Category Archives: Sexual activity

True Love Revolution officially renamed The Harvard College Anscombe Society

True Love Revolution is officially renamed The Harvard College Anscombe Society. We have renamed ourselves after Elizabeth Anscombe, a Cambridge professor and celebrated British philosopher of the 20th century. In her work, Anscombe defended many principles shared by our organization, including chastity and the importance of marriage and the family. Inspired by her intellectually rigorous support for our group’s beliefs and by her witness to those values as a wife and mother, we have renamed our organization in her honor. Our mission remains unchanged, but we think that this new name will be very important in continuing to build our club and further its mission on campus.


Parenting in a Hypersexualized World

The average age at which young people first have sex is 17 years old. This is usually before they even graduate high school. In our hyper-sexualized American society, kids are being exposed to objectification of sex and the body through a number of outlets, such as advertising, pop culture, and even the clothes and toys being marketed to young children. By the time they reach middle school, a lot of them are desensitized to the sexualization all around them. Kids who are still young enough to require parental permission to go on a school field trip are considering themselves old enough to have sex.

This whole scenario isn’t new, though. It didn’t pop up all of a sudden as the 21st century moved in. Rather, it is the result of gradual societal change over the last 50 years. In this article from The Wall Street Journal, writer Jennifer Moses looks at the way girls and young women dress as a reflection of larger social and moral values. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the way she discusses how this is all a product of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Parents who had the freedom to engage in what they considered to be sex without consequences are raising children who eagerly partake in that lifestyle, encouraged by their peers and the media. Even if parents regret their own choices, and want their children to be free from that suffering, feel they have no place to correct their kids and establish moral guidelines that they need. As a result, young privileged women who can have whatever they want are nonetheless growing up with the idea that their femininity and even their personhood only go so far as their sexuality.

As Ms. Moses points out, this doesn’t signal a call to restore antiquated standards of femininity or to make sex taboo. Rather, it should signal a call to parents, and all those who are hoping to become parents, to break this cycle of the hook-up culture. They have the responsibility to guard their children, especially their daughters, from the mindset that women are only worth as much as their body. Parents have the ability to instill in their children a sense of self-confidence and self-worth, starting at a young age. By providing a strong alternative to mainstream values of sexuality and forming a network of support as their children grow up, they have the chance to create a change in the way society values sex.


No sex= success?

One of the quirks of studying at a school as well-known as Harvard is that, before graduating, most of us will be asked at least once what the secret is- how did we get in here? Aside from hard work and good grades, something ostensibly sets us apart from the pool of applicants. Maybe some of us got in because we were abstinent in high school?

While the admissions committee definitely does not inquire to applicants’ sexual history, nor does it make its decisions based on those criteria, this aspect of our lives seems to play a part in our academics. Earlier this week, the New York Times cited a study done by the CDC, on the “Association Between Health-Risk Behaviors and Academic Grades.” The survey indicates that students who got good grades in high school were less likely to be sexually active. In fact, less than one third of the “A” students had ever had sex, compared with over two thirds of the “D/F” students. Although the study states that this association does not imply any sort of causation, there is a significant relationship between sex and success for young people that is worth further study.


BU Underclassmen Waiting For Marriage

Teri Aronowitz, Ph.D. and Nurse Practitioner at Boston University’s Student Health Services, launched a random online survey last semester that found that 56 percent of a group of 237 BU freshmen and sophomores believed in waiting until marriage to have sex. About 15 percent said they believed “they are wasting their youth if they don’t have sex,” according to Aronowitz.

The survey sought to discover and evaluate risky student behaviors after the Sexual Violence Taskforce at BU cited an increase in sexual assault on campus. Aronowitz wrote in an email to a BU Daily Free Press reporter that the study served to  “more fully understand the social norms around sexual attitudes and behaviors on our campus so as to work with students to promote sexual health.”

How will they translate these results into effective campus policy? Should they?

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Something More

Rachel Wagley in the Harvard Crimson discussing the sexualization of the college student, lack of commitment, and abstinence.

Something More

Published On Monday, November 02, 2009  10:18 PM

Our school plays porn to students. To my knowledge, it’s pseudo-porn and only in “English 154: Literature and Sexuality” during shopping period, but it’s alluring enough to induce 481 Harvard undergraduates into enrolling in the class, despite liberals, conservatives, and faculty alike decrying sexual objectification. Our school delights in humanism—reason! Intellect! Achievement! But when it comes to sex, the pursuit of physical pleasure—as long as you’ve got a condom—transcends reason. Self-control is prudish, unenlightened restraint—down with the patriarchy! Away with gender roles! My body is my play toy.

