An explicit didactic short about a threesome with identical twin sisters, Good Boys Use Condoms (1998) provides a fascinating insight into Lucile Hadžihalilović’s career and into French cultural politics in the 1990s. First shown on French television as part of a government-funded series of short films called À coups sûrs designed to encourage safe sex, Good Boys Use Condoms is an unusual and little-discussed part of Hadžihalilović’s filmography.1 It is at once a public service announcement and a stylistically intriguing form of didactic pornography: part masturbatory fantasy and spectacular genital display, part ethically engaged arthouse filmmaking. It is a harbinger for the wave of explicit films that would break into the festival circuit in the following years such as The Idiots (von Trier 1998), Romance (Breillat 1999), Baise-moi (Despentes & Trinh Thi 2000), and Intimacy (Chéreau 2001). It is also a product of discussions and debates around reducing the transmission of HIV, shifting condom advertising from an emphasis on security to a focus on pleasure, and recognising the role that pornography plays in the development of sexual imaginaries. This short piece provides some of the background context to the commissioning of Good Boys Use Condoms, and the À coups sûrs series, in order to situate it as the culmination of changing discourse in France around condom use, and as a precursor to a wave of sexually explicit arthouse filmmaking. 

The À coups sûrs series has to been seen first and foremost against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic. For most of the twentieth century, condom adverts were illegal in France, as part of a raft of laws that aimed to reduce anti-natalist sentiment and repopulate France after the devastation of war. As a result, in early 1980s France, condom use amongst adults was relatively low – less than 20% for a first sexual experience (Bajos et al. 2007, 20) – and reticence about using and talking about condoms was considered to be a particular problem.2 Charities such as AIDES lobbied hard to change these laws, and the longstanding ban on advertising condoms was lifted in 1987, precisely in an attempt to reduce the transmission of HIV.3 AIDES would subsequently work with the government that year on the first major AIDS awareness campaign called “Le sida ne passera pas par moi” (“AIDS won’t be passed on by me”). The next few years marked a significant shift in attitudes towards condom use and HIV/AIDS in France, and this evolution can be seen in some of the major actions of activist group Act-Up Paris. These actions were often directed against the Catholic Church, which, given their outright opposition to homosexuality and contraception, remained a significant and powerful opposition to cultural change. In 1991, Act-Up disrupted mass at Notre Dame de Paris and distributed condoms outside, and two years later, they covered the obelisk at the Place de la Concorde with a giant pink condom.4 In 1994, they made an advert highlighting the huge numbers of people being killed by AIDS.5 By 1996 such actions, and the massive increase in the numbers of AIDS sufferers, a large percentage of whom were now heterosexual, convinced the French Catholic Church to reverse their objection to condom use, and recognise its importance in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Changing attitudes to non-normative sex, sexually transmitted infections, and condoms allowed for more daring approaches to sexual health, which would ultimately enable the production of films like Good Boys Use Condoms. Although the early adverts from the 1980s tended to be more security-oriented, emphasising illness and the dangers of STIs, by the 1990s condom use had increased substantially and there was a greater focus on pleasure and the enjoyment of users. Further studies into sexual imagery, pornography, and swingers communities [échangistes] also broadened the horizon for healthcare professionals beyond just encouraging people to use condoms when having sex with new partners. In 1995, the Public Health and Social Sciences committee at the French National Agency on HIV/AIDS Research (ANRS) published a report entitled ‘Pornography and the Prevention of HIV: An Exploratory Study’ (Giami 1995), which recognised the importance of erotic imagery in the construction of sexual imaginaries, and explored how the pornography industry could contribute to increasing condom use amongst performers as well as viewers. The report concluded that the use of condoms in pornography should be normalised, and ideally eroticised, for the protection of performers and viewers alike. 

The government financing of the À coups sûrs series was likely influenced by the report’s findings because one of the central missions of this series was to “remove the anti-erotic image of condoms for over-35s who are not part of the condom generation” (‘CFES: le préservatif sans fard’ 1998), on top of the more expected requirement that the proper application of the condom be shown. Produced a decade after the first French condom adverts, and after substantial changes in attitudes towards HIV/AIDS, the À coups sûrs series can be seen as part of the shift away from prohibition and security-focussed educational adverts. The series was proof of an increasing diversification of measures to encourage condom use and reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs, especially in higher-risk heterosexual communities. 

The project itself was the brainchild of the French Committee for Health Education (CFES), a department within the Ministry of Health tasked with altering the public’s behaviour, and thereby improving their health, through targeted campaigns. Costing 1.5 million Francs (equivalent to around €300 000 in 2023), the series was one third funded by the CFES, who demanded final approval of the scripts before production, although the only significant restriction was that proper condom application be clearly shown. The other two thirds of the funding came from Canal+, the French subscription television channel well-known for its investment in film production, who required that the films be directed by upcoming stars in the cinema world. Since 1985, Canal+ has shown a monthly feature-length pornographic film, which, since 1991, has been preceded by Le Journal du hard, an irreverent round-up of the latest news from the porn world, including interviews with porn performers and directors, and a presentation of the latest releases. Le Journal du hard prides itself on taking a serious journalistic, if nonetheless light-hearted, approach to the porn industry, and at one point attracted over a million viewers. It was therefore the ideal companion program for the graphic but didactic messages of the À coups sûrs shorts, which appeared after Le Journal du hard and before the pornographic feature each month from April to August 1998.

The series was comprised of five films and each director was given a different sexual situation to film, with Hadžihalilović’s instructions being to counter the problem of “successive vaginal penetration without changing the condom between partners” in order to emphasise that “when engaging in penetration with multiple or successive partners, you must change the condom between each partner so as not to mix vaginal secretions” (Favereau 1998). Beyond that, the directors were free to explore the idea as they saw fit. The other four films in the À coups sûrs series were Sodomites (Gaspar Noé), Le Ramoneur des Lilas (Cédric Klapisch), Exercice of Steel (Marc Cano), and Norme française (Jacques Audiard).6 Each film is light-hearted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and unabashedly sex positive. Klapisch contributed a semi-parodic story in the style of classic pornography about an aristocrat sleeping with her handyman. Cano’s film, whose title plays on Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (1947), a collection of stylistic variations on the same story, presents numerous women being penetrated with slightly different dildos and sex machines, all with condoms carefully placed on them. Noé’s film parodies the uncontrolled aggression and machismo of dog-fighting rings and bull fighting, showing an aggressive man restrained from jumping on a spread-legged woman; in a somewhat humorous moment, the man pauses to put on a condom and lubricant before sex in front of a crowd of onlookers. Noé and Hadžihalilović were frequent collaborators during this period, a creative partnership evident in the comparable stylistic choices of Sodomites and Good Boys Use Condoms, as well as of their other early films, most notably the credit sequences and marketing designs, but also the colour palette, editing, and cinematography.7

Good Boys Use Condoms is just six minutes long and begins in the middle of a threesome between a man and identical twin women – Hungarian sisters here credited as Vivienne and Sophyen – emphasising the changing of condoms between partners. With its meagre narrative, sparsely furnished dingy hotel location, and dispassionate acting style, the film’s opening looks much like other 1990s pornographic films starring the two sisters. At the same time, the sombre decor and drab colour palette suggest this takes place in the same world as Hadžihalilović’s first film La bouche de Jean-Pierre (1996), potentially even in the same apartment block. The dark clashing patterns of the wallpaper and the carpet in a small room evoke the claustrophobia and neglect conveyed by the earlier film. Hadžihalilović has noted that Good Boys Use Condoms was supposed to be graphic but without the grammar of pornography, and indeed many elements serve to de-dramatise and de-eroticise the action, to the extent that porn viewers were rather critical of the finished product (see interview in this volume). 

The clearest diversion from a pornographic ‘grammar’ is the distance the camera generally maintains from the action, with almost all close-ups focussing on faces, and no close-ups of penetration, a key element of heterosexual pornography. While pornography is often associated with maximal visibility (Williams 2008, 5), Good Boys Use Condoms does not focus on making the sex and the actors’ bodies as visible as possible, indeed while the man is naked, the women do not even remove their t-shirts. The cinematography is dominated by overhead shots looking vertically down at the characters during sex, a highly unusual camera position in pornography, and one that would be frequently remarked upon in the sex scenes in Gaspar Noé’s explicit Love (2015).8 Good Boys Use Condoms switches most overtly to an arthouse style at the end of the film, when masturbation is rapidly intercut with extreme close-ups of one of the women’s eyes, and a rotating, accelerating camera that sweeps round the room filming the walls. 

