“Everyone but me has an older boyfriend. Am I weird?”
“My partner wants me to watch porn with them but I’m not keen – should I do it anyway?”
“I don’t look like my friends. Will men notice?”
Sex is everywhere. It contours our social landscape, impacting on both women and girls from a young age. It shapes everything, from what we do when we’re by ourselves and with other people, to how we treat our own bodies.
These are conversations young women wish they could have: the pressure to look and perform in certain ways, the normalisation of extreme acts as “cool”, consent misunderstood or disregarded, relationships deemed “normal” or not. When publicly expressing concerns, young women are dismissed as weird, as outsiders, as prudes. It’s not cool to ask questions – and being uncool is a powerful silencer. The result is many girls and young women who don’t feel like they can speak up.
This will be the book we all wish we'd had growing up. We owe young women the language needed to explore their experiences in the face of being deemed uncool. We want to capture a range of women’s voices that will help them to understand, analyse and take back control of their lives in a culture that treats them as objects rather than people. This book will be a primer that helps young women talk about these topics honestly, and in the confidence that they’re not alone.This book will include essays from Lauren Aitchison, Katharine Bailey, Rachel Charlton-Dailey, Aurora Cobb, Penelope Foreman, Claire L. Heuchan, Vonny Moyes, Cath Poucher, Poppy Starkie, Rae Story, Sarah Thoms, JR Thorp and Toni Tweddle.
When I was 10, we were sent home from school with a brown envelope containing a pink permission form. “I, the parent/guardian of [insert child’s name here], give permission for my child to attend sex education classes”. That was the start of it. Boys and girls were split into different classrooms. We watched some terrible videos from the early 1980s about the human body, the mechanics of birth, and one where there were lots of people in a swimming pool, for some reason. Boys and girls stood resolutely on different sides of the playground at lunchtime, staring each other down. Eventually, the embarrassed stalemate was broken over the hilarious news that Liam had fainted during the birth video, we ended up playing Cops and Robbers and forgetting all about sex education.
When I was 13, we had a sex education lesson from a male biology teacher. This in itself shouldn’t be a problem, but when faced with 28 giggling teenage girls, he was mortified and could barely get the words out. I don’t remember anything we learnt in the lesson, and that was our only lesson. My mum bought me a book instead.
When I was 16, the coolest thing you could have at my school wasn’t Topshop jeans or a fake Louis Vuitton bag. It was an older boyfriend. Girls paraded news of their newly acquired other halves around like mythical beings - these older men, mysterious and exciting to fifteen year olds, were often spoken of, but rarely sighted. “He’s working”. “He’s at uni”. “He’s doing his A-Levels this year”.
How grown up, we thought, how interesting and exciting. Older men, like colour-matched foundation and pension schemes, were a mystery to us at sixteen. The boys we knew were childish, more interested in Football Manager and drinking bad cider under skate ramps in the rain. We wanted something more, or at least we thought we did. And so we plied our cool friends with questions about these boyfriends constantly. What did they look like? What did they do? And after a couple of weeks, inevitably:
“Are you having sex?”
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