We have descended into a paradox. Sex gives us meaning—but is a meaningless end in itself. Our very identities are sexualized. As illustrated by “Harvard FML,” our newest and most embarrassing confessional outlet, hookups are messy, and college romance is messier. One cyber-girl moans, “All the guys I like always stop talking to me after we hook up. I feel like a classic ‘wham bam, thank you ma’am.’” If we are perplexed with organic chemistry and philosophy, then we are bewildered by sex, lust, love, and the specter of marriage.

We wildly seek answers. By trial, by error, by reading, by debating, by daydreaming, by flirting, by midnight talks lounging on roommate’s beds, by dining -hall conversations leaving us wondering where all the good men or women have gone: Is there truth? Will it set us free?

It is in this whirlwind that True Love Revolution connects the fragments of our culture. The nature of the 21st-century academic relegates us to later marriages. We are destined to fall in and out of love—or something—again and again before we seal the deal. This open time window encourages sexual activity—with or without commitment. “Gossip Girl” features high-school students losing both their virginity and dignity, Cosmopolitan flouts sex tips, movies mock men who wait for marriage, and intellectuals call casual sex empowering. It’s difficult to describe the plot of a contemporary TV show without relating who slept with whom. If cultures speak, then our culture screams: “It’s normal, OK?”

But if casual sex is normal, why do culture and academia need to remind us? Better yet, why do some radical feminists save their virginity? Why do at least 42 percent of Harvard students not have sex? Some declare that we just can’t get any sex, but if a larger percentage of the student body wanted the hookup culture, odds would be pretty good that more students could find it.

Without declaring war, True Love Revolution draws a conclusion. Culture reduces us to the sexual, but being human promises so much more. The sexualization of people and relationships hinders our development as human beings. When we embrace the sexual culture that stretches its logic to render us servile, we find ourselves unfulfilled. Abstinence resists cultural messages about human worth. Unlike casual sex, abstinence is empowering because, instead of making sex and uncontrolled lust an end, it makes people the end.

English 154 grapples with this same idea. “Sexuality” has gradually displaced “soul,” “mind,” and “character” as the most essential and salient ingredient in modern subjectivity, as the “truth of the self,” reads the course description. Temporary physical pleasure now outwits the soul, reason, and virtue. Gone are the days when we place value on condemning its consequences, though many conspicuously refuse to participate.

The vast majority of college students seek marriage one day, but our perspectives on relationships do not always reflect this. It is as if commitment is a character trait developed instantly at the altar—once the ring is on the finger. But those of us addicted to endorphins, prone to procrastination, or disposed to overspending recognize that traits cannot apparate; they must be habituated. By trial and error, society found that cohabitation and increased number of sexual partners lead to higher divorce rates.

In this commitment-less environment, social connections wither away, as evidenced in Professor Robert Putnam’s sobering book, “Bowling Alone.” On our fast-paced campus, a dating-culture return may be distant, but a return to commitment habituated through abstinence to a future partner will both galvanize the dating scene and make people more deeply known—a longing so prevalent it is heartbreaking.

We are lackluster students—we believe what we learn. We willingly objectify ourselves, and our best foot forward is our sexuality, not our soul. When we embrace the sexualized college student role, we surrender our identities: The vibrant, beautiful, curious, winsome, self-controlled men and women that we are. Will we be slaves to sexuality, or seek out something more?

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Cellphones, Texts, and Lovers

David Brooks in the NYT discussing the breakdown of commitment, the compartmentalization of needs, and the loss of a guided approach to sexuality and relationships.

Cellphones, Texts and Lovers

Since April 2007, New York magazine has posted online sex diaries. People send in personal accounts of their nighttime quests and conquests. Some of the diaries are unusual and sad. There’s a laid-off banker who drinks herself into oblivion and wakes up in the beds of unfamiliar men. There’s an African-American securities trader who flies around the country on weekends to meet with couples seeking interracial sex. (He meets one Midwestern couple at a T.G.I. Friday’s.)

But the most interesting part of the diaries concerns the way cellphones have influenced courtship. On nights when they are out, the diarists are often texting multiple possible partners in search of the best arrangement.

