A look at sexual mores in the age of AIDS.
I like a good polemic as much as the next person, particularly when it involves people having lots of sex, mostly because I always feel like that’s nice work if you can get it. Last Night in Paradise isn’t hard-hitting investigative journalism as much as it’s an apologia for all the sex that Roiphe and her friends had in the 80s and 90s: “look, we may have slept around but we are always scared we got AIDS, so that doesn’t make us sleazy like swingers in the 1970s.” Roiphe herself calls this a kind of Puritanism, yet she succumbs to it in almost every chapter, talking about how she herself worries that she’s slept with too many people, or wondering whether or not she and her friends can handle the emotional ramifications of all that “safer sex.” She never quite seems to leave the Upper East Side private school world that she herself came from, and tends to see her experiences as representative of the general population. Her astonishment that anyone would voluntarily choose abstinence belies her inability to consider that there are other perspectives on sex than her own.
The section of the book that still holds up is the one concerning Magic Johnson, the basketball star who contracted AIDS then admitted that he’d slept with 20,000 women. She compares the media’s Johnson narrative with the realities of Johnson’s own self-told story. The fact that George HW Bush and Dan Quayle called this man a “hero” instead of castigating his selfishness and recklnessness still stands as a testament to the double standard that still afflicts public discourse about sex.