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Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality

Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality

by Deborah L. TolmanDeborah L. Tolman
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Be sexy but not sexual. Don't be a prude but don't be a slut. These are the cultural messages that barrage teenage girls. 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--so distant from and yet so susceptible to cultural stereotypes--emerges for the first time in frank and complex fashion in Deborah Tolman's Dilemmas of Desire.

A unique look into the world of adolescent sexuality, this book offers an intimate and often disturbing, sometimes inspiring, picture of how teenage girls experience, understand, and respond to their sexual feelings, and of how society mediates, shapes, and distorts this experience. In extensive interviews, we listen as actual adolescent girls--both urban and suburban--speak candidly of their curiosity and confusion, their pleasure and disappointment, their fears, defiance, or capitulation in the face of a seemingly imperishable double standard that smiles upon burgeoning sexuality in boys yet frowns, even panics, at its equivalent in girls.

As a vivid evocation of girls negotiating some of the most vexing issues of adolescence, and as a thoughtful, richly informed examination of the dilemmas these girls face, this readable and revealing book begins the critical work of understanding the sexuality of young women in all its personal, social, and emotional significance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674018563
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/31/2005
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,248,918
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Deborah L. Tolman is Professor of Social Welfare at the City University of New York .

Table of Contents


1. Getting beyond "It Just Happened"

2. Voices of Desire

3. Sounds of Silence

4. Dangers of Desire

5. Parameters of Pleasure

6. Geographies of Desire

7. Speaking of Desire

On Methodology




What People are Saying About This

Carol Gilligan

What fascinated me in Deborah Tolman's research was her discovery of how much girls have to say about what they say they can't talk about. Taking the bold step of asking girls about their own experiences of sexual desire, Tolman asks us to consider the quandaries girls face when they feel desire, and act on it, and also when they do not. Dilemmas of Desire is a path-breaking book, opening new conversations about girls, boys, and what it means to be human.
Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development

Michael Kimmel

In the constant din of pseudoscientific claims about sex, arrogant punditry, and moralizing fear-mongering, the voices consistently missing are those of teenagers, and especially teenage girls. By listening carefully to these girls as they navigate their own sexual desires, balancing agency and ambivalence, Deborah Tolman dramatically enlarges and enriches the conversation we should be having about sex and sexuality.
Michael Kimmel, Professor of Sociology, SUNY Stony Brook, and author of Manhood in America

John DeLamater

Dilemmas of Desire challenges one of our most fundamental beliefs about adolescent sexual activity--that it causes problems, especially for young women, and ought to be prevented. In this nuanced and insightful book, based on extended interviews, Deborah Tolman argues that it is the failure to recognize the reality of female sexual desire that is at the heart of the "problem." Challenging both some deeply held assumptions and social policies, the book is bound to stimulate debate.
John DeLamater, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin--Madison

Judith V. Jordan

Listening to and appreciating the depth of girls' desire--complex, powerful, sometimes pleasure-seeking, sometimes afraid--is indeed revolutionary. Deborah Tolman has done it, with sensitivity and honesty, and that makes Dilemmas of Desire a gift to adolescent girls and adult women as well. By inviting girls to tell us about their experience of aliveness in their bodies and their longing for connection, Tolman invites all of us to reexamine our sexual stories, and better understand our own sexualities.
Judith V. Jordan, Wellesley Centers for Women

Michelle Fine

It's rare that there's a national debate in which public opinion and social science are so clearly on the same (and losing) side. Eighty percent of parents want comprehensive sexuality education in the schools; most social science points to the positive impact of full sexuality education on public health and family and community well being. And yet, in this nation, a relatively small band of ideologues prevails over the real wishes of the public. Dilemmas of Desire is a powerful tool in the struggle for sexuality education and improved sexual health for young women (and young men too), published at just the right time.
Michelle Fine, author of The Unknown City: Lives of Poor and Working-Class Young Adults

Carole S. Vance

A thought provoking exploration of young women's relationships to sexuality. Deborah Tolman elicits rich stories of bodies, emotions, and desires, and offers an intriguing analysis of these complex and ambivalent narratives.
Carole S. Vance, Columbia University

Peggy Orenstein

Girls feel sexual desire. Simply asserting that would be revolutionary. But Dilemmas of Desire goes much further, allowing girls to explain their sexuality from their own perspectives: how they deny it, assert it, are cut off from it, embrace it. Tolman's work is essential to a true understanding of female adolescence.
Peggy Orenstein, author of Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

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