In her memoir, Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things, Ashley Cardiff dishes on sexuality and growing up in an age of anxiety.

What prompted you to write Night Terrors?

It started with a column on I had a penname, because I was working in traditional publishing and didn’t want my name to be a Google search away from dick jokes. So I started writing in this very exaggerated voice, and it became this persona that felt completely separate from me. The character was called “The Misanthropologist”—just really dark. And I thought it was funny. All the feedback I got was, “It’s funny, but it would work better if you did it as yourself.” So I took out everything that was openly fiction and put it into my own voice. Before I knew it I was thinking, “Oh shit. I just wrote a sex memoir. What have I done?”

In the book you discuss your decision to abstain from writing about explicit sex. What prompted that?

For a lot of young writers, the focus seems to be the sex act itself. I don’t read a lot of sex writing, to be honest. But I do read a lot of commentary. Women being open and outright with their sex lives leaves them in a vulnerable position. I don’t think I can quite call myself a sex writer. My treatment of sexuality in the book is just as elliptical and circuitous as my treatment of puberty and friendship and college. It’s comedy, after all, which complicates things. It’s not straightforward sex writing. Nothing in the book is straightforward at all.

How did you manage such a good balance between satire and sentimentality?

They leash each other. Too much sentimentality and you’re writing a memoir about feelings. I have no interest in that. But if there’s no human quality, it can be grating. They have to inform each other. In order to be funny you have to have serious aims, and in order to be serious you need a light touch. If the book were just punch line after punch line it would be a very different book. I talk about infidelity, bigotry, losing your virginity—serious subject matter. I wouldn’t want to write this book and exclude that stuff. If you’re writing a narrative of psychosexual development you can’t leave out the stuff that’s so important that it still haunts you.

Like Prince?

Like Prince.