talking to girls about their own pleasure

I can’t wait to read Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Girls and Sex. I was looking forward to it before I listened to this interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, and now I’m champing at the bit.


The interview makes clear to me something someone who has already read it told me:

“Girls & Sex is a deep dive into the problem. Come As You Are is the solution.”


The interview – and the book – comes to the conclusion that the problems girls face in the midst of porn culture, rape culture, patriarchy, and all the rest of it, can be counteracted effectively if we… wait for it…

talk to girls about sexual pleasure.


Now the fear people may experience instantaneously in response to this idea is, “If we promote the idea that ‘sex feels good,’ girls will have MORE of it, which will only increase their risk,” and to this I say: Nope.

Why do girls have sex? According to Orenstein’s reporting (and Deb Tolman’s almost 15 years ago – amazingly little seems to have changed since her Dilemma’s of Desire was published), middle class American girls have sex because they are trying to do what they believe they are supposed to do, obeying the rules of their culture, performing their feminine role, in order to meet their partner’s expectations, or because porn and the rest of their culture has taught them that sex is about WHAT YOU DO, not about how it feels inside your body.

They are NOT having sex because it feels good – pleasure doesn’t enter the conversation.

And this phenomenon is NOT limited to young women and girls. I routinely get emails from folks telling me that reading CAYA showed them that they were having sex based on what they believed they were supposed to be doing, or based on the goal of meeting their parnter’s needs and expectations, without much reference to what the sex actually felt like. That’s what I’ve started saying, over and over,

pleasure is the measure.”

Pleasure is the measure of sexual wellbeing – not what you do, where or how often or with whom you do it, but whether or not you ENJOY what you do.

As I always say, pleasure is not simple.\ So. Read Girls & Sex. I’m definitely going to. And then, if you’re left with the question, “How do I start untangling the knots in the ways the teen and tween girls around me are learning about sex?” read Come As You Are.


And while you do that, I’ll get to work trying to figure out how to make the science in CAYA accessible to teenagers, who aren’t so interested in reading about the rat nucleus accumbens, as the adults in my target audience.