Director Rob Falconer introducing the film Gay Men's Guide to Safer Sex '97

Review: Gay Men’s Guide to Safer Sex ’97

Gay Men’s Guide to Safer Sex ‘97 is erotic art, informational video, and a key part of queer history all rolled into one still relevant piece of cinema.  

The film’s predecessor, Gay Men’s Guide to Safer Sex ’92, debuted at a time when the given line could be ‘if you don’t want to have HIV don’t have sex’, with very little positive safe sex information available to gay men. 

A follow-up was deemed necessary with much of the information around HIV having changed in the intervening five years.

Before the screening, the director Rob Falconer introduced the film saying: “I don’t know what you’re expecting, this isn’t porn.” 

But maybe ‘this isn’t just porn’ would be more accurate. 

The film, just under an hour in length, oscillates between the director Rob Falconer and Dr Mike Youle discussing safer sex for gay men, while shirtless and lounging in bed, with scenes of gay sex.

Youle candidly tackles all the key issues around how gay men can have safer sex, as well as how men can come to the queer scene, and what receiving a positive HIV diagnosis can feel like. 

The film’s discussions are remarkably prescient of developments in HIV that were to come in the following years. 

Youle explains the growing consensus that low virus loads in the blood could mean people can’t transmit HIV through sex, later becoming known as U=U, Undetectable = Untransmittable. 

They also speak about the research into medication that would later become PreP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, something Youle was a key figure in advancing.  

However the film’s informative aspects are paired with long scenes of gay sex, shot artistically but in no way prudishly – this is real sex on screen.  

Another reason a follow-up to ’92 was made was due to the British Board of Film Classification looking again at what was permissible to show, with the film being a breakthrough in this regard.

The soundtrack, by Tall Houses, Angel and remixer Nuw Idol ties together the hypnotic and surreal qualities the film possesses and is creatively one of the best aspects of the movie.

The 2024 directors’ cut screen at the Barbican added updated statistics over the 1997 information, showing how some progress has been made. 

A short film, Sleeping Dragon, was shown alongside the screening, a touching tribute to George Hodson, thought to be the second longest-surviving person with HIV in the UK until his passing in 2023. 

Following the screening, a panel was hosted by Selina Robertson including Falconer, sexual health activists Dr. Will Nutland and Marc Thompson, and an actor from the film Aiden Shaw. 

However, with such an interesting panel of guests, more time than the 15 minutes of curated questions and 15 minutes from the audience would have been better.

During the panel, many noted how if you’re not a cis-gendered white male, your access to PreP will become harder, and an audience member candidly expressed how it feels more hostile to access services even in big cities outside London.  

While much has changed since the 90s, perhaps a completely new artistic lodestone is needed from which further progress could be made.

Is it time for Gay Men’s Guide To Safer Sex ’24? 

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