Dilemmas of Desire

Dilemmas of Desire:

Teenage Girls Talk About Sexual Desire

by Deborah L. Tolman (Harvard Univ. Press, 2002)


This book reports how 30 normal adolescent girls were typically reluctant or unable to describe their own sexual desire. Half of the subjects the author invited to participate in the study declined the invitation. Some of the girls seem very confused, or perhaps they were deliberately trying to deceive the interviewer. One girl was asked if she felt sad, and with tears rolling down her face she replied “Umm…I don’t know.” Another girl reports “Well, I don’t really know what I’m thinking.”

The author interprets the girls’ statements as evidence that they are uncomfortable about the subject of sexual desire and need guidance. Ms. Tolman says many things that no reasonable person can dispute:

 - Sexuality is important throughout life and sexual desire is life-sustaining.

- There is a strong cultural taboo against girls having and expressing sexual desire.

-  Young girls are capable (theoretically) of strong sexual desire.

-  Girls are morally entitled to experience sexual pleasure no less than boys.

-  Girls are being cruelly cheated by traditional beliefs and rules about what is “proper” for girls.

A girl is expected to appear seductive: she is supposed to stimulate a boy’s sexual desire, but she isn’t supposed to have any sexual desire of her own. Good girls are only supposed to desire emotional relationships. Good girls are desexualized and disembodied. Rarely does a young girl admit: “I want to have sex.” A girl saying that publicly is considered pornography.

Some adults claim they merely want to “protect” girls from the risk of negative outcomes. But the author notes if that were true then girls would be encouraged to engage in self-masturbation or mutual masturbation to avoid infectious disease and unplanned pregnancy. In reality female sexual desire itself is popularly considered the monstrous “danger.”

Amazingly, none of the girls in the book ever mentions the clitoris or clitoral erection, and neither does the author call attention to that glaring omission. The girls do frequently report faking sexual pleasure. The author says that some of the girls have “silent bodies,” but she avoids discussing the possibility that many of the girls may actually be sexually dysfunctional and lack sexual desire. Some of the sexually active girls admit they don’t have orgasms, and wonder what an orgasm would feel like. One girl says: “It’s not easy…to have one.” Another girl says genital intercourse is sometimes “very boring.”

These girls are evidently the victims of a culture that denies the value of healthy sexual function in females: The only good clitoris is a dead clitoris. We point our fingers at Third World mothers who physically castrate their daughters, but right here in the "advanced" Western World millions of parents are mentally castrating their daughters with the same effect. I highly recommend this book to anyone who doubts that sexual inhibition is a crime against humanity.