Sex Machine


Laura Sessions Stepp is scandalized. The Washington Post writer, whose claim to teen-expert fame was an exposé on middle-school blowjobs in 1998, embarked on a year-long journey into the world of young women’s sex lives—and came out worrying that girls today give it up way too easily and have no idea what they’re missing.

Stepp spent hours with teenage girls, concluding that co-ed dorms and feminism have spawned an epidemic of unfulfilling sex. Unhooked treads on irritatingly familiar territory, like the casual-sex breeding grounds of George Washington and Duke Universities, well-known havens for your garden-variety, sexually lost, well-to-do suburban chick doing the walk of shame from a beer-encrusted frathouse. Stepp does go beyond the sorostitute stereotype, interviewing thoughtful, ambitious young women. Stepp’s group is also racially, if not economically, diverse, to reinforce her view that college’s hookup machine will corrupt you no matter where you’re from. But Stepp’s reportage left the 22-year-old New Yorker in me smarting. What about the girls at my small liberal arts college who were practically married to their hippie boyfriends? Or those at community colleges who have been dating the same guy since eighth grade? Where were the city girls who may feel fine about one-night stands? Stepp advises us all: “Explore your feminine side . . . Admit it, the bar scene is a guy thing.” Phrases like these harkened back to a 1962, girls-against-boys sensibility.

Sometimes Unhooked rings a little too true for comfort, as 19-year-old Shaida agonizes over ambiguous text messages or fears that she’ll always be a “glorified fuckbuddy.” But my sympathy didn’t convince me that feminism had gone too far, that women being “freely sexual beings” gets in the way of true intimacy and love. If anything, the pangs of recognition reminded me that feminism had not gone far enough.