As the journalist Wesley Yang notes in a very intelligent analysis in the magazine, the diarists “use their cellphones to disaggregate, slice up, and repackage their emotional and physical needs, servicing each with a different partner, and hoping to come out ahead.”

Often the diarists will be on the verge of spending the evening with one partner, when a text arrives from another with a potentially better offer. To guard against not being chosen at all, Yang writes, “everyone is on somebody’s back-burner, and everybody has a back-burner of their own, which they maintain with open-ended texts.”

The atmosphere is fluid, like an eBay auction. This leads to a series of marketing strategies. You don’t want to appear too enthusiastic. You want to invent detached nicknames for partners. “Make plans to spend day with the One Who Cries,” a paralegal, 26, from the East Village writes. You want to appear bulletproof as you move confidently through the transactions. “I have a Stage Five Clinger on my hands,” a TV producer writes. “He asks me to hang out again this coming Sunday. I do not respond.”

People who send in sex diaries to a magazine are not representative of average Americans. But the interplay between technology and hook-ups will be familiar to a wide swath of young Americans. It illustrates an interesting roadblock in the country’s social evolution.

Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.

Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn’t fit the post-feminist era. So the search was on for more enlightened courtship rules. You would expect a dynamic society to come up with appropriate scripts. But technology has made this extremely difficult. Etiquette is all about obstacles and restraint. But technology, especially cellphone and texting technology, dissolves obstacles. Suitors now contact each other in an instantaneous, frictionless sphere separated from larger social institutions and commitments.

People are thus thrown back on themselves. They are free agents in a competitive arena marked by ambiguous relationships. Social life comes to resemble economics, with people enmeshed in blizzards of supply and demand signals amidst a universe of potential partners.

The opportunity to contact many people at once seems to encourage compartmentalization, as people try to establish different kinds of romantic attachments with different people at the same time.

It seems to encourage an attitude of contingency. If you have several options perpetually before you, and if technology makes it easier to jump from one option to another, you will naturally adopt the mentality of a comparison shopper.

It also seems to encourage an atmosphere of general disenchantment. Across the centuries the moral systems from medieval chivalry to Bruce Springsteen love anthems have worked the same basic way. They take immediate selfish interests and enmesh them within transcendent, spiritual meanings. Love becomes a holy cause, an act of self-sacrifice and selfless commitment.

But texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination. A coat of ironic detachment is required for anyone who hopes to withstand the brutal feedback of the marketplace. In today’s world, the choice of a Prius can be a more sanctified act than the choice of an erotic partner.

This does not mean that young people today are worse or shallower than young people in the past. It does mean they get less help. People once lived within a pattern of being, which educated the emotions, guided the temporary toward the permanent and linked everyday urges to higher things. The accumulated wisdom of the community steered couples as they tried to earn each other’s commitment.

Today there are fewer norms that guide in that way. Today’s technology seems to threaten the sort of recurring and stable reciprocity that is the building block of trust.

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“The Wifely Duty”

Not exactly relevant to the college student, but rather fascinating –

Undersexed: the state of American marriage due to “liberating” feminism?

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic wrote an article several years ago about how modern society renders married couples undersexed. Hopefully Harvard students aren’t experiencing this, but it’s a provocative thesis. Excerpt:

…Yuppies, with that winsome arrogance that is all their own, proudly describe the nature and frequency of their premarital couplings with a specificity matched only by advanced seminars on animal husbandry. The reason abortion rights hold such a sanctified position in American political life is that they are a critical component of the yuppie program for maximum personal sexual pleasure. But let these inebriates of nooky enter marriage, a state in which ongoing sexuality often has as much to do with old-fashioned notions of obligation and commitment as it does with the immediate satisfaction of intense physical desire, and they grow as cool and limp as yesterday’s Cobb salad…

All of this makes me reflect that those repressed and much pitied 1950s wives—their sexless college years! their boorish husbands, who couldn’t locate the clitoris with a flashlight and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy!—were apparently getting a lot more action than many of today’s most liberated and sexually experienced married women. In the old days, of course, there was the wifely duty. A housewife understood that in addition to ironing her husband’s shirts and cooking the Sunday roast, she was—with some regularity—going to have relations with the man of the house. Perhaps, as some feminists would have us believe, these were grimly efficient interludes during which the poor humped-upon wife stared at the ceiling and silently composed the grocery list. Or perhaps not. Maybe, as Davis and her “new” findings suggest, once you get the canoe out in the water, everybody starts happily paddling. The notion that female sexuality was unleashed forty years ago, after lying dormant lo these uncountable millennia, is silly; more recent is the sexual shutdown that apparently takes place in many marriages soon after they have been legalized…

