"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, August 17, 2015

Get This Book: The Sex Myth, by Rachel Hills

I like reading about sex; throw in thoughtful analysis of sex and gender, and I'm hooked. Include a good mix of anecdotal stories and scientific analysis, and I'm in for the duration. Rachel Hills' The Sex Myth does a fine job of delving into our predilection to think that we know just what the sex lives of others are like, and just how wrong we often are. In particular, she's shining some light on the post-sexual-revolution tendency to insist that people be having the kinky, frequent sex that we have all been told is within everybody's reach. 

For me, her discussion of how men are affected by sexual stereotypes about men was the most interesting chapter. She starts off by taking us into a frat house in the U.S.--a move which I quickly criticized as myopic in the margin of the book. Hills is too smart to fall into such a trap, however, and is bringing us there because these men are doing their best to rail against the stereotypes, with part of their manifesto urging respect toward women. And it's "Christopher", one of the fraternity men, who says some things that are so rarely heard from men in our culture:
"In ever sexual relationship I have had with a woman, I have felt pressured to do more than I am comfortable with," Christopher says. Sometimes taht pressure has come directly from the women he's dating, other times from some internalized ideal of how guys "should" approach sex.  He recalls a night he spent watching movies on the couch with his first girlfriend when he was fifteen.  "I was quite happy to just kiss, but I remember feeling this pressure to initiate something more.  You're alone and she turned off the lights, so I guess that means you're supposed to take it further."
And after a few more anecdotes, Hills gives us some facts:
A 2010 survey commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Seventeen magazine found that 21 percent of fifteen-to-twenty-two-year-old guys had been pressured by a female peer to go further sexually than they wanted to, with more than three-quarters (78 percent) agreeing that there was "way too much pressure" to have sex.  Fifty-six percent said they were "relieved" when a female partner wanted to wait to have sex." 
And this is the strength of Hills' book, for me--there is a well-done mixing of personal stories and more generalized facts about our sex lives.  And despite the intricate discussion at hand, Hills manages to write in an almost breezy tone about some really serious issues. The Sex Myth feels something like a discussion among friends, rather than a polemic. 

One quibble I have with the book is that it skews fairly heterocentric. She does obviously make an effort to leave a lot of the discussion as sexual-preference-neutral, and there are queer people quoted in the book, but one can't help but wonder how many of the fraternity guys were really concerned about being pressured into sex by other men, for instance. But this is just a quibble, and it actually speaks to a strength of the book for me: This book feels like the interesting beginning of a conversation that we all should be having.

The Sex Myth at the publisher.
Rachel Hills 
buy the book at Indiebound
NYT review

Full disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of the book, for which I'm grateful.
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