Paternostro, a fellow at the World Policy Institute and a journalist whose work has been featured in the Washington Post and various other publications, travels throughout Latin America to research this arresting but unpolished book on gender, sex, and AIDS. Women are at substantial risk there, she argues, because, first, cultural stereotypes refuse to acknowledge the reality that most girls experience intercourse before marriage, and, second, men are considered to be more macho when they have many sexual conquests, often with prostitutes, both female and male. Paternostro provides some compelling anecdotal evidence to indicate that heterosexual Latin American men often solicit sex from male prostitutes, especially transvestites. In demonstrating masculinity, the important thing is to be the penetrator; it's considered even more virile to penetrate another man than a woman, who is already assumed to be weak and passive. Heterosexual men (who, according to Paternostro, unilaterally eschew condoms as unmanly) are therefore at risk for AIDS, and they bring the disease home to their unsuspecting wives. In one case, a young widow interviewed by Paternostro tried to exculpate her near-perfect husband ("the man of my dreams"), desperately hoping that he had acquired the lethal disease through a long-forgotten blood transfusion, refusing to acknowledge the truth he had already confessed to his doctor: he had sex with men. This story is one that needs telling, and Paternostro writes well, but the book is poorly organized (a single rambling chapter runs to nearly 100 pages) and its agenda feels heavy-handed. Throughout, Paternostro battles the demons of her own privileged Colombian childhood of private schools, servants, and weekend shopping trips in Miami. Her goal of Americanizing Latin gender roles is clear: "a woman who is financially independent, who understands . . . [family planning], who is not afraid to enjoy her sexuality . . . is the ideal to strive for." A worthwhile look at some unexpected aspects of gender and the AIDS epidemic that should prompt other, more comprehensive and neutral studies of Latin American sexuality.
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