Although I have an amused tolerance for books like The Total Woman, I am not entirely incapable of good, old-fashioned feminist rage. The notion that even educated middle-class American women had to put out in order to get a damn refrigerator—even that they might “yearn” for one—just steams me. However, I would not advise against using sex for more subtle marital adjustments, of a type described in The Sex-Starved Marriage. Davis reminds women that one of the more effective ways to get a husband to be more considerate and helpful is to seduce him. She counsels a group of female clients who complain of angry, critical husbands to “pay more attention to their physical relationships with their husbands,” to “be sexier, more affectionate, attentive, responsive, and passionate.” Darned if the old bag of tricks doesn’t work like a charm—the ladies arrive at the next therapy session giggling and thrilled with their new powers. To many contemporary women, however, the notion that sex might have any function other than personal fulfillment (and the occasional bit of carefully scheduled baby making) is a violation of the very tenets of the sexual revolution that so deeply shaped their attitudes on such matters. Under these conditions, pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day’s end. He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual maneuver, and still doing a slow burn over his failure to wipe down the countertops and fold the dish towel after cooking the kids’ dinner. He can hardly be blamed for opting instead to check his e-mail, catch a few minutes of SportsCenter, and call it a night…

Keep reading.

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Lena Chen’s “The Abstinence Mystique” article

Lena Chen’s article is more civil than last week’s Crimson fail.

But she takes it upon herself to declare a “logical inconsistency” every other sentence. So what’s really inconsistent? My abbreviated response (I could really one-for-one her on calling out logical inconsistencies, but I refrain because one girl can only respond to Crimson editorials so many times each week):

Miss Lena Chen’s October 27th article in the Crimson is an interesting attempt at trying to understand True Love Revolution’s new platform. While I appreciate Miss Chen’s feminist expertise, much of her article misinterprets TLR and feminism and misconstrues my statements.

First of all, I find it ironic that Miss Chen brings up “Muslim countries” and other non-Western societies in effort to prove that TLR arises out of an exclusively Western, Judeo-Christian philosophy. Miss Chen contends that the Muslim practice of polygamy validates her claim that TLR’s arguments are based on Western, Judeo-Christian perspective, and thus inherently lacking. Ignoring the fact that most mosques discourage polygamous practices and that we’ll be hard-pressed to find a polygamous Muslim couple, Islam, Hinduism, and every major world religion explicitly condemn premarital sex, demand fidelity, and enforce gender roles (and does not recognize same-sex marriage for that matter). If anything, the “Western, Judeo-Christian” perspective is the weakest when it comes to promoting or enforcing abstinence, lasting marriages, gender roles, and sexual ethics.

“Female Chauvinist Pigs” by Ariel Levy is an excellent read, and hardly a conservative one (for that, I would recommend “Girls Gone Mild” by Wendy Shalit), but it does condemn the culture that makes rampant sexuality normal and thus harder not to choose. I wish the article cited the book itself, rather than a blog. True Love Revolution discourages rampant sexuality and points out consequences that are harmful regardless of whether girls or guys “choose” to participate. Even if someone chooses to live promiscuously, TLR argues that this is not the best choice. Other groups may contend that “empowerment” is making any choice. We do not regard premarital sex as increasing the real strength of an individual, thus not falling under the “empowerment” category.

True Love Revolution is notably not restricting anyone from making choices, but we are certainly saying that not all choices are beneficial. Most of Harvard’s student body would agree, as evidenced by The Independent’s spring sex survey that revealed a huge campus majority not partaking in the hook-up culture. While radical feminists love the word “choice,” equity feminists (or TLR feminists, if you refuse us any other title) and many other Harvard students appreciate that some choices are good and some are harmful, thus not appreciating all choices equally. However, encouraging people to make certain life decisions is not restriction.

