email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex
Carol Platt Liebau is a conservative, and her book Prude documents and bemoans the way that girls are exposed to sexuality in our culture. It's a careful book at least in its early chapters, however, rather than the usual rush to judgment by religious conservatives, and Liebau makes some strong points. Even if one disagrees with her point of view, her argument deserves attention.
The first half of the book catalogs the ways in which young girls are exposed to sex, are more sexual, and are having sex. There are chapters on sexual activity, the Internet, teen fiction, TV and movies, pop music, and clothing. Here, Liebau makes a strong case that girls are increasingly more casual about sex, are exposed to sexual material more often and from an earlier age, and have pressures on them to act more sexually in order to win approval from others. She goes on to argue that this is harmful for girls, because it exposes them to more dangers, physically, educationally, and socially. She criticizes feminists who have failed to condemn this cultural trend, and the libertarians who value freedom without morality. She ends by discussing what parents can do to protect their daughters and to work towards a less sexually-saturated society.
American culture has changed a great deal in the last 50 years, with the prevalence of the Internet, cell phones and TV, so it is difficult to compare life now with life then and find whether our culture is more sexualized than it was in the past. But TV and popular music have certainly become more sexually explicit in recent decades. Standards of dress for young girls have also changed quite dramatically, so younger girls are now dressing more provocatively. It is quite clear that most children are see hardcore pornography much earlier in their lives than used to be the case. Liebau points out that even well-run responsible websites like Sex, Etc. put very little emphasis on moral judgment about sexual activity, leaving it up to individuals to decide what they think right. Liebau discusses books like the Gossip Girl series and other books aimed at teenaged girls with strong sexual themes. She points out they tend to be very open towards the ideas of girls having sex without love and make no mention of morality. The same attitude is found in the teen magazine industry, in titles such as Seventeen and Cosmo GIRL! TV is full of barely disguised sexual innuendo on prime time, and of course many pop songs are similarly explicit, with videos to match. Liebau compiles a good many examples to make her case reasonably convincing regarding the sexualization of youth culture.
The critical part of the book is less compelling. Leibau documents the correlation between earlier sexual activity and more STDs, more emotional problems, teen pregnancy, and lower achievement in school. However, she pays little attention to the potential positive effects of teens feeling more open about sexuality, and she tends to lump all the changes together, not distinguishing between sexuality that demeans girls and that which empowers them. She does make some attempt to address feminist views that embrace a positive sexuality, but given that the title of this chapter is "Do Me Feminists and Doom-Me Feminism," it is clear from the start that she is only going to address a straw version of feminism. Her characterization of modern feminism seems to derive from Sex and the City and has the single premise that girls should be as sexually open and aggressive as possible. However, it will be impossible to find any real feminist who take such a simplistic view, and certainly most academic feminists would disavow it.
Prude falls into further traditional conservative rhetoric when Lieblau focuses on the sexual revolution and the idea of sexual liberation from the 1960s. Although she does not fall into the worst excesses of religious conservatives, she mentions the usual targets: the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v Texas that struck down a homosexual sodomy law, the 1966 Supreme Court decision that the sexually explicit bawdy novel Fanny Hill was not obscene, the 1960s counter culture, the supposed removal of religion from public life reinforced by the Supreme Court, and even the TV show The West Wing. She labels the change in values our society has experience as "moral relativism" and claims that sexual liberation has made society less free. However, she provides no substantial argument to make her case. It is far from obvious that young women were more free in the sexually repressive 1950s than they are today, and its hard to know what would prove it. Nothing that Liebau writes counts as good evidence. Furthermore, it is obviously true that our greater acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgendered people has increased their freedom.
Liebau's solution is a return to more traditional gender roles according to which young women preserve their honor and are courted by men. This may indeed be a possible solution, but Leibau doesn't address the problems it brings with it, of reinforcing a gender difference that makes men more active than women. Her book tends to assume that the choice available to us is beyond traditional sexual conservativism and crude sexual aggressiveness.
It's the lack of a vision of a realistic way to improve our society that is the real disappointment of Prude. The closest that Liebau comes is in documenting a few initiatives in her final chapter. Her main argument is that we have been able to reduce the numbers of people who smoke cigarettes and we have had successful movements against drunk driving, so we should be able to change society so it is more respectful of young women and less tolerant of sexual crudity in popular culture. She points to Oprah Winfrey as an example of someone who has a good attitude and influences many people, and she, rather bizarrely, gives prominent place to Princeton University's student run Anscombe Society, which adheres to Catholic values and promotes the virtue of chastity. She discusses some school programs that give students activities so they don't have so much time to get into trouble. But that's basically it. Liebau barely mentions abstinence movements and the popularity of teen pledges for chastity, probably because there is so little indication that they have had any success in actually reducing premarital sex in young people (see the January 2009 article in Pediatrics, "Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers," by Janet Elise Rosenbaum. But the failure of the chastity pledge approach is a good indication of the problems faced by anyone who wants to change teens' sexual attitudes and behavior, and Liebau's paltry suggestions amount to very little.
The failure to provide a solution does not mean that there isn't a problem. Popular culture is certainly crude and people don't have many skills to think about how to live their lives. Whether life is worse now than it was 50, 100, or 200 years ago is not really the issue; rather we need to think about how to improve our existing culture. Although it is trite to say it, it is nevertheless true that we need to move forwards rather than moving backwards. We can look at the young people who make good choices, and don't end up with STDs, have early pregnancies, get into exploitative or abusive relationships, and have a healthy sexuality, and see how they have accomplished this. My guess is that a key element is good parenting, something that Lieblau spends almost no time at all on. These examples of success parenting should help us work out how to guard against the dangers of our sexualized culture.
Note that while there are about 50 pages of careful notes, there is no index at all.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.