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Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape Hardcover – March 29, 2016
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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
“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)
“Nonsensational but deeply entertaining…. A must-read.” (People, Book of the Week)
“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)
“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)
“Thought-provoking. . .Girls & Sex is full of thoughtful concern and empathetic questions.” (Cindi Leive, New York Times Book Review, cover review)
“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.” (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)
“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)
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- 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. I wish she would take a stand one way or another.
- At one point in the book, she laments that if a girl has too many partners then she's considered a slut and if she has none then she's considered a prude. It's a double bind, she points out. But then, later in the book, she herself proceeds to mock and dismiss virginity and those who value virginity when she talks about the purity movement. A book like this should consider all points of view, whether the author agrees with them or not. Sure, virginity is no longer valued by many or most people, but is it worthy of mockery by an author of a serious book on this topic? I don't believe in "no sex before marriage" purity movement but the utter lack of respect by the author toward those who clearly care about their daughters (and sons) and are making a sincere effort to guide their children really turned me off.
- The book doesn't take into account three important factors.
1 - It doesn't take into account the viewpoint of the boys. This is excusable, since the book is about girls. But there is literally nothing at all in the book about boys, even to set context.
2 - It fails to take into account the influence of different peer groups. Teenagers are heavily influenced by their peers, and the author takes as a given that all the peers are acting the same way, that they're having casual sex.
3 - It has little discussion of the importance of number of casual sex encounters. Yes, it's no longer important if a girl has multiple partners, but when it climbs to 20, 30, or 50 or more partners, surely that has an impact on her, not just socially but psychologically? Doesn't the number of partners matter at all any more? Really?
4 - It gives lip service toward female sex drive, but it keeps on portraying sex as something girls give and boys take. Even though the author says this is a misguided view of sex, she herself is clearly in this bubble. There are lot of stories about boys pressuring girls for sex and none about girls pressuring boys.It perpetuates a stereotype that I think is counterproductive to this issue.
5 - The research is shallow. It's based on interviews with girls who were recruited via ads, some internet news stories, etc. It's not an academic work, nor does it claim to be one, but it's worth keeping in mind that this is an opinion piece by an amateur, not by a true expert. You and I could reach the same level of expertise as the author by talking to our daughters' friends and spending some time surfing the web.
In sum, it's worth a read, but dangerous if you think it's an unbiased snapshot of what's happening in high schools and colleges right now. It's more like talking to a parent of one of your daughter's friends about what she thinks.
A lot of girls are simply swearing off sex. University surveys known to me have revealed figures in the range of 20 minutes a day for "romantic activities." (Versus 7 to 8 hours for classes and studies.) So it seems like the alternative to partying is nothing, or nearly nothing. I hope this is wrong....
We as a society really have to go against the pop trash, whether it's porn, gangsta rap, other pop music, or the other horrors these days, and get the message to the kids (boys as well as girls) that sex is about love and relationships, AND can be a lot of fun, but it can't be done by conformity, least of all with porn--it has to be developed as an art in itself.