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

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One of the challenges tied up with that question is rape. We tend to think of rape as a black-and-white issue—you either are or aren't the victim of rape. You either say yes or no. But the concept can become blurry when a girl acts out promiscuously because of low self-esteem or because she so often feels violated even when she consents. Rape is legally and clearly defined, of course, but the sense of violation many loose girls experience can have long-lasting emotional effects that are similar to the consequences of rape. Another challenge is the fantasy world we apply to sex, particularly for adolescent girls. To lose her virginity, a girl must be in love. It will be the most magical, eventful night of her life. Much too often girls get drunk to lose their virginity so that they will have an excuse later, so they won't have to take on the aura of a girl who chooses sex. Through interviews with girls, I examine these various issues and how, with them, we might build new avenues for girls' sexual choices.

In chapter 8, we'll look at the brave new world of dating. It was the 1980s and 1990s when I was living out the scenes that I would later share in Loose Girl. Computers were just beginning to enter our culture. No one I knew used a cellular phone. And yet I managed to get myself into trouble with boys again and again. We'll examine how things are different now and what those differences mean in terms of promiscuous behavior. We'll also explore the dangers that may come up when a girl pursues male attention, and the newer, more complex venues for this danger to play out today.

In part 2, we'll look at a few ways that girls can gain power. Too often we assume that younger girls act out sexually but learn to control their impulses and ultimately find intimacy when they mature into women. The more common truth is that girls carry these struggles into adulthood. In chapter 9, we'll hear stories from women who still feel addicted to that attention from men.

In chapter 10, we'll explore various ways girls have come to new and better places with promiscuity and with their need for male attention, and how we can help them make those changes. We'll also look at those who haven't been able to change and the dangers involved in that inability to change, and we'll consider the possibility that change is only partially possible and depends on the particular situation of the person trying to make that change.

Ultimately, if we are to make true change for girls, we also need to transform our culture away from one that positions girls as sexual objects and only allows particular archetypal figures for girls engaging in sexual activity. Chapter 11 explores how girls might take the lead on that change, including through transformation of our sex education programs.

My hope is that women young and old, parents, therapists, and school administrators, will see this book as an opening, a break in the silence surrounding teenage girls and sex.

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