The term safer sex in Canada and the United States has gained greater use by health workers, reflecting that risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections in various sexual activities is a continuum. The term safe sex is still in common use in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Although "safe sex" is used by individuals to refer to protection against both pregnancy and HIV/AIDS or other STI transmissions, the term was primarily derived in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is believed that the term of "safe sex" was used in the professional literature in 1984, in the content of a paper on the psychological effect that HIV/AIDS may have on homosexual men. The term was related with the need to develop educational programs for the group considered at risk, homosexual men. A year later, the same term appeared in an article in the New York Times. This article emphasized that most specialists advised their AIDS patients to practice safe sex. The concept included limiting the number of sexual partners, using prophylactics, avoiding bodily fluid exchange, and resisting the use of drugs that reduced inhibitions for high-risk sexual behavior. Moreover, in 1985, the first safe sex guidelines were established by the 'Coalition for Sexual Responsibilities'. According to these guidelines, safe sex was practiced by using condoms also when engaging in anal or oral sex.
Although this term was primarily used in conjunction with the homosexual male population, in 1986 the concept was spread to the general population. Various programs were developed with the aim of promoting safe sex practices among college students. These programs were focused on promoting the use of the condom, a better knowledge about the partner's sexual history and limiting the number of sexual partners. The first book on this subject appeared in the same year. The book was entitled "Safe Sex in the Age of AIDS", it had 88 pages and it described both positive and negative approaches to the sexual life. Sexual behavior could be either safe (kissing, hugging, massage, body-to-body rubbing, mutual masturbation, exhibitionism and voyeurism, telephone sex, sado-masochism without bruising or bleeding, and use of separate sex toys); possibly safe (use of condoms); and unsafe.
In 1997, specialists in this matter promoted the use of condoms as the most accessible safe sex method (besides abstinence) and they called for TV commercials featuring condoms. During the same year, the Catholic Church in the United States issued their own "safer sex" guidelines on which condoms were listed, though two years later the Vatican urged chastity and heterosexual marriage, attacking the American Catholic bishops' guidelines.
A study carried out in 2006 by Californian specialists showed that the most common definitions of safe sex are condom use (68% of the interviewed subjects), abstinence (31.1% of the interviewed subjects), monogamy (28.4% of the interviewed subjects) and safe partner (18.7% of the interviewed subjects).
"Safer sex" is thought to be a more aggressive term which may make it more obvious to individuals that any type of sexual activity carries a certain degree of risk.
The term "safe love" has also been used, notably by the French Sidaction in the promotion of men's underpants incorporating a condom pocket and including the red ribbon symbol in the design, which were sold to support the charity.