By Anne Kingston Photo: This book begins with Miley Cyrus, herself a former Disney product. Is this book a sequel? I see this overt sexual culture coming at her like a Mack truck. On one hand, the culture is absolutely saturated with sexuality, littered with female objectified body parts: We never talk to girls about sexual self-exploration or self-knowledge.
Very few girls you spoke to masturbated—or admitted to it. Only a third masturbated regularly. Sexualization is the performance of sexuality, the performance of sexiness. Girls are super good at that now. Is Kim a slut? Did you expect to hear the accounts of frustration, confusion even pain? When I started interviewing girls I was shocked—and judgmental. The first few interviews, I think I scared the girls off.
What surprised you most in interviews? The non-reciprocal oral sex; the expectations that boys had and that girls would comply with; a hook-up culture in which dating and caring were the last step rather than the first step. The anesthetizing against caring really threw me for a loop. I was seeing it with year-olds. It was how they were starting their intimate lives. But the young women felt they were getting someone out of it. Yes, there is a way hook ups are serving young women.
And it was important for me to always talk about how behaviours were serving girls, not just making them the victims. What are girls getting out of non-reciprocal oral sex? Popularity, a way to go further without intercourse. They felt it was a form of power; they felt in control temporarily. Whereas when oral sex was performed on them they felt vulnerable. You found young women extremely judgmental about their genitals. There was this weird duality: And the culture reinforces that.
So girls who are already pretty conscious and made to feel insecure are made more so. Now all girls over age 14 remove pubic hair. The only touching is to remove hair. Girls are removing pubic hair before fully having it.
We stopped shaving arms and legs in the 20s due to fashion. The next piece is a big spike in labiaplasty, the surgical trimming of the labia. The ideal result is the clamshell which looks like a Barbie doll, which is a plastic; b has no vagina and c has nothing to do with sexual function. Did young women sense they were being shortchanged sexually?
By college they were starting to complain. Would you put up with that? It never occurred to her. At the other end, I talked to a junior in college, and she was fed up. The majority of the young women you spoke with were white, heterosexual, affluent, and liberal. Did that bias concern you? I wanted to look at the girls who were the most privileged, the children we think are getting the most support. If I talked about their education or professional goals, or their extracurricular activities, I would have walked away absolutely inspired.
You repeatedly point out how porn provides a harmful blueprint for female sexuality. I would get so irritated that they had learned this. Nobody had a discussion with them; and it bothered me no one had a discussion with boys. Many young women told you no one had ever asked them to talk about sexuality. Mothers are doing a better job talking about risk, danger, reproduction, consent, unwanted pregnancy. You highlight the Dutch model, where parents speak candidly with their teenagers—and allow boyfriends and girlfriends to sleep over.
All of that is more true where parents, teachers and doctors talk really explicitly about sex. That really affected me, seeing statistical evidence of the benefits of talking about sexuality. We continue to think of virginity as first intercourse.
That ends up minimizing and marginalizing other things kids are engaged in, like oral sex. I asked one girl, who was a lesbian, when someone was no longer a virgin. She suggested the first time you have an orgasm. You call for sex ed, even lessons on how to masturbate, which will have some people tearing their hair out. Why did you end the book in a co-ed classroom?
I make it clear that this is not only about girls. You address sexual assault and issues of consent in the book. But it seems conversation about young women and sexuality has become almost focused exclusively on that. A lot of what happens in consensual encounters and in the way we talk to both girls and boys about sex creates a medium in which assault flourishes. You can stretch that metaphor pretty darn far, and for kids it can really shift the way they think.
That phrase was transformative for me. Who has the right to enjoy it? Who is the main beneficiary of the experience?