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lip lit: leissa pitts and craig murray, sexpectations

Back in primary school, I was the go-to girl for information about sex and all its subsidiaries for most of my friends. This was probably because I started reading Dolly earlier than they did, and because people in Internet chat rooms were rather forthcoming with tidbits I hadn’t necessarily asked for. That’s not to say that everything I conveyed was accurate (telling my friends that masturbation was “having sex with yourself” springs to mind), but as a general rule, I was more in the know than most of my fellow barely-pubescent peers.

So when I sat down to read Sexpectations: Sex Stuff Straight Up, I thought about whether the information within its pages might have been useful to me back in my tween years, and whether it would have been the kind of book I sought out.

The first thing that you notice about Sexpectations is that it has two covers. One is pink and one is blue, which might lead you to correctly assume that the book is divided up into advice for girls and advice for boys, written by Leissa Pitts and Craig Murray respectfully. This is something that I’m very much in two minds about; both authors encourage their readers to flip over and read the information targeted at the other sex, but I can’t help feeling like it encourages segregation and the notion that you’re being let in on some kind of secret if you know what sex might be like for someone else. But I also realise this is the status quo, and probably will be for some time yet (true to form, I read the girls’ side first), so it’s not really a criticism so much as a personal gripe.

On the girls’ front, one of the most impressive parts was the inclusion of information about pornography, although Pitts doesn’t mention that it’s something females might likewise have some desire to us and it’s heavily framed as something just for boys. Given that there is great deal of forthcoming and open information within the book, the pages about porn almost seem to have had the influence of a parental advisory board, vetoing any real discussion. The degradation and subjugation of women in pornography is something I think most of us can agree on, but for teenagers who aren’t necessarily familiar with porn (or even with words like degradation and subjugation), it’s unfortunate to use such a theoretical framework to explain why it can be harmful. Sure, it’s degrading, but what does this actually look like? How would a young woman know if her sexual partner was degrading her?

The boys’ section definitely seems more integrated, not only including both males and females in the discussions around sex and sexuality, but also steering further from heteronormative language than does the girls’ side. Murray even mentions disabilities, which has been notably absent from all the sex education I’ve ever received, and he refers to one’s “partner”, rather than assuming it would be a female.

Overall, most of the issues I had with the book are from a feminist’s perspective; there are no pictures of homosexual couples, one night stands and open relationships are not mentioned for girls at all, there is a significant reliance on stereotypes about why men and women have sex, and there is very little on gender roles, queer and trans issues, and a book on sex education would probably be the perfect vehicle for such information. However, the authors should be commended for the emphasis on respectful relationships, and female pleasure.

For parents who are looking for comprehensive literature on sex education for their teens that manages to be somewhat progressive without deviating too far from the norm, Sexpectations is just the book for you!

Allen & Unwin


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