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Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape Hardcover – March 29, 2016

4.4 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of April 2016: It would be easy to pigeonhole Girls & Sex as essential reading only for parents of female teens or preteens. But as I traveled deeper into Orenstein’s honest and thoughtful exploration of “the complicated new landscape” of sex as seen from the points of view of seventy high school and college-age girls she interviewed, I realized this book is for anyone who cares for a girl approaching womanhood, whether she is a daughter, niece, granddaughter, or friend of the family. Orenstein is the perfect guide, empathetic with the girls she interviews while also calling out how views on being “hot,” consensual sex, drinking, and the very definition of virginity and intercourse has changed in the past ten or twenty years. She’s so direct, the reader can’t help but face how dramatically the landscape has shifted. (I admit to being horrified at the latest definition of “second base.” But better to be wide-eyed than blind.) It’s a tribute to Orenstein’s perceptive investigations and her ability to make you question your own long-held beliefs about young people and sex that as I turned the last page, I felt an intense desire to read a Boys & Sex edition so that our young men could be given the clear voice that Orenstein has given young women. —Adrian Liang


“Thought-provoking. . .Girls & Sex is full of thoughtful concern and empathetic questions.” (Cindi Leive, New York Times Book Review, cover review)

“A nuanced read for anyone who remembers being a young woman and anyone who is raising the next generation of girls (and boys) for whom we hope the future holds sexual satisfaction, not pain or disappointment.” (Rebecca Traister, More)

“Provocative and thoughtful.... Both an examination of sexual culture and a guide on how to improve it.... The breadth of Orenstein’s reporting ... is impressive.” (Laura Stepp, Washington Post)

“An honest and thoughtful exploration.... It would be easy to pigeonhole Girls & Sex as essential reading only for parents of female teens or preteens.... [But] this book is for anyone who cares for a girl approaching womanhood.” (Adrian Liang, Amazon Best Book of the Month citation)

Girls & Sex should be mandatory for anyone who cares about the present and future cultural landscape for girls, women, humans. I seriously want to quit my job and tour the country, furiously hawking Peggy Orenstein’s insightful, important book.” (Rashida Jones, actress, writer, producer)

“[An] important new book.... Her writing is clear and compelling, her analysis is incisive and thorough, and her findings are downright troubling.” (Sharon Holbrook, Washington Post)

“Nonsensational but deeply entertaining…. A must-read.” (People, Book of the Week)

“Fascinating…. A wise and sharply argued look at how girls are navigating ‘the complicated new landscape’ of sex and sexuality.” (Economist)

“An intimate view of the sex lives of young women in the United States. While revealing disturbing common threads… Orenstein brings levity to this fraught topic.” (Elle)

“If you’re going to talk about women in the 21st century, you MUST read Peggy Orenstein’s Girls & Sex. No one else is asking these questions; so no one else, then, is finding out the answers.” (Caitlin Moran, Author of How to Be a Woman)

“A smart, sobering guide to the sexual lives of young women today.” (Ann Levin, Associated Press)

“I’m not going to tell you to go right now and buy a copy…. I’m going to tell you to buy two copies: One for yourself, and one for the teenager in your life…. Refuses to be judgmental or doom and gloom. Instead, it offers something else — a demand for education, enlightenment, and ultimately, the radical notion of equal satisfaction.” (Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon)

“Eloquent…. [A] compact, polished, and readable… cris de coeur.” (Julia M. Klein, Boston Globe)

“With compassion and insight, Peggy Orenstein holds a mirror not only to girls’ experiences but to our own judgments. No less than the emotional health and physical safety of our daughters (and of our sons, by the way) depends on the kind of insight Girls & Sex provides.” (Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes)

“A wake-up call.” (Audrey Bilger, San Francisco Chronicle)

“Deeply reported, passionately argued.” (Isaac Chotiner, Slate)

“Peggy Orenstein sheds light on an important and too often misunderstood topic. Her reporting shows how a healthy and direct approach to sexuality is a key component of gender equality.” (Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org)

“An enlightening, sad and shocking look into the minds of teenagers and their views on casual sex, love and relationships.” (Aimee Blanchette, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“A sequel of sorts to Orenstein’s ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter’…. Sketches a sobering portrait.” (Oliver Wang, L.A. Times)

“Orenstein has compiled an eye-opening study of the way that girls and women in America think, feel, and act regarding sex…. The abundant information she provides will give parents and young girls the power to make informed decisions regarding sex.” (Kirkus)

“Eye-opening…. Orenstein draws powerful, humane portraits of her interview subjects, self-reliant young women who find themselves trapped by sexist stereotypes about women’s bodies and women’s pleasure. [A] smart, earnest, and timely assessment.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Accessible prose and narrative style will bring the work of many thoughtful experts to a wider audience…. Young adults, parents, educators, and activists alike will find this passionate work a timely conversation starter.” (Library Journal)

