Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl details the author’s struggles with sexual promiscuity, from the day 11-year-old Kerry starts to discover her “femaleness”; to the dark days when sex is the only act that makes her feel loved; all the way to the moment in her life when she discovers that real love transcends the act of having sex.
Cohen’s memoir is unique because it tells the one story most women simply won’t talk about: how sex, especially those early experiences, shape our self-perception and our relationships. Most women enter their adolescence with fairy-tale-like beliefs about the loss of their virginity — that it would be full of love and romance and a sense of security. Kerry’s description of the loss of her virginity is brutally honest and arguably more in line with what most women experience: “…he puts on the condom and pushes his way inside. It is uncomfortable, but not painful. There is no popping or searing sting like I’d read about. No fireworks or meaningful moment. I stay still, waiting for him to finish. He moans, and then he pulls himself out of me and flops on his back. ‘Nice,’ he says.”
It’s almost difficult to read, especially knowing the lackluster nature of that moment is the most many girls experience during their first sexual encounters.
For Kerry, attention from boys — especially the attention she gets from sex and the temporary, albeit illusory, control she has over the boys she sleeps with — becomes an addiction that consumes her life. She loses herself in the chase, fully admitting she epitomizes what society would call a slut. “If a girl has sex when she’s drunk or overpowered, she’s not considered promiscuous,” she says. “But if you’re aware of what’s going on, it’s this consciousness that makes you a slut. Losing my virginity is a choice I make. What’s more, I orchestrate the whole thing, and I use a boy in the process. If that’s not being a slut, I don’t know what is.”
Throughout her lifetime, Kerry sleeps with nearly 40 men, and that’s not counting the ones with whom she “did other sexual acts, like oral sex and petting.” As she describes these encounters, some with men whose names she can no longer remember, one theme becomes painfully clear: for Kerry, sex becomes her addiction because it’s the one thing that makes her feel worth loving. For me, this is where Kerry’s story begins to lose a bit of its credibility.
For every sexual encounter Kerry describes, she reasserts that it’s all for a desperate need to feel loved. The brutal honesty so prevalent in the beginning of her book becomes overshadowed by this mantra that she was not in control of her behavior; her promiscuity was not her fault but the fault of a difficult childhood and an inability to understand how to develop healthy relationships. While I can certainly accept this as a valid cause for her behavior, having her drive it home over and over and over throughout the 200-some odd pages causes it to lose much of its power. After awhile, it becomes more of an excuse than an explanation, as if the more she says it, the more she thinks we’ll believe that she isn’t the slut society wants us to believe she is.
And while I’m sure the childhood she describes — one shocking in its absolute lack of real parenting after her mom and dad get divorced — is truly one of the primary reasons she seeks approval and (what she feels is ) love through sex, she doesn’t take the time to explore the aspect of these encounters that is probably the hardest for any woman to admit: a part of her really did want and enjoy some of those sexual experiences. In other words, Kerry does not take any ownership of her sexual encounters. She claims that all of her sexual experiences are a product of her addiction. I can believe the majority of these experiences are, in fact, a product of this addiction; however, I wish Kerry would have had the courage to admit that, like every woman, she was also sexually curious.
Although Kerry loses me as reader by the end of her book, I do applaud her bravery for telling a story most women are too afraid to tell. I don’t need to go into the double-standard in our society; we all know what it is. I will say that it is this double-standard that makes the telling of Kerry’s story on such a mass scale such an act of bravery. While I feel it stops short of true authenticity, I do feel it paves the way for other women to step forward and talk about how sex is just as a big a part of our lives as it for men — or, perhaps, it is arguably even bigger and more impactful for women than it is for men, otherwise it would take no courage at all to write a book like Loose Girl.