Voice in Good Boys Use Condoms is used almost exclusively for didactic purposes, with the few words of dialogue, all in English, focussed on the educational moment (“come with me”, the man says to the second woman, “no – change condom” says the first), and on infantilising praise at the end when the man ejaculates (“good, good, very good boy”). Even without the bright purple message shown at the end – “change partner, change condom” – and its morally-loaded title, Good Boys Use Condoms is an educational film with a clear message for its viewers. Its didacticism is nonetheless rooted in pleasure, if mostly male pleasure; disassociated from their usual connotations of danger, disease, or security, condoms are not anathema to the spectacle of pornography, but rather analogous with orgasm. Thus, the film perfectly fulfils the requirements of the series, eroticising condoms and showing how to apply them correctly, all in an unusual and distinctive style. 

Seeing Good Boys Use Condoms within the context of HIV/AIDS, public service announcements, and porn-industry trends, allows us to see it as part of a shift in the 1990s away from security-focussed condom adverts towards an emphasis on pleasure. Together with the other À coups sûrs films, it indicates a growing recognition amongst French health experts at the time that condom advertising should not restrict its focus to hook-ups, but should reach out to the porn industry and aim to influence the condom use of those engaging in a variety of higher-risk sexual activities. Although the circumstances that allowed for its production were very specific, it also arguably attests to the beginning of a period of openness, especially in France, to the artistic potential of pornographic imagery, coming just prior to a wave of explicit films that would break into the festival circuit in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 



  1. The French expression à coup sûr can mean definitely, certainly, surely and, in the context of gambling or predictions (jouer à coup sûr), signals a sure thing, a shoo-in. This title also evokes casual sex as coup is part of several colloquial expressions about sex such as un bon coup meaning a good shag, and un coup d’un soir meaning a one-night stand.
  2. See an interview with former pharamacist and director of one of the first condom adverts Jacques Séguéla (https://youtu.be/qxM4oDrDv4I), and this 1992 sketch from Les Inconnus, one of France’s most famous comedy groups, mocking the inability of French people to even use the word condom: https://youtu.be/oaUPhZ1L_DE.
  3. AIDES had an advert ready for distribution as soon as the law was changed, which aimed to normalise and destigmatise condom use amongst young people. See news announcement including the advert here: https://www.ina.fr/ina-eclaire-actu/video/cab86032340/pub-aides-pour-les-preservatifs.
  4. See https://www.actupparis.org/lassociation/historique/, and for footage of the intervention at Notre Dame see https://www.ina.fr/ina-eclaire-actu/video/cab91056712/manif-act-up-a-notre-dame-de-paris.
  5. See https://youtu.be/aMcQ-97pJ0g.
  6. Audiard’s film could unfortunately not be found despite my best efforts, and so the claims made here have not taken the specificities of this film into account.
  7. Noé was camera operator and cinematographer for La Bouche de Jean-Pierre (1996) and Good Boys Use Condoms, while Hadžihalilović produced and edited Carne (1991) and edited Seul contre tous (1998) (as well as later being credited as a writer for Enter the Void (2009)). An aesthetic that would become a repeated signature of Noé’s credit sequences – the red and yellow lettering, capital letters written in a long list – is used in La Bouche de Jean-Pierre and Good Boys Use Condoms, while the stark red, yellow, and black colour scheme of the DVD and posters for La Bouche de Jean-Pierre also prefigures the marketing materials for all of Noé’s subsequent films. Moreover, the fast-moving, swinging camera movements for which Noé would come to be well-known in Irreversible (2002) and Enter The Void is tested out in Good Boys Use Condoms.
  8. Indeed in one of the few recent forum discussions on Good Boys Use Condoms, Love was the main reference for many of the participants: https://letterboxd.com/film/good-boys-use-condoms/reviews/by/added/ (accessed 21.02.2023).

About The Author

Oliver Kenny is Lecturer in Film and Media at the Institute of Communication Studies (ISTC) in Lille, France. His monograph Transgressive Art Films: Extremity, Ethics, and Controversial Images of Sex and Violence will be out with Edinburgh University Press in 2023.

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