LONG BEACH — The reactions ranged from embarrassed laughter to amused contemplation.
One young woman, thinking that the glinting circular gold foils contained chocolates, touched one, then sprang back in shock when she realized what they really held. And a young man questioned the propriety of distributing such things from a folding table on a public university campus.
But sales remained brisk. And by the end of their first day in business last week, Students for AIDS Facts and Education (SAFE) at California State University, Long Beach, had sold more than 100 Valentine cards, each containing a gold-wrapped condom.
"I'm not really into condoms, but these are so cute," said Lynn Miley, 21, adding that the last time she set eyes on one was in junior high school when she blew one up as a water balloon.
Nonetheless, she purchased a card with the circular gold foil glued on front to resemble a poker chip. "Our love is no gamble," the card read, "it's a sure bet!"
Other cards on the table included one in which the condom-bearing foil resembled an Olympic gold medal that said "Go for the Gold!" and another in which the foil peeked out like a gold tooth on a broadly drawn smile. "Let a smile be your umbrella," that card read, "but don't forget to wear your rubbers."
"It's a joke," Miley stressed. "I've been wondering what I'm going to get this guy for Valentine's Day. He'll love this."
But to the students manning the table, the cards--while humorous--are anything but a joke. "It's another way of making students continually aware that AIDS isn't going to go away, and to promote safe sex in a lighthearted manner," said Rich Wolitski, executive coordinator of SAFE.
Through seminars and written materials, the club is endeavoring to educate students about the dangers of AIDS. Its 60 members--who designed and colored the cards themselves--plan to use the profits to further their work. After two weeks of selling on campus, the group hopes to market the cards by mail order nationwide. Priced at $1.25, they say, the cards are generic enough to be used after Valentine's Day.
"(Our hope is that) this will help desensitize people to condoms," Wolitski said. "You'd be surprised at how many college students have never seen or touched one."
That situation seemed to be changing rapidly last week as the array of cards on the folding table drew intermittent waves of curious students.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Wendi Fields, 20. "Are they lubricated?"
Not everyone, however, was amused. Seated at a table on another part of the campus, Gregg Brenes, 23, the campus director of a Christian group called Maranatha Campus Ministries, characterized as "ridiculous" the idea that condoms prevent AIDS. "If Americans really wanted to solve the AIDS problem they would hit its root (which is immorality)," Brenes said.
Rowland Kerr, the university's adviser for student affairs and official adviser to the SAFE group, disagrees. "It's not that we're trying to encourage sex," he said. "The idea is that if you're going to do it, do it safely."
And, indeed, that seemed to be the main message getting across to most of the students once their laughter subsided.
"If I had a boyfriend, this would be a good way to get him to use a condom," declared Lynne Clissold, 18. "It would be a funny, cute way to say, 'Hey, I love you. Let's do this, but let's be smart about it.' "