Book Review: "Boys and Sex", by Peggy Orenstein

This is an interesting book, with an interesting story as to how I got it. One day, I had a commitment in the city, where I needed to use my laptop. After asking around at this new-age bibimbap place for a power outlet (and getting told no), I walked into Kramerbooks, a bookstore and a cafe in Dupont Circle. They had one outlet, behind the cash register. They generously let me charge my laptop and kept it safe, and I walked around the store for around 20 minutes while it was charging. I felt bad about making such an ask, and decided to purchase a book to support them. As I looked through the titles, this book caught my eye, and I decided to get it.

So yes, it has a pretty cover and it's a best-selling book (hence its prominent display), but it also covers a topic that I've personally found quite taboo and uncomfortable around. I've never really talked about dating, relationships, addictions to pornography (which I'd say I suffer from more than most), hookup culture, and other aspects of young-people sex that might be relevant to me. Mostly, it's because I don't have sex, and therefore I have nothing to talk about on this front. But it's also because I'm afraid to talk about it. It remains an alien topic to me. Since this is the year of ripping off the Band-Aid solutions I've been applying to various life problems, I decided to lean into my fear instead of running away.

There's a number of things Peggy mentions that I find worth reiterating:

  • Most guys exaggerate their sexual experience. I figured I knew this already, but Peggy provides some numbers, and it's interesting to learn what exactly constitutes a "hookup" and see exactly how much sex guys exaggerate (hint: it can be order of magnitude or two). I think it's important to mention, because sex is a pretty private act (if it isn't, you might be doing it wrong), and therefore telephone effects, rumors, and hearsay can spread like wildfire and amplify any inaccuracies that take place.

  • Quality sex comes from a deeper emotional connection. Peggy mentions how the guys who possess quality relationships talk about their significant others in terms of personality traits, rather than physical traits. Things like breast size or hip to waist ratio fall away in favor of things like kindness, resourcefulness, curiosity, and thoughtfulness. I'm glad to hear that, since those traits about a person last through the decades. It makes sense too, since the best emotional relationships come from vulnerability, and a willingness to remain vulnerable. By contrast, hookups take place when you're completely hammered with alcohol, and that opens up a Pandora's Box of concerns (one of many include rape), and not only do I enjoy remaining in control of myself, I just don't find that risk worth it.

    (I have heard that if you do fall in love with somebody for their physical traits, go for their eyes. A person's eyes remain constant throughout their life.)

  • Refusing to talk about sex means it's one of the last places where our more bestial, baser instincts lie. Maybe it's the nature of sex itself, but Peggy does mention how misogyny, racism, and power struggles take place even at a young age when sex becomes involved. I don't think this is anything new, but Peggy mentions how guys feel so much better about themselves after talking with her about things that happened and the way they feel. Talking is nice. Talking makes people feel better.

Sex and the emotions that drive it are, beyond the reason why we're here physically, the things all people live for. Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor and engineer, said at the end of his life all he ever really wanted was the companionship of somebody he loved. Sex ties strongly into our identities, our vulnerabilities, and our relationships. For me, dissecting that fear, and talking about this subject more, is a pretty drastic change. But I think doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result hasn't worked out, and therefore I'm doing something different. I hope I can continue to talk more on this point.