the rubber and latex of a condom. And we have come to believe it, too.

“Live to Tell” also by Madonna

Released in 1986, Madonna’s “Live to Tell” appeared on her third studio album, True Blue, and on the soundtrack for a movie starring her then-husband Sean Penn called “At Close Range.”

The song’s message is about enduring and surviving to tell one’s story, something Penn ultimately does in film. Yet decades later, Madonna has used the song as an ode to those lost to the HIV/AIDS crisis, a sobering reminder of just how much society has advanced in making sex safer for everyone.

“Barcelona” by Rufus Wainwright

The personal message behind the somber “Barcelona” by Rufus Wainwright delves into the musician’s fears of the HIV/AIDS crisis and embodies the fear he felt after he was sexually assaulted at 14 after picking up a man at a bar in London’s Hyde Park.

“The village larks cannot be heard/Cause all the crows got panderers,” he sings, continuing with, “I can’t escape these velvet drapes/Don’t want my rings to fall off my fingers/Fuggi regal fantasima.”

The last bit means “flee, regal phantasm,” and that’s allegedly exactly what Wainwright wanted to do after that experience, particularly to Barcelona, Spain, where he felt there was no pain.

The song is full of beautiful lines with big meanings, and Wainwright manages to exercise the pain from a sexual assault so that others who have gone through the same thing can confront their pain as well. 

“Waterfalls” by TLC

There are safe sex anthems, and then there is TLC’s “Waterfalls”—which not only helped promote safe sex in 1994 by the mega popular group, but the song further helped the establish Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas as forces of nature in the music industry.

The part of the song that goes, “His health is fading and he doesn’t know why/Three letters took him to his final resting place, y’all don’t hear me,” is not only still used as one of the greatest calls to action for safe sex but also a call to not bite off more than you can chew.

“Genie in the Bottle” by Christina Aguilera

When Christina Aguilera burst onto the scene with “Genie in the Bottle” (1999) from her self-titled debut studio album, she was the object of nearly every man, and woman’s, desire. Yet if you look into the lyrics of the song, she already lays it out that she is indeed not something to be owned. It’s all on her terms. Her consent. And if someone wants to get with her, or anyone else who instantly became fans of the songs, they will have to rub them the “right way.” 

“My body is saying yes,” she sings, but then explains that her heart is “saying no”—which alluded to the “no means no” sex consent message of the time. 

“Faith” by George Michael

In George Michael’s famous “Faith” he battles the temptation to touch and be with a man with a hot body, because he knows not from a man with a hot body, singing “I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body/I know not everybody has got a body like you.”

But in the end he shows the guy to the door because he is looking for love with devotion. The song really speaks to Michael’s genius at blending sexual tension with a lesson in leaving some things better left unexplored explicitly. 

“Oh, but I need some time off from that emotion/Time to pick my heart up off the floor,” he sings, adding, “Oh, when that love comes down without devotion/Well it takes a strong man, baby/But I’m showin’ you the door.”

Michael resists the temptation to give in to another guy, and keeps his faith that someone willing to give him devotion will come along, and we are given a timeless safe sex song.

“I Got AIDS” presented by Salt-N-Pepa

“I Got AIDS”—a public service announcement featured on Salt-N-Pepa’s 1993 studio album “Very Necessary”—isn’t a song. But it was a very effective message and address of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was ravaging Black and Brown communities at staggering numbers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. 

On the track, which runs around 3 minutes and 19 seconds long, Salt (Cheryl James),  Pepa (Sandra Denton), and Spinderella (Deidra Roper), introduces WEATOC of Boston, Massachusetts: “A group of young people who are also involved in the fight.”

Then a theater-esque skit about pregnancy and HIV awareness begins, delving into a major message about practicing safe sex, and Salt-N-Pepa sent an even bigger message by including it on their album. 

“Hold up, wait…wait, wait… You got AIDs?,” a character named Mario asks his recent sexual partner, Cathy, after thinking she was initially pregnant. Confirming, Cathy says, “I have the virus, and I don’t know what we’re gonna do.” The message being that HIV/AIDs affects everyone, not only LGBTQ people.

“Billy Brown” by Mika

Mika’s “Billy Brown” quite simply tells the story of a man, cheating on his wife with another man, and seemingly conflicted about his sexuality and who he is. In looking for some peace of mind over the bad choices he has made, he escapes to Mexico where he meets a “girlie” who confides in him that it’s not his fault he is closeted, he is a “victim of the times.” The “times” being homophobia, and how fear of persecution and rejection pushes many to pursue unsafe sex.

“One Minute Man” by Missy Elliott

Rap superstar Missy Elliott spends this whole song talking about the type of man she wants for sex, and how long she wants sex to last: more than a minute judging by the title of the song. And yet it was the actual music video for the song that sent a very smart message about safe sex. After building up her audience with lots of sexual innuendo in the video, the camera cuts to the hand of a woman grabbing a condom, and the video becomes one of the most important nods to safe sex of its time.

“Your Power” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish made a bold statement about #MeToo and the role abuse of power plays in unsafe sex when she released “Your Power” in 2021.

The lyrics are powerful and still very current, considering how many powerful men and women have been accused of abusing their power in recent years. 

And the bisexual singer didn’t sugarcoat the fact that she was drawing attention to rampant stories of nonconsensual and unsafe sex in the entertainment industry.

“It’s an open letter to people who take advantage—mostly men,” Eilish told British Vogue. “I would like people to listen to me. And not just try to figure out who I’m talking about, because it’s not about that. It’s really not at all about one person. You might think, ‘It’s because she’s in the music industry’ – no, dude. It’s everywhere.”

“I don’t know one girl or woman who hasn’t had a weird experience, or a really bad experience. And men, too – young boys are taken advantage of constantly.”

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  • ThatGuy22

    Madonna’s song is “Where Life Begins” – not “Where All Life Begins”

  • inbama

    Read what’s spreading in Brazil and wrap it.

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