Fatal Advice

How Safe-Sex Education Went Wrong

Book Pages: 192 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: April 1996

Author: Cindy Patton

Activism, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Medicine and Health > Public Health and Health Policy

The American public responded to the first cases of AIDS with fear and panic. Both policymakers and activists were concerned not only with stopping the spread of the disease, but also with guiding the public’s response toward those already infected. Fatal Advice is an examination of how the nation attempted, with mixed results, to negotiate the fears and concerns brought on by the epidemic. A leading writer on the cultural politics of AIDS, Cindy Patton guides us through the thicket of mass-media productions, policy and public health enterprises, and activist projects as they sprang up to meet the challenge of the epidemic, shaping the nation’s notion of what safe-sex is and who ought to know what about it.
There is the official story, and then there is another, involving local groups and AIDS activists. Going back to early government and activist attempts to spread information, Patton traces a slow separation between official advice and that provided by those on the front lines in the battle against AIDS. She shows how American anxieties about teen sex played into the nation’s inadequate education and protection of its young people, and chronicles the media’s attempts to encourage compassion without broaching the touchy subject of sex or disrupting the notion that AIDS was a disease of social and sexual outcasts. Her overview of the relationship between shifting medical perceptions and safe-sex advice reveals why radical safe-sex educators eventually turned to sexually explicit, including pornographic, representations to spread their message—and why even these extreme tactics could not overcome the misguided national teaching on AIDS.
Patton closes with a stirring manifesto, an urgent call to action for all those who do not want to see the hard lessons of AIDS education and activism wasted, or, with these lessons, the loss of so many more lives.


Fatal Advice is a judicious review of the nation’s collective consciousness and attitudes toward HIV/AIDS, sex, and safe-sex educational campaigns. Patton’s analyses of America’s response to HIV/AIDS and of the limitations of the past and present safe-sex education are insightful and often brilliant.” — Mark R. Vogel , Washington Blade

“A book of life-and-death importance on the politics of safe-sex. I can think of few other books that contribute so significantly to both cultural criticism and, in every sense of the term, public health.” — Constance Penley, author of The Future of an Illusion

“An urgent and important work. Once again, Patton’s usual brilliance is much in evidence—her irreverent and eclectic roving around different cultural and disciplinary domains, her perceptive readings of specific texts, her ear to various subcultural grounds, her wisdom based on personal history in the queer media and AIDS community movements.” — Thomas Waugh, author of The Fruit Machine


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Price: $24.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Cindy Patton is Associate Professor, Graduate Institute for the Liberal Arts, Emory University. She is the author of several books, including Sex and Germs and Inventing AIDS.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments 1

1. Around 1989 3

2. Between Innocence and Safety 35

3. The Erotics of Innocence 63

4. "The Only Weapon We Have . . ." 95

5. Visualizing Safe Sex 118

Conclusion: From Visibility to Insurrection: A Manifesto 139

Notes 157

Bibliography 171

Index 177
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1747-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1750-0
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