Songs That Soundtracked The AIDS Crisis: LaTour’s “People Are Still Having Sex”
By 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had spent over $7,000,000 on mass media public service announcements since launching their HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign in 1987. However, despite these efforts, the AIDS crisis continued to escalate, with over 120,000 AIDS-related deaths reported since 1981.
In this context, William LaTour released his self-titled debut album, featuring the hypnotic and quirky techno single, “People Are Still Having Sex,” as a prevention measure. The tone of HIV prevention messaging was becoming more severe, with taglines such as “One wrong decision can lead to your death.”
“People Are Still Having Sex” began to gain extensive spins on Top 40 radio in the late spring of 1991. The song’s lyrics took a heavy-handed approach to abstinence and fear-based messaging about sex, risks, and consequences, as well as the overall panic over AIDS that was ever-present.
At the time of its release, the song was largely seen as a novelty, in part due to LaTour’s detached radio-announcer vocal. As the song gained popularity, radio stations were inundated with complaints about the line “This AIDS thing’s not working.” This prompted LaTour to change the lyric to “This safe thing’s not working” for the radio edit.
“People Are Still Having Sex” topped Billboard’s dance club chart and reached a peak of #35 on the Hot 100. A portion of sales was donated to the T.J. Martell Foundation to support AIDS research.
In 1992, former figure skating world champion Tanya Harding skated to “People Are Still Having Sex” during her short program at the Winter Olympics in Albertville, Canada.
While the overall message of “People Are Still Having Sex” is out of sync with how we now frame HIV and prevention messaging, it was in concert with the urgency of many CDC PSAs. And even if just inspired conversations about AIDS, this would have been a huge win in 1991.