Author Peggy Orenstein talks her new book, ‘Girls & Sex’


Katie Pach/The Daily Northwestern

Author Peggy Orenstein speaks at the McCormick Foundation Center Forum on Monday. Orenstein, who wrote “Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape,” spoke about sex and the unique obstacles teenage girls face.

Victoria Cabales, Reporter

New York Times best-selling author Peggy Orenstein described the challenges girls face establishing their sexual identities as they enter high school and college at a talk Monday in the McCormick Foundation Center Forum.

For her latest book, “Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape,” Orenstein interviewed more than 70 young women throughout the United States, ranging from ages 15 to 20, to ask them about their sexual experiences.

From her interviews, Orenstein said some young women seem to believe that “when you’re talking about girls and sex, the opposite is two negatives: you’re a slut or you’re a prude.”

Medill senior Alli Shapiro was among the group of women interviewed for Orenstein’s book. She met Orenstein through her academic advisor, Medill Prof. Patti Wolter, Shapiro said.

“(The interview) was pretty relaxed,” Shapiro said. “(Orenstein) had a series of questions that she asked everybody. It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as you would think an interview about your sex life would be.”

The book’s topics include ideas about college hookup culture, girls’ self-esteem in relation to their appearance and the lack of conversation about women’s sexual identities, Orenstein said.

Many of the questions Orenstein asked related to her personal sexual experiences and the various ways she learned about sex growing up, Shapiro said.

One of the ideas Orenstein wanted to challenge in the book was the narrow definition of virginity as first intercourse, especially for lesbian and bisexual girls, who may have sexual partners without engaging in intercourse, she said. She wanted to analyze how “putting that one act in a separate category was keeping them safer from disease, from coercion, from betrayal, from assault,” she said.

“(In sex-ed courses,) they never say the word vulva, and they certainly never say the word clitoris,” Orenstein said. “And then (girls) go into a sexual experience, and you’re supposed to have a voice? You’re supposed to feel like you can advocate for yourself? … It’s just not realistic.”

Medill sophomore Michelle Bao said she agreed that the issue of girls’ sexual lives is rarely discussed publicly.

“It’s a very taboo topic that no one talks about, but I think it’s a very real issue,” Bao said.

Through her work, Orenstein said she hoped sexual relationships will one day be an issue that can be openly discussed.

One way sexual relationships are currently discussed is the use of the common baseball reference, in which boys reach certain bases during a sexual encounter, Orenstein said.

“In baseball, there’s winners and losers,” she said to the audience. “So who’s supposed to be the loser when you have sex?”

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