While Miss Chen did not attend the RUS meeting she mentions*, any TLR dinner discussion, ask me about my view of feminist history or theory, or contact anyone from the organization, she did take advantage of google. Miss Chen is concerned that TLR conceals a political agenda and she googled my name to find incriminating evidence, so I find it remarkable that the only dirt she could dig up was a sentence stating my interest in social policy. On google, she discovered that I wrote about my Heritage Foundation internship, saying, “After heading up a few social policy initiatives that are often unpopular among the liberal Harvard community through the Harvard Republican Club, Salient, Campus Crusade, and True Love Revolution, I jumped at the chance to be surrounded by conservatives for a summer.” She also noted a blog post that gave information about an abstinence education hearing in Boston. Miss Chen writes that these two instances confirm that TLR is not transparent because I once wrote in an email that TLR does not seek to legally restrict sexual behavior. Informing interested group members about an abstinence education event cannot be equated with legally restricting sexual behavior. Arguments like these insult the intelligence of Crimson readers.

Miss Chen brings up fatherhood and parenting. I am pleased that she uses the term fatherhood in her article’s addendum. Fatherhood and motherhood imply that children need both a father and a mother. A culture saving sex for marriage solidifies the creation of cohesive, committed family units.

Fortunately, Miss Chen agrees that raunch culture has negative consequences for women. In the search for equality, women try to become like men, implying that the home – or women’s work – is less worthy than men’s work. But the pursuit to be on par with men means women surrender special characteristics unique to women in order to become exactly like men. Ariel Levy writes about a Great Britain website for women that counted down the number of days before Daniel Radcliffe became “legal.” Society might expect (though hardly endorse) this vulgar behavior from men, but once women adopt vulgarity in attempts to achieve equality, we must question if equality means erasing natural differences. Lowering sexual standards or considering it a punishment to maintain proper sexual ethics in society is the real demeaning aspect of feminism. Miss Chen cites the “right to live without being subject to gendered expectations,” as “feminism’s foundation.” A nonbiased historical approach reveals that feminism’s foundation had to do with women who wanted to achieve a greater quality of life for themselves and their families by gaining equal social, political, and economic status. This worthy pursuit had nothing to do with erasing gender roles.

Miss Chen is fond of calling everything TLR promotes a “logical inconsistency” but fails to identify one. Miss Chen commented on her own article, writing that she does not want to get married and asks if she therefore is supposed to never have sex? She writes that not everyone can be abstinent until marriage. Take note: we are not sexual animals and we are blessed with the capacity for self-control. Perhaps Miss Chen’s concerns warrant insightful questions, but they do not reveal any logical inconsistency.

As for recognizing the profit agenda behind porn, I just so happened to write three research papers for my sociological theory class last spring on that very topic. I would love to co-sponsor an event calling for the end of porn with any group on campus.

I appreciate Miss Chen’s inquiry into the motives and theory of True Love Revolution and encourage all future discussion to mirror her largely respectful and honest intellectual inquiry.

In True Love,

*It has been brought to my attention that Miss Chen did attend the RUS meeting. My apologies; she did not introduce herself.

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Lost in a world without courtship

Traditional family values are passe to my young hipster generation, but the culture of casual sexuality breaks down society. Far be it from me to call for a return to the courtship society (though my daddy would love that), but let me offer a glimpse of the current romance climate. Young marriage is socially frowned upon, so young adults naturally take sexual and emotional yearning into their own hands at great cost to future marital strength. Their inclination toward serial cohabitation breeds unhappiness and trains for divorce.

For those wary of moral statements, read on, for Michael Gerson speaks as the sociologist when he describes this rather inconspicuous but mainstream lifestyle fad (yes, just a fad, says the optimist). Gerson’s Washington Post article couldn’t be any more relevant to those in the Harvard community. Here’s a good summary (like usual, my summaries consist of most of the article):

“There is a segment of society for whom traditional family values are increasingly irrelevant, and for whom spring-break sexual liberationism is increasingly costly: men and women in their 20s.

This is the period of life in which society’s most important social commitments take shape — commitments that produce stability, happiness and children. But the facts of life for 20-somethings are challenging. Puberty — mainly because of improved health — comes steadily sooner. Sexual activity kicks off earlier. But the average age at which people marry has grown later; it is now about 26 for women, 28 for men.

This opens a hormone-filled gap — a decade and more of likely sexual activity before marriage. And for those in that gap, there is little helpful guidance from the broader culture. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, argues that the “courtship narrative” in the past was clear: dating, engagement, marriage, children. This narrative has been disrupted without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a “relational wasteland.”

