Book Review: Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape
If you’re going to write about sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, and/or the issues associated with any of it, I believe it’s necessary to learn as much as you can. One way I love to educate myself is through reading. Every so often, I’ll share a book I’ve read and why you might want to read it, too. Affiliate links are included in this post. If you click an affiliate link and buy something from the site, I make a small commission and buy a little more coffee.
If you wonder whether I recommend this book, here’s all you need to know: Over a single week, I read Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein – TWICE. Why? Because it’s that freaking important for everyone.
I’m a mother to two boys so you’d think I might not care about girls and sex, except that, unless my kids surprise me, there will most likely be girls and sex in their life at some point. It’s relevant to all of us because we all live in this world and navigate our society. What girls believe and experience about sex now impact us all.
About Girls and Sex
From Goodreads: “With casual hookups and campus rape relentlessly in the news, parents can be forgiven for feeling anxious about their young daughters. They’re also fearful about opening up a dialog. Not Orenstein. A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and the New York Times best-selling author of books like Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Orenstein spoke to psychologists, academics, and other experts in the field and yes, 70 young women, to offer an in-depth picture of “girls and sex” today.”
My Take on Girls and Sex
The first time I read through Girls and Sex, it was terrifying and hair-raising. All I could think was, “How do I raise my boys not to behave this way?” Because the vast majority of girls’ problems are boys and their lack of education and understanding. You know, that whole “boys will be boys” problem.
The second read-through was no less chilling, but I noticed the other side of the story. We have to educate and empower girls and boys. They both need to know how to say no, how to overcome guilt, how to avoid coercion – and also how not to coerce, understanding that “No” is a complete sentence, and also to please-for-the-love-of-God avoid alcohol as a crutch for sexual activity.
13 Thoughts I Had Reading Girls and Sex
- We have to talk about the realities of sex with teens instead of using scare tactics.
- Parents of boys need to understand what girls go through and what happens when we don’t properly educate our children about sex.
- Matter-of-fact sharing of sexual realities is always best.
- I’m genuinely terrified for girls.
- It’s fascinating that (according to the book) lesbian girls seem to be more satisfied in their relationships.
- I see a lot of my adolescent self here: lots of blowjobs, virginity gone in a drunken haze, zero real orgasms but hundreds of faked ones.
- Mainstream porn is problematic.
- We have to talk more openly with our kids about sex.
- We have to promote good, safe sexual websites for teens (Scarleteen.com is my favorite).
- Kids are going to go looking for information about sex whether parents or other adults want to admit it.
- Both girls and boys are pressured about sex? Girls and Sex focuses on girls (obviously) but I can imagine the hyper-masculinity of “all guys do this” leading to poor decision making for boys, too.
- We have to teach them yes means yes and nothing else.
- By avoiding real emotions in the hookup culture, they avoid the lessons that come with heartbreak. Do we (sex writers and bloggers) need to talk less about avoiding pain and more about embracing the possibilities and the lessons that come with emotional attachment?
Deeper Thoughts on Girls and Sex
Throughout the book, Orenstein looked at the dichotomy that girls are over-sexualized to an appalling degree, but that they also try to own it. She asked a good question: Can girls “owning” their hotness be liberating or are they playing into a bigger game of seeing their self-worth through their appearance? It brought up so many other thoughts. Can girls make an educated decision at their age if they don’t yet understand the pervasiveness of over-sexualization? Can they genuinely decide when they don’t even know what they really want yet? As a parent, my mom brain says, “No” but I don’t know if that’s the right answer.
I wonder if the “hotness” and “selfie” culture (sometimes one and the same, sometimes not) is simply another part of girls’ exploration. We can’t understand as adults and parents because that wasn’t our experience at their age. Will these girls figure themselves out later as so many of us do? Plenty of sex bloggers figure out their worth and their sexuality as their fingertips meet a keyboard. Is that a more normal path than we realize? The method (blogging) may not be, but trying on different personas only to get to our 20s and 30s and cast that off for something more real? I hope so.
As the mom of boys, I couldn’t stop thinking about them, too. How do we help boys understand? How do they learn that appreciating a body is not the same as assessing worth, dignity, or humanity? Because most of their bad behavior (not all, of course) when it comes to girls and sex is about not seeing girls the way they see boys. Or maybe they don’t see anyone with worth, dignity, or humanity – male or female – at that age. And of course, as Orenstein pointed out – not all boys behave badly. But enough. Too damn many.
Read It or Not
Should you read it? Oh holy fuck, yes! Parents need to read this. Writers need to read it. People who might ever come across a teenager need to read Girls and Sex. A lot of what I read reaffirmed what I believe to be true about educating my boys about sex. Teach them what they need before they need it so they don’t turn to bad or incorrect sources for information. And also, I’ll continue my ongoing goal of raising my good boys to be damn fine men. They respect their Mom, so maybe I’m headed in the right direction.
And as a fellow citizen of the planet, we have to be aware of what girls go through, and the decisions they have to make. When you understand the nuances of teen life today (much more complicated than 20 years ago), their questionable decisions make more sense – and will likely break your heart.