Cover image for Dilemmas of desire : teenage girls talk about sexuality
Dilemmas of desire : teenage girls talk about sexuality
Tolman, Deborah L.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 259 pages ; 22 cm
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HQ27.5 .T65 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In movies and magazines, in music and advice columns, girls are portrayed as the object or the victim of someone else's desire-but virtually never as someone with acceptable sexual feelings of her own. What teenage girls make of these contradictory messages, and what they make of their awakening sexuality, emerges for the first time in frank and complex fashion in Deborah Tolman's Dilemmas of Desire.

Author Notes

Deborah L. Tolman is an Associate Director of and Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"Girls are the objects of boys' sexual desires and have no desires of their own." In this provocative study, Tolman, a researcher at Wellesley College, turns this notion upside down. Basing her research on extensive interviews with both suburban and urban teens, Tolman investigates how young women's first sexual experiences may be influenced by societal pressure to dissociate from their own bodies and desires; many women said of their "first time" that "it just happened," for example. Tolman shows the chilling dangers--for individuals and society--when girls are afraid to take ownership of their sexuality, citing soaring rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, violence, low self-esteem, and more. And she offers ideas for how change can happen. The language in this volume is both more scholarly and more radical than that in other recent titles on the subject. But parents and teachers alike will find much to contemplate and borrow from in this fascinating account. See the Read-alike column "Girl Talk" in Booklist's July 2002 issue for additional titles on the subject. --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

For all the panicky ink devoted to teen sex, until now there has been no academic study on what teenage girls actually want. Tolman, an associate director at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, fills that gap by focusing on girls' desires, rather than on the social ills they're usually quizzed on-pregnancy, disease and dropping out of school. The teenage voices she has collected are articulate and refreshing, though many of the stories are depressingly familiar. Nearly all the girls surveyed worry about being branded sluts, and many grapple with the pressure to be sex objects for boys while expressing no desire of their own. Tolman also makes a convincing case for why we should listen: girls in touch with their own desires make safer, healthier choices about sex. She advocates making it easier for girls to talk about their sexual wants-whether with parents, teachers, or other girls-without fear of repercussion. This is an excellent candidate for a gender studies textbook, and will also be of interest to parents, educators, and teenage girls themselves. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Tolman (Wellesley College) bases this qualitative study of teen age sexuality on what she calls the "listening guide" method of research (a method she helped pioneer), in which she records interviews on various topics and then reads through them several times looking for different themes. She drew her sample of 31 girls from high school juniors in two different settings, one urban and one suburban. Getting the sample was difficult, since she needed permission not only from the girls but also from their schools and their parents. One of her subjects classified herself as lesbian, two considered themselves bisexual, and the rest classified themselves heterosexual. Though reluctant to be honest about their sexuality in a group setting, in part because of potential gossip, the girls discussed their feelings with Tolman in a one-on-one setting. The quandaries the girls face--whether they assert, embrace, or dismiss sexual desire--is Tolman's theme. Though the girls told her they felt sexual desire, they at first often denied it. They fear getting pregnant or being labeled as sexually promiscuous. Ultimately, the book is a powerful tool in the struggle for improved sexuality education, since even the most sophisticated of girls seem to lack basic kinds of information. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels. V. L. Bullough University of Southern California

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
1 Getting beyond "It Just Happened"p. 1
2 Voices of Desirep. 25
3 Sounds of Silencep. 50
4 Dangers of Desirep. 80
5 Parameters of Pleasurep. 118
6 Geographies of Desirep. 166
7 Speaking of Desirep. 187
On Methodologyp. 209
Notesp. 217
Referencesp. 229
Indexp. 251