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

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I interviewed approximately seventy-five American volunteers who had originally emailed me after reading Loose Girl.(10) I do not claim by any stretch of the imagination to present scientific findings. These are qualitative stories from real girls who believed in this project and understood that by sharing their stories they could potentially help other girls out there who struggle with similar feelings and behaviors. Some are still teenagers, but others are older and either still act out or have learned to stop. These girls come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Most are white, but about 15 percent are black, Asian American, Hispanic, and biracial. Some call their mothers their best friends. Some have never met their fathers. Some have happily married parents and eat dinner with their families at the same time each night. Some have been raped. Some got pregnant. Some have been treated for STDs. All of them have carried shame about their behavior at one time or another, and all of them have felt alone. Not one felt there were any guidelines out there to help them move out of this behavior. This book answers that need.

All of the girls and women I interviewed have been given pseudonyms to protect their privacy. In an ideal world, they would be able to claim their stories without needing confidentiality. But unfortunately, girls who talk about their sexual experiences often get bullied and ostracized. In my mind, this is more evidence of our need for these conversations, more evidence of how badly we need to normalize sexual desire and behavior among adolescent girls.

This book has two purposes. First, I want to simply open a discussion that aims to identify girls' sexual experiences in our culture, how they develop as sexual creatures inside a culture that largely holds the reins on what that means. I aim to help readers understand how girls head into adolescence as loose girls, how they often wind up using male attention and promiscuity as a way to feel worthwhile, and how that experience gets reinforced once it is under way. Second, I hope to provide some suggestions for helping girls find their way out of this negative experience with promiscuity and for protecting girls from using sex in this way in the first place.

With that intention, the book is split into two parts—identifying the loose girl experience and helping girls gain power over their sexual lives. At the beginning of each chapter, I include a quote from the girls and women who have contacted me about their own sexual experiences.

In chapter 1, I examine girlhood, from puberty on, from a sexual perspective. Here girls discuss how their identities are tied up with how teenage boys view them and how they think of themselves in relation to other people. This includes the notion that girls must measure up to a certain physical standard to be worthwhile, how they can assess that measure on the basis of male attention, and how impossible it is for a girl to ever feel that she is good enough as she is. Chapter 1 also examines the ways in which female adolescent development is perfectly poised for those sorts of belief. It briefly discusses the ways this belief has remained relatively constant throughout much of our history, and is, in this way, interwoven with the female identity, even as so many other strides have been made for women over time.

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