THE SECRET LIVES OF GIRLS: The Real Feelings of Young Girls About Sex, Violence, Peer Pressure, and Morality

Sharon Lamb, Author . Free Press $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7432-0107-0

Sexual play and acts of aggression are common for girls, according to Lamb, a psychology professor at St. Michael's College, but they are conducted in secrecy and often burden the participants with lifelong guilt. Based on interviews with 122 women and girls from a fairly wide range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds (29 were African-American and 22 Latina), this accessible and engaging study reveals that most girls experience sexual and aggressive feelings that fall outside cultural notions of the "good girl." Lamb examines different ways girls express their ambivalence about their sexuality and aggressiveness: keeping their play and their anger secret from adults, sexually torturing their Barbie dolls and pretending to be victims or "playing dead" so that they can experience sensual pleasure without being full participants. She draws a clear line between sexual play and coercion, but at the same time finds examples of behavior that could be considered coercive by adults but was experienced by the girls as positive and pleasurable. Advocating a broader definition of "good girl," Lamb argues that the current emphasis on caring and sensitivity strips girls of a complete self-image, one where their sexual and aggressive "impulses exist alongside their sweetness, competence, and ability to love and care for others." Allowing girls "to practice these feelings and emotions in spaces where adults acknowledge them and help shape their development" is essential to helping them realize their full human potential, says the author. Agent, Carol Mann. (Mar. 5)

Forecast: Parents seeking to understand how to talk to their daughters about sexuality, power or ways to deal with anger will learn much here.

Reviewed on: 01/28/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
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