When Spider-Man Promoted Safe Sex

Given that Disney once produced an animated short about the wonders of menstruation, it probably shouldn’t surprise me that in 1976, Marvel and Planned Parenthood made a comic promoting safe sex. Stranger things have happened than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man asking you to use a condom...right?

Retronaut recently dug up this little gem from 1976, and it’s a doozy. Released as a one-shot PSA in 1976, “Pull of the Prodigy” features an evil alien attempting to exploit the youths of America (and probably the rest of the world, too) for the gains of his own people. You can read the whole thing over at Retronaut, but the short version courtesy of the Marvel wiki is this:

“In a plot to gain a large crop of new child laborers for his home planet, The Prodigy, an alien in human disguise, attempts to convince teenagers to have unprotected sex. Using his power of vocal persuasion, which will convince teenagers to listen to his every command, the Prodigy denounces information about the risks and consequences of teen pregnancy and venerial disease.”

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Ah, the old “you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex/if you only do it once in a while/if you’re under the age of 15/fill in the sex myth of your choice” trick! What a dastardly devil this Prodigy is! Whatever shall we do? Thank goodness Spider-Man cottoned on to his evil plan before it was too late, saving the sexual health of teenagers everywhere! Thank you, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!

I give the comic props for talking about tricky issues and for informing kids where they can go to get the information they need to make informed choices — but alas, as Salon points out, “Pull of the Prodigy” is also definitely a product of its time. There’s a whoooooole lotta stigma against teen pregnancy rife throughout it (“baby machines,” Spidey? Really?); there’s also something a little bizarre about its treatment of homosexuality. While it’s true that “the way a person looks or acts is no clue to homosexuality,” the whole thing about how “having a close friend, or being attracted to a person who’s of the same sex doesn’t mean you’re homosexual, or ever will be” paints homosexuality as something to be afraid of. We might still be struggling with LGBT rights today, but at least Marvel and Planned Parenthood aren’t still sending us this particular message.

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Interestingly, though, this wasn’t the first time Planned Parenthood used comic books to bring up the topic of birth control; according to Bitch Magazine, PP published a comic called Escape from Fear in 1956 with a reprint in 1962 that told the tale of a desperate married couple that didn’t have the financial security to handle any more kids. Said Rose Holtz, Associate Director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program, “By the 1930s, the birth control movement had become more conservative from its radical roots. They tried to say that birth control is respectable and it’s only for married people.” She continued, “In the 1960s, they started to create educational pamphelts directly for teens. They’re pushing the boundaries on this, using a medium that’s known to be read by kids” — boundaries they pushed even further in 1976 with the publication of the Spider-Man comic.

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Check out the whole thing over at Retronaut — but try not to picture Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire as Spidey in it. Seriously. That’s a thought you can’t unthink once it’s happened. Trust me on this.

Images: Marvel; Retronaut