'Girls & Sex': What's missing from the conversation

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'Girls & Sex' by Peggy Orenstein
"Girls & Sex" by Peggy Orenstein
Courtesy of publisher

When it comes to talking about sex, it's not as simple as the birds and the bees anymore: The birds now have cell phones, and the bees have internet access, and they're all watching cable TV.

Peggy Orenstein's new book "Girls & Sex" provides a candid, honest view of the modern sexual landscape for teenagers. She was inspired to write the book based on her own experiences raising a young daughter.

"It's such a different era than when I grew up," Orenstein told MPR News guest host Marianne Combs. Hook-up culture, sexting and binge drinking are new realities for teens — and their parents — to grapple with.

Orenstein interviewed more than 70 young women between the ages of 15 and 20 while writing "Girls & Sex," and she unpacks the messages they receive from parents, peers and the media.

"The idea of 'hot' has become so salient for young women, whether you're talking about social media or going for the evening. Everything is about being 'hot,' and 'hot' is this very narrow, very superficial, very commercialized idea of attractive," Orenstein said. "Whereas Baby Boomer parents and Gen X parents might have pushed back on that as a form of self-objectification, young women today are sold that as power and confidence."

One key part that's missing from the American conversation about sex, Orenstein said, is a discussion of pleasure for women. Orenstein compared the way parents in Holland discuss sex to the way American parents tackle the topic.

"American parents are not necessarily less comfortable talking about sexual issues. ... But we tend to emphasize risk and danger, where Dutch parents talk about it as balancing responsibility and joy. As a parent, I would have talked to my daughter about contraception, disease protection, consent ... Not even touching on her reasons for being there: enjoying herself."

For the full discussion with Peggy Orenstein on "Girls & Sex," use the audio player above.