The casual sex promoted in advertising and entertainment often leads, in the real world of fragile hearts and STDs, to emotional and physical wreckage…

In the absence of a courtship narrative, young people have evolved a casual, ad hoc version of their own: cohabitation. From 1960 to 2007, the number of Americans cohabiting increased fourteenfold. For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage. About 40 percent of children will now spend some of their childhood in a cohabiting union.

How is this working out? Not very well. Relationships defined by lower levels of commitment are, not unexpectedly, more likely to break up. Three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up by the time they turn 16, compared with about one-third of children born to married parents. So apart from the counsel of cold showers or “let the good times roll,” is there any good advice for those traversing the relational wilderness? Religion and morality contribute ideals of character. But social science also indicates some rough, practical wisdom.

First, while it may not be realistic to maintain the connection between marriage and sex, it remains essential to maintain the connection between marriage and childbearing. Marriage is the most effective institution to bind two parents for a long period in the common enterprise of raising a child — particularly encouraging fathers to invest time and attention in the lives of their children. And the fatherless are some of the most disadvantaged, betrayed people in our society, prone to delinquency, poverty and academic failure. Cohabitation is no place for children.

Second, the age of first marriage is important to marital survival and happiness. Teen marriage is generally a bad idea, with much higher rates of divorce. Romeo and Juliet were, in fact, young fools. Later marriage has been one of the reasons for declining national divorce rates. But this does not mean the later the better. Divorce rates trend downward until leveling off in the early 20s. But people who marry after 27 tend to have less happy marriages — perhaps because partners are set in their ways or have unrealistically high standards. The marital sweet spot seems to be in the early to mid-20s.

Third, having a series of low-commitment relationships does not bode well for later marital commitment. Some of this expresses preexisting traits — people who already have a “nontraditional” view of commitment are less likely to be committed in marriage. But there is also evidence, according to Wilcox, that multiple failed relationships can “poison one’s view of the opposite sex.” Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce. In contrast, cohabitation by engaged couples seems to have no adverse effect on eventual marriage.

There is little use in preaching against a hurricane of social change. But delaying marriage creates moral, emotional and practical complications. The challenge, as always, is to humanize change. The answer, even in the relational wasteland, is responsibility, commitment and sacrifice for the sake of children.”

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Vampires and Young Love

Teenage girls read Twilight over and over. Heck, you can’t check the book out of Widener because of the long waitlist. Why does this vampire romance appeal to girls? Why did millions of girls fall for Edward? Read Caitlin Flanagan’s article “What Girls Want” in the Atlantic – no excuses (especially if you were that teenage girl who ate up young adult fiction like popcorn…).

Here’s an excerpt:

The erotic relationship between Bella and Edward is what makes this book—and the series—so riveting to its female readers. There is no question about the exact nature of the physical act that looms over them. Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward. Nor is the act one that might result in an equal giving and receiving of pleasure. If Edward fails—even once—in his great exercise in restraint, he will do what the boys in the old pregnancy-scare books did to their girlfriends: he will ruin her. More exactly, he will destroy her, ripping her away from the world of the living and bringing her into the realm of the undead. If a novel of today were to sound these chords so explicitly but in a nonsupernatural context, it would be seen (rightly) as a book about “abstinence,” and it would be handed out with the tracts and bumper stickers at the kind of evangelical churches that advocate the practice as a reasonable solution to the age-old problem of horny young people. (Because it takes three and a half very long books before Edward and Bella get it on—during a vampiric frenzy in which she gets beaten to a pulp, and discovers her Total Woman—and because Edward has had so many decades to work on his moves, the books constitute a thousand-page treatise on the art of foreplay.) That the author is a practicing Mormon is a fact every reviewer has mentioned, although none knows what to do with it, and certainly none can relate it to the novel; even the supercreepy “compound” where the boring half of Big Love takes place doesn’t have any vampires. But the attitude toward female sexuality—and toward the role of marriage and childbearing—expressed in these novels is entirely consistent with the teachings of that church. In the course of the four books, Bella will be repeatedly tempted—to have sex outside of marriage, to have an abortion as a young married woman, to abandon the responsibilities of a good and faithful mother—and each time, she makes the “right” decision. The series does not deploy these themes didactically or even moralistically. Clearly Meyer was more concerned with questions of romance and supernatural beings than with instructing young readers how to lead their lives. What is interesting is how deeply fascinated young girls, some of them extremely bright and ambitious, are by the questions the book poses, and by the solutions their heroine chooses.

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