Excerpt: 'Dirty Little Secrets: Breaking the Silence on Teenage Girls and Promiscuity' by Kerry Cohen


We aren't sex addicts or love addicts—at least not at first. We aren't diagnosable. We aren't yet to the point where we let these feelings utterly destroy our lives, even if, in some ways, it seems they do. They consume us. We are obsessed with getting love, with using male attention to make ourselves worthwhile in the world. Like the girls Courtney L. Martin describes in her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughter: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, girls who don't have eating disorders per se but obsess over the idea of needing to be thinner than they are, the girls I discuss in this book are on a continuum of promiscuity.1 Sex and love addictions are simply more extreme versions of what many—maybe even most—girls face regarding sex and love.

What happened to us? How did we get to this point, where we use male attention like a drug, again and again, as unsatisfying to us as it is? Why do we keep going back, even though our behavior often becomes self-destructive? And, finally, how do we move from that behavior, those feelings, toward real intimacy?

After Loose Girl arrived on bookshelves, readers were eager to share their stories, to voice their feelings, to know that they weren't alone. Many wanted answers, a formula, to get themselves to a new place, to stop harming themselves with their promiscuity. This book is my answer to their plea. It is a study of the cult of female, teenage promiscuity, and the silence that surrounds the topic; it is a sharing of numerous stories about the harm done and the movement toward real intimacy. It is also a genuine discussion about how we can make change for ourselves, our daughters, our clients, and our culture.

The bottom line is that we don't like to talk about teenage girls and sex. Sure, we see it everywhere. Teenage girls in provocative clothing flood the media. They have sex on Gossip Girl and Degrassi and One Tree Hill. And they definitely have sex on reality shows like The Real World and 16 and Pregnant. But when we discuss adolescent girls and sex, it is only in one way: don't have sex. This is easier than anything else. We tell teenage girls to stay away from sexual behavior and to practice abstinence. Don't have sex, we say, because we don't like to imagine them having sex. If they do, then we have to think of them as sexual creatures, and that makes us squirm.

In fact, much of the promiscuity among young women, both heterosexual and homosexual, is likely to go undetected because it makes therapists uncomfortable. When I appeared on Dr. Phil to discuss two teen girls whose parents were unhappy they were having sex, the tagline next to the girls' names when they were on screen was "sexually active," as though that was a disorder or a crime of some sort.

But while we refuse to discuss teenage sex, it is happening. According to the Guttmacher Institute, although teenage sexual activity has declined 16 percent in the past fifteen years, almost half (46 percent) of all 15- to 19-year-olds have had sex at least once, and 27 percent of 13- to 16-year-olds are sexually active. The larger proportion of these teenagers are black (67.3 percent) and Hispanic (51.4 percent) rather than white (41.8 percent). Much of the sexual behavior occurs in populations traditionally thought to have less experience in sexual activity, though, such as teenagers from affluent homes and preadolescents.(2)

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