“Sex and teenagers have always gone together, but parents reading Orenstein’s frank exploration of current trends may still be in for a shock…. This isn’t a comfortable book to read (Orenstein herself admits twinges a few times), but it’s an important one.” (Booklist)

“Orenstein is such a breezy, funny, writer, it’s easy to forget she’s an important thinker too.” (People, four stars, on Cinderella Ate My Daughter)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (March 29, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062209728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062209726
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on April 20, 2016
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a grandfather, totally out of touch with the world of girls today, I read this book to find out what sort of world my three granddaughters are getting themselves into. It's a nightmare world. 10% of girls get violently raped, 25% get taken advantage of while drunk. Possibly even worse is that love and care seem almost to have disappeared as concepts. Sex is mostly about "hooking up." I trust my grandkids and their wonderful parents to manage this wilderness somehow, but I have some major questions for society. First, I certainly agree with the author that the most immediate and important thing is to give girls more control of their lives and feelings. The awful old pressures to conform, go along, do what boys/men want, and be passive and docile appear to be actually worse than in the 1950s when I was this age. They certainly aren't any better. Second, I also agree that one very important thing is to teach girls how to do sex right--to make it safe, enjoyable, and emotionally satisfying--which it apparently almost never is, today. We in the 1950s were utterly unprepared for sex and didn't have a clue how to enjoy it when we finally managed--it was supposed to be "fun," that was all. Apparently things are actually even worse now: the kids learn from porn, which is truly worse than nothing, for reasons covered with great explicitness in this book. Third, and this is not really stressed enough in the book, we have to do something about pop culture and the pressures on kids to conform to it and take all their standards and orientations from it. It is teaching the worst possible lessons--and not just the porn.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition
So many books on this subject tend to gloss over or sanitize the reality in order to make it more palatable to parents or the readers. With Girls and Sex, author Orenstein lays it all down on the table: countless interviews with girls from teens to college age, getting honest answers about their experiences. While she does tend to provide a lot of her own personal viewpoints interspersed with her findings, there are very sound principles as well as blunt, eye opening perspectives. Readers are given both sides to many stories, from abstinence, to drinking, hooking up, and sexting.

The book break down as follows: Chapter 1: girls as objects; Chapter 2: do girls enjoy sex as much as they should?; Chapter 3: what exactly is a virgin?; chapter 4: hook ups and hang ups; chapter 5: online and IRL; Chapter 6: substance abuse/rape; Chapter 7: telling them the truth. The above are my condensation of the chapter topics and not the actual chapter titles.

The main discussion areas of the book are: presenting the truth about sex to girls, the problem with objectification/low self esteem/a male driven porn industry that prioritizes male satisfaction while ignoring a woman's, how drinking and substance abuse contribute to date rape the problem with reporting/policing it, what exactly does virginity mean these days when there is so much variety in sexual acts, and abstinence vs exploration. All of the topics are discussed in detail and various viewpoints and actual experiences are given.

Orenstein is careful to not only provide factual backup but to also discuss the problems with the facts and how they can/are distorted, misinterpreted, or completely ignored. So yes, although she does interpose her opinions frequently, this does not feel like a one-sided discussion.
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Format: Hardcover
The book examines an important topic, and as a parent of two teenage girls, I was looking forward to reading it. There are both pros and cons of the book, but cons generally outweigh the pros. The author takes an important and volatile topic, and alternates between some thoughtful and insightful commentary (such as the changes in attitude toward oral sex) and flippant and superficial analysis (such as cringe-worthy commentary on virginity).

- Covers and important topic.
- Talks about new trends in teenage sex such as new and different definition of "bases" (at least to those of us who are a generation older)
- Based on interviews with real live teenagers


- The interviews that the book is based on are with teenagers who answered ads for girls willing to talk with a complete stranger (the author) about their intimate sex lives. Clearly a biased sample. The book makes it sound like every college girl parties 4 nights a week, does multiple shots before the parties, only has sex when she's drunk, never enjoys sex but rather only does it to please guys. My guess is that this is not applicable to all the girls, probably not even most girls. But, perhaps I'm kidding myself. I don't know. And neither does the author, who made no attempt to get an unbiased sample.

- The author really struggles with her own PC beliefs versus her instinctive maternal urge, and comes off as really conflicted and unsure. She doesn't want to say that girls shouldn't dress provocatively nor does she want to say girls shouldn't get blackout drunk at frat parties--because obviously it is not PC to say that and it implies that girls can't do what they want. But clearly she wants to say exactly that, and she waffles.
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