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


The distinction between acting on natural sexual feelings and using male attention and sex to fill emptiness is an important one. In this book, I carry the underlying assumption that teenage girls have natural sexual feelings, just like boys, and that perhaps we need to find an outlet for girls to express themselves sexually, an outlet that the girls control themselves, not the cultural expectations about who they should be as sexual creatures. I also try to demarcate what it might look like when a girl has stepped beyond cultural boundaries and has begun using male attention and sex to try to feel worthwhile. And there is a difference: some girls manage to cope with our culture's lack of space for girls to have sexual feelings, but others struggle and tend to use sexual attention and behavior to harm themselves emotionally. So for the purposes of this book, I refer to self-destructive sexual behavior as promiscuity and to the girls who pursue such self-destructive attention as loose girls.

Without discussion, without creating the space for girls to talk about their sexual experiences, we are left with assumptions that are almost invariably wrong. If we are not virgins, we are called sluts. We get what we deserve and what we wanted. Or—and this emerging view is not as positive as it seems—we are empowered by our sexuality; we are waving our flags of sexual freedom. After all, in this day and age, to suggest that a girl having sex is anything other than empowered and strong is antifeminist.

Meanwhile, the media continues to propagate the double-edged sword, the messages that girls have always received. You must be sexy, but you may not have sex. You must make men want you, but you may not use that to fill your own desires. The women's studies professor Hugo Schwyzer calls this the Paris paradox, based on Paris Hilton's comment that she was "sexy but not sexual."9 He notes that young women raised with Paris Hilton in the limelight were promised sexual freedom but wound up with more obligation than abandon. In other words, girls' requirement to be sexy greatly outweighs any attention to what might be a natural, authentic sense of their sexual identity.

This is not a book telling teenage girls not to have sex. On the flip side, it's also not a book that encourages promiscuity. It's a book about how we can all work together to find a way to let teenage girls stop harming themselves with their sexual behavior. It's a book—at its core—about girls' rights and sexual freedom.

The true experience of being a teenage girl these days is so lost inside all this noise, all the assumptions and messages coming from everyone but the girl herself, that we couldn't possibly know what emotions are behind promiscuous behavior. That's why I went straight to the source—finally—and asked to hear from the girls and women themselves.

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