Laura Sessions Stepp
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Buy *Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both* by Laura Sessions Stepp online

Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both
Laura Sessions Stepp
336 pages
February 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp is some of the most compelling and relevent nonfiction I've read in quite a while. Stepp is a Washington Post reporter who has made a bit of a specialty of the sex lives of adolescents. She's the one who first reported the presence of oral sex rings in middle schools, and along with a Pulitzer prize to her name, she has Our Last Best Shot, her debut book focusing on children going through early adolescence. Unhooked, Stepp explains early on, grew out of her earlier research; in this book, she focuses on late high school and college-aged girls and their sexuality. To research the book, Stepp visited two colleges and one high school and followed various girls around so that she could observe firsthand their activities, as well as interview them about it. Most of the girls are very well-off; the two colleges Stepp used are Duke and George Washington, which attract wealthy students. In the high school portion, Stepp is a bit more balanced: she visited both private and public schools in the D.C. area. However, that section is only about forty pages, so most of the book is focused on the upper middle class.

Stepp's writing is straightforward and compelling: she presents the girls' stories with no judgement, but when she steps back and tries to explain their behavior, she becomes more personal (recalling her own college experience in the seventies, her own feminism, etc.). Also, the book's conclusion is "A Letter to Mothers and Daughters," which as you might imagine is very personal indeed. While these touches add to the book, it should be noted that a reader expecting only a hardheaded, objective journalistic account might be annoyed. Futhermore, while Stepp's style is crystal clear, the book's layout is anything but. It's divided into four uneven sections: "Hooking Up: What it Means," "What It Looks Like, What It Feels Like," "How We Got There," and "Hooking Up: Why it Matters." The various case studies are sprinkled throughout these chapters, so the reader will meet a girl and hear her entire story, but then never really hear about her again. Furthermore, since the divisions don't feel organic, it could be confusing to the reader.

Of course, I didn't experience any confusion; I read this book all in one sitting, because I just couldn't help turning the pages. I think in the case of a book such as this, it's important to explain that I'm 21 and graduated from college in June of 2007. So, when I approached this book, I was looking for a frank discussion of behavior I had often seen; I was not a parent or teacher trying to 'understand' it. And while my experiences in college were not as extreme as any of the case studies, I could still relate to all of the college girls. The frankness and honesty I found in these pages are what made it so compelling to me; I feel that this subject matter is so sensitive, it's difficult to seperate myself and my experiences from the review.

Because Unhooked discusses a truth all college students know: sexual activity among that age group has become seperated from love, or in most cases even dating. As Stepp explains early on,

"The crucial thing to remember in all of this is that hooking up, in the minds of this generation, carries no commitment. Parents hook up with the udnerstanding that however far they go sexually, neither should become romantically involved in any serious way...The freedom to unhook from someone-ostensibly without repercussions-gives them maximum flexibility. ALthough I use both phrases, this is not a hookup culture so much as an unhooked culture. It is a way of thinking about relationships, period."
For those readers whose sensibilities are easily offended, this book is probably not for them. The following passage, while the actual swear word is unusual, is a good demonstration of the type of stories and discussions found throughout the book. Stepp is interviewing three sixteen-year-old high schoolers in a Starbucks:
"In my generation, I began, kids, especially guys, talked about getting to first, second, or third base with a partner or, on rare occasions, hitting a home run. What was their continuum, I asked in a low voice..."I always heard about the four F's," Anna volunteered, "French [kiss], feel [up]. finger, f*ck."

"But oral sex has got to be in there somewhere," he friend Jill said.

The three of them put their heads together, whispered and counted on their fingers.

"Got it!" Jill squealed. "For us it's feel, finger, fellatio, f*ck! French kissing is so tame it doesn't count anymore." If the patrons sirring near us heard anything, and I can't see how they didn't, they had the good manners not to react."
While the revelation of just how casual sex is among late adoloscents might horrify some readers, rest assured that Stepp does not condone this. The subtitle itself gives the game away: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. In fact, throughout the book, she looks at the bad effects this has on girls, and her own negative standpoint on 'hooking up' becomes obvious very quickly. Stepp explores how young women's drive to be perfect in every other area of their life leaves them feeling that love will just drag them down, and ponders how the lack of relationships at this age might affect the girls when they're older and decide to marry. Her twelve-page letter at the end is a heartfelt plea to girls to stop this destructive behavior, divided into recommendations on "Loving Yourself," "Loving Another Well," "Good Sex, Bad Sex," and "Using Power Wisely." Personally, this letter really affected me, as did the frank discussion throughout the book. It feels like such a relief to actually be reading about a complicated topic and seeing how Stepp, as an older woman, feels about it.

So, in the end I think this is a very, very important book for any girl from around 15 to around 24 to read. I can't comment as well on older adults, because while it might be helpful for parents and teachers to understand the kind of sex their daughters are exposed to (if not actually engaging in), it might also make them endlessly depressed. In the foreword, written by one of the case-study girls, it says "You don't need to agree with all the perspectives in this book, nor relate to all the stories young women have contributed. Unhooked is simply a starting point for discussion, a strong argument for the importance of talking about relationships, period." That about sums it up.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Eva Kay, 2008

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