Sex and Sexuality from Girlhood to Womanhood

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Sex and Sexuality from Girlhood to Womanhood

To say that sex and gender play a complex role in the lives of everyday Americans would be an understatement.  Not everyone believes that America is a patriarchy: a society where men hold the majority of power.  However, many girls and women feel that the patriarchy is not only real but also impacts their daily lives, especially the romantic and sexual aspects.  For young women, puberty marks important physical changes to their bodies, and standards of beauty and standards of behavior for both genders are often set by the patriarchy.  Everyone seems to want a say in what women do with their reproductive organs, whether it’s commenting on the amount of sex they have or passing laws regarding reproductive rights. Far too often, young girls and women are raped or are victims of sexual assault or harassment.  Even if young girls don’t experience this, men are still often considered the most powerful gender.  Masculine qualities, such as toughness, are held in higher regard than feminine qualities, such as being emotional. Women and girls may not always invite sex into conversations, friendships, or daily life, yet it often finds a way in regardless. Check out these non-fiction titles if you want to know why men seem to have so much power, how it affects women, and how these dynamics could change in the future.

Many books have been written to try to explain the difference between men and women, such as John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, originally published in 1992.  In Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society, author Cordelia Fine seeks to uncover whether the differences between men and women are a result of biology, evolution, or societal development.  While many believe that testosterone is responsible, Fine uses research, case studies, and anecdotal material, as well as discussion of past and present sex roles, to argue that this may not be the case. The book concludes with Fine encouraging readers to dispel ingrained myths and reconsider gender roles based on the potential of all sexes.  Any reader looking for a book that discusses how biology and gender roles interact with one another will enjoy Testosterone Rex.

Sex is indubitably a part of the life of teenage girls, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.  What do young women know about sex?  Where do they get their information? Why does it seem as though girls are engaging in sex at younger and younger ages?  Peggy Orenstein’s book Girls and Sex: Navigating the New Complicated Landscape is based on actual conversations with over seventy girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty.  Orenstein addresses everything from rape to hookup culture to sexual intimacy.  A great resource for anyone who works with young adults, particularly women, Girls and Sex addresses the conversations young women have about sex and how those conversations are changing.

There are a lot of different ways to have a sexual relationship with someone.  Some people choose a lifetime of monogamy, some choose to have multiple partners, some choose one night stands, and some choose sex with no romance.  Lisa Wade addresses the culture of hooking up on American college campuses, but does so without moralizing. American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex On Campus discusses the history of sex and dating in collegiate environments and the evolution of higher education.  Wade’s work also addresses the ties that drinking has to hookup culture and the role that feminism plays. Wade explores the aftermath of casual sex, ranging from two people ignoring each other, to ruined friendships, to those who are left wanting a relationship. In addition to addressing how hookup culture normalizes aggressive sexual behavior and contributes to sexual violence and assault, Wade talks to students who fit into racial and sexual minorities about the impacts that the culture has on them.  While American Hookup doesn’t have all of the answers, it offers direction to the young adults who want something different.  Parents, college students, and those who work in higher education will walk away from American Hookup with valuable insight.

According to RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network), every ninety-eight seconds another person experiences sexual assault. Sometimes it seems as though when a rape occurs, every single person, aside from the rapist, is held accountable.  People who are raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed are often told that they sealed their fates by going certain places, wearing certain clothes, and acting certain ways.  Not only does rape occur entirely too frequently, but also for every one hundred rapes, only roughly five result in felony convictions.  In Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture -- and What We Can Do About It, Kate Harding discredits the idea that victims of rape and sexual assault are, in fact, asking for it.  Describing famous cases such as Steubenville, Ohio, and her own rape, Harding defines what rape culture is and gives readers suggestions for what society can do about it. Readers who are looking for a book that explains the prominence of rape culture and find themselves asking “What can we do?” should pick up Harding’s book.

Jessica Valenti is known by many today as a leading feminist author, Guardian columnist and founder of  In Sex Object: A Memoir, Valenti writes in a series of essays about the reality of growing up female in New York.   At the age of twelve, a man exposed himself to her on a subway platform.  At fourteen, Valenti lost her virginity. Mere days after her high school graduation, one of Valenti’s teachers called to ask her out. Some of Valenti’s encounters were consensual, some were not; some of the experiences she describes involve the use of illegal substances, others do not.  Valenti writes candidly about the complex feelings she had about her body growing up, about getting an abortion, about having children, and much more.  Valenti’s memoir is perfect for readers who want an unflinching depiction of what it means to be a woman throughout the various stages of life.
    Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine