As soon as journalist Peggy Orenstein finished 2016’s “Girls and Sex,” friends suggested she write a follow-up volume about boys. She resisted. “I kept saying no, that’s really somebody else’s job. I don’t want to do that,” Orenstein said. “And I think part of it was fear that they wouldn’t talk to me.”
What she found instead was that boys in high school and college did open up to her, and the result is “Boys and Sex,” published this month. “I do think young people respond if asked questions openly and nonjudgmentally,” Orenstein said. “I had been in this world of adolescents and talking to them about sex and intimacy for a long time at this point, and I knew the terrain.”
It helps, she added, that she’s hard to shock. “I learned to be unshockable talking to girls. Early on when I would interview girls I was often shocked or dismayed and I let it show, inadvertently,” she said. “That shut down those conversations really fast. So I learned how not to do that.”
One aspect of young men’s sex lives that shocks a lot of parents is the ubiquity of pornography. “It’s taken parents awhile to get that this isn’t your grandfather’s porn,” Orenstein said. “The ability to access anything you can imagine and a whole lot of things you don’t want to imagine at the click of a mouse is a game-changer.”
Orenstein hopes her books can foster communication between parents and teens. “I can’t say that I’ve got all the answers — my daughter would tell you I don’t — but you don’t have to be perfect in order to have these conversations. You just have to learn how.” It’s crucial, she added, to talk about “responsibility and joy and pleasure, and not just about danger and risk and what they shouldn’t do.”
Peggy Orenstein will be in conversation with Richard Weissbourd at Harvard Book Store on Friday at 7 p.m.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.