Title: Dirty Little Secrets: Breaking the Silence on Teenage Girls and Promiscuity
Author: Kerry Cohen
Released: September 2011
*In compliance with FTC Guidelines, please note I received a review copy of this book from Sourcebooks.
Kerry Cohen’s latest book Dirty Little Secrets is a powerful combination of research and personal anecdotes that illustrates the immense cultural challenges women face when it comes to their sexuality. By analyzing some of the most popular stereotypes (slut, virgin, loose girl), data from numerous studies, and firsthand accounts, as well as conducting a meta-analysis of relevant studies, Cohen illustrates that women still do not have control over their own sex lives and sexual identities — a fact that has resulted in a staggering number of women having unhealthy sexual experiences.
While this may appear to be an extreme and potentially demeaning viewpoint, Cohen supports her stance quite well throughout the book through her analyses of statistical data, meta-analyses, and examples of seemingly innocuous images from pop culture (take The Little Mermaid, for example, who “doesn’t even speak, and then gives up her entire identity as a mermaid and a singer to get her guy”). Cohen explores how the combination of all of these cultural influences forces girls to develop unhealthy fantasies about men and male attention, believing on some level in the “white knight” who will swoop in and save her from her life.
Now, women certainly don’t believe in a literal “white knight,” and Cohen isn’t implying women are so simple. Quite the opposite, in fact. The subtleties of female sexuality as Cohen explains them, especially as they pertain to cultural compliance, are absolutely dizzying.
Dirty Little Secrets is the perfect follow-up to Cohen’s Loose Girl, a memoir in which she explores her own battle with promiscuity and her never-ending search for a sense of worth through male attention. In my review of Loose Girl, I was critical of Cohen, writing, “Kerry does not take any ownership of her sexual encounters. She claims that all of her sexual experiences are a product of her addiction.” At the time, I felt Cohen lacked true honesty in her memoir by not really admitting that, like any woman, she also felt sexual desire. For me, Dirty Little Secrets picks up directly on those points I felt were lacking in her memoir by exploring female sexual desire (and, yes, it does exist) and explaining the “loose girl” addiction.
The book’s tagline really does say it all: “It’s not about when girls are having sex. It’s about why.” Promiscuity and being a “loose girl” isn’t about having sex with tons of guys. It’s not about a number, and it’s not about the level of casualness to the sexual encounter. It’s all about whether the act of sex is taking place because of mutual desire and consent.
Dirty Little Secrets is eye-opening, insightful, and definitely an exercise in self-reflection. Most importantly, it’s a conversation starter for a talk that’s been a long time coming.