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Sex Positive

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Daryl Wein
Directed by Daryl Wein
DVD, color, 76 min.
College - Adult
Gay and Lesbian Studies, Health Sciences

Reviewed by Debra Mandel, Head, Media Center, Northeastern University Libraries, Boston, MA

Date Entered: 2/5/2010

Sex Positive is an uncensored, engaging portrait of indefatigable safe sex advocate Richard Berkowitz, now about 54 tears old. Daryl Wein incorporated interviews, images, film and news footage to tell Berkowitz's transformative personal journey as an "out" teenager, college journalism major/gay activist, S & M hustler and HIV +AIDS activist. Throughout his life, Berkowitz said, "I've broken every rule, done everything I can."

After experiencing his own health issues in the early 80ís, Berkowitz allied with the New York City virologist and AIDS doctor Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and activist musician Michael Callen, to help mobilize the gay community and crusade for safe sex practices. (Callen died in 1993). In 1982, Sonnabend encouraged Berkowitz to write the first pamphlet on the subject, How to Have Safe Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, which stressed condom use as protection against bodily fluids. During that period, Berkowitz, Sonnabend and Callen, along with Larry Kramer, founder of the Gay Menís Health Crisis center and playwright (The Normal Heart) were frequently interviewed on television to help explain then known medical theories about AIDS and to spread the safe sex movement. Excerpts shown are important threads in the AIDS story. Kramer was reluctant to label gay men promiscuous in order to protect the reputation of the gay community; he was also pivotal in getting drug trials out to those with the disease. Numerous other people are interviewed through the film: Richardís mother Dotty, Michael Callenís former partner Richard Dworkin, and classmates. All these people attest to Richardís character, hard work and tenacity.

Berkowitz published a book in 2003 called Stayiní Alive: The Invention of Safe Sex, which sold 5,000 copies. Closing credits remind us that AIDS still affects one in four gay men in New York City and the crisis is not over. Don Adler, one of Berkowitzís dying friends, sadly tells us that activism is now dead.

Sex Postive is a well researched, filmed and edited story, which might be an asset to college level classes in gay and lesbian studies and public health, particularly those researching gay health issues form historical and sociological perspectives. The filmís verbal slang and graphic sexual imagery may be disturbing to some, yet is appropriate for the subject matter. Nonetheless, faculty and librarians may wish to preview it first.


  • Grand Jury Prize, Documentary Feature, Outfest, Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 2008