Journalist investigates sex life of teenage girls

This book cover image released by Harper shows “Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape,” by Peggy Orenstein.

GIRLS & SEX: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. by Peggy Orenstein. Harper. 320 pages. $26.99.

A few years ago, journalist Peggy Orenstein wrote a book called “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” In it she examined the ultra-feminine values of “girlie girl” culture and wondered what impact the “princess industrial complex” would have on little girls, her own included.

As her daughter got older, Orenstein realized, with a certain amount of trepidation, that it was time to investigate what was ahead for her as she approached puberty. Those findings form the basis of her latest book, “Girls & Sex,” a smart, sobering guide to the sexual lives of young women today.

It’s familiar terrain: hookups, sexting, selfies, slut shaming, Internet porn, campus rape.

As a staunch feminist who came of age believing that men and women should be treated equally, including in the bedroom, Orenstein could only shake her head in disbelief.

“Did today’s young women have more freedom than their mothers to shape their sexual encounters, more influence and more control within them?” she writes. “Were they better able to resist stigma, better equipped to explore joy?”

To find out the answers, she interviewed a host of experts as well as dozens of young women who spoke about their experiences with physical intimacy.

She learned about the pressure on girls to look hot, to live their lives publicly on social media, to engage in sex solely for their partners’ gratification.

In the final chapter, Orenstein argues for a new model of sex education that presents sexual exploration as a normal part of adolescence based on mutual consent and shared pleasure, and for a new model of sexuality as “intimate justice” touching on larger issues of gender inequality, economic disparity and power dynamics.

For her daughter and all the girls she interviewed, “We’ve raised a generation of girls to have a voice, to expect egalitarian treatment. ... Now it’s time to demand that ‘intimate justice’ in their personal lives as well.”