‘Girls & Sex: Nav­i­gat­ing the Com­pli­cated New Land­scape’

Non-fic­tion by Peggy Oren­stein

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Books - (ANN LEVIN/As­so­ci­ated Press)

AFEW years ago, jour­nal­ist Peggy Oren­stein wrote a book called “Cin­derella Ate My Daugh­ter.” In it she ex­am­ined the ul­tra-fem­i­nine val­ues of “girlie girl” cul­ture and won­dered what im­pact the “princess in­dus­trial com­plex” would have on lit­tle girls, her own in­cluded.

As her daugh­ter got older, Oren­stein re­al­ized, with a cer­tain amount of trep­i­da­tion, that it was time to in­ves­ti­gate what was ahead for her as she ap­proached pu­berty. Those find­ings form the ba­sis of her lat­est book, “Girls & Sex,” a smart, sober­ing guide to the sex­ual lives of young women to­day.

By now, it’s fa­mil­iar ter­rain, the sub­ject of count­less movies, TV shows, and news­pa­per and mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles: hookups, sex­ting, self­ies, slut sham­ing, In­ter­net porn, cam­pus rape — the list goes on.

As a staunch fem­i­nist who came of age be­liev­ing that men and women should be treated equally, in­clud­ing in the bed­room, Oren­stein could only shake her head in dis­be­lief.

“Were we mov­ing for­ward or back­ward?” she writes. “Did to­day’s young women have more free­dom than their moth­ers to shape their sex­ual en­coun­ters, more in­flu­ence and more con­trol within them? Were they bet­ter able to re­sist stigma, bet­ter equipped to ex­plore joy?”

To find out the an­swers, she in­ter­viewed a host of psy­chol­o­gists, so­ci­ol­o­gists and other ex­perts as well as dozens of young women who spoke can­didly about their ex­pe­ri­ences with phys­i­cal intimacy.

She learned about the pres­sure on girls to look hot, to live their lives pub­licly on so­cial me­dia, to en­gage in sex solely for their part­ners’ grat­i­fi­ca­tion. She dug up alarm­ing sta­tis­tics about cam­pus rape, binge drink­ing, and the preva­lence of oral and anal sex among teenage girls and young women.

She didn’t lose hope. In the fi­nal chap­ter, Oren­stein ar­gues for a new model of sex ed­u­ca­tion that presents sex­ual ex­plo­ration as a nor­mal part of ado­les­cence based on mu­tual con­sent and shared plea­sure, and for a new model of sex­u­al­ity as “in­ti­mate jus­tice” touch­ing on larger is­sues of gen­der in­equal­ity, eco­nomic dis­par­ity and power dy­nam­ics.

For her daugh­ter and all the girls she in­ter­viewed, “I want sex­u­al­ity to be a source of self-knowl­edge and cre­ativ­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­spite its po­ten­tial risks. I want them to revel in their bod­ies’ sen­su­al­ity with­out be­ing re­duced to it. ... We’ve raised a gen­er­a­tion of girls to have a voice, to ex­pect egal­i­tar­ian treat­ment ... Now it’s time to de­mand that ‘in­ti­mate jus­tice’ in their per­sonal lives as well.”

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