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

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Then we'll delve into boys and discuss just what it is about them that makes them so beautiful, so free, and always so unattainable. Chapter 2 explores the fantasy that our culture builds about boys and how that gets tangled up with girls' beliefs about them. We'll look at how those fantasies get wound up with the idea that boys will free us from that particularly female belief that we aren't good enough as we are.

In chapter 3, we'll dive into that minefield that is teenage girls and sex. It is one of our long-standing taboos. And yet, teenage girls have sex. They have sexual desires and curiosity. They experiment. They have fantasies. Usually when we discuss teenage girls and sex, though, we do so in prescribed, limited ways. Girls are virgins, sluts, or empowered. In this chapter, I explore—with the help of the girls I interview and existing literature—how girls see themselves in relation to these archetypes. Together we find that they don't often fit these constrictions, and yet because of these archetypes, they feel voiceless, shamed, and alone.

Much of the research out there suggests that, for girls to have a healthy relationship to sex, they must have a healthy relationship with their mothers. Through interviews with girls and the current literature, chapter 4 examines the ways in which severed intimacy with mothers both does and doesn't contribute to promiscuous behavior. We'll also discuss the issue of mothers modeling attention-needing behavior from men, and how that influences girls' behavior as well.

Most people assume that a girl's relationship with her father determines her future with boys and men. In chapter 5, we will examine whether, and in what capacity, this has been true for girls. This examination includes fathers' behavior with women, their direct and/or indirect sexualizing of girls, and their ability to show appropriate attention to their daughters.

In chapter 6, we discuss other ways girls harm themselves in conjunction with promiscuity, such as alcohol, drugs, cutting, and eating disorders. How do these behaviors interact with promiscuity, and in what ways are they part and parcel of the same thing? We also look at the prevalence of depression and other mood disorders with promiscuous behavior.

Sex, rape, and losing virginity is chapter 7's focus. As we've discussed, teenage girls do have sexual desire and curiosity. Is it possible to build a society in which we can allow them to experiment sexually, to make their own choices regarding sex, without being tunneled into the archetypes available to them?

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