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Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom

Leslie C. Bell
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 274
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt24hs14
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  • Book Info
    Hard to Get
    Book Description:

    Hard to Getis a powerful and intimate examination of the sex and love lives of the most liberated women in history-twenty-something American women who have had more opportunities, more positive role models, and more information than any previous generation. Drawing from her years of experience as a researcher and a psychotherapist, Leslie C. Bell takes us directly into the lives of young women who struggle to negotiate the complexities of sexual desire and pleasure, and to make sense of their historically unique but contradictory constellation of opportunities and challenges. In candid interviews, Bell's subjects reveal that, despite having more choices than ever, they face great uncertainty about desire, sexuality, and relationships. Ground-breaking and highly readable,Hard to Getoffers fascinating insights into the many ways that sex, love, and satisfying relationships prove surprisingly elusive to these young women as they navigate the new emotional landscape of the 21st century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95448-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Paradox of Sexual Freedom
    (pp. 1-28)

    Excited yet embarrassed, Claudia, a twenty-eight-year-old postdoctoral researcher, told me about a one-night stand she’d had the night before our interview. I listened as she described the encounter: the fun of flirting with the man at a concert, the excitement and nervousness when it was still unclear what would happen, and the pleasure of being touched by someone she found so attractive. But I noticed that her pleasure gave way to worry that her strong sexual desires might get her into trouble. “I wish I weren’t so horny, so I didn’t need to go out and get it so much....

  5. PART I. THE SEXUAL WOMAN

    • CHAPTER TWO The New Taboo: Katie
      (pp. 31-50)

      An increasing number of twenty-something women face a new taboo, and it’s not about sex or money or power. Instead, it’s a taboo about that traditional province of women: relationships.¹ No longer is a romantic relationship the holy grail for college-educated women. Their mothers may have concerned themselves with such old-fashioned matters, but times have changed. Instead, relationships are often perceived as threatening educational attainment, career development, and personal growth. These women feel comfortable having and expressing sexual desire—that’s not the problem. The problem is relationships that threaten to impinge upon personal and professional development.

      Katie, a twenty-five-year-old graduate...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Bad Girl: Jayanthi
      (pp. 51-68)

      One of the apparent advantages of being a bad girl is that it’s supposed to be fun. Being a bad girl may be a bad deal in other respects—it gains a woman social condemnation and ostracism, and leads to others’ assumptions of limitless availability for sex; the list goes on. But at least it should be fun. There can be pleasure in defying others’ expectations, breaking the rules, and upsetting tradition. And there can be pleasure in having no messy emotional consequences, no attachments, no settling down, and no guilt about sex. There is also appeal in the drama...

    • CHAPTER FOUR A Pill to Kill Desire: Claudia
      (pp. 69-88)

      Sexual desire, when it shows itself full force, can come as a surprise to some twenty-something women. After many years of being (or hoping to be) the object of others’ desires, feeling themselves to be the subject of their own desire can be exciting, but also potentially frightening. Sexual longing and wanting can feel as though they have come alive, unbidden and powerful, in spite of some women’s attempts to tamp them down. And sexual desire and its attendant emotions and sensations cannot always be as effectively controlled as other aspects of women’s lives—their education, their careers, or their...

  6. PART II. THE RELATIONAL WOMAN

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Good Girl: Alicia
      (pp. 91-106)

      Despite its limited charms, being a “good” girl ought at least to protect women from harm of various kinds. If young women follow the rules for being good, it seems that they should emerge from college and their twenties unscathed by the emotional and physical damage that afflicts women who explore and experiment with sexuality.

      Alicia was a very good girl. A twenty-eight-year-old Hispanic woman raised by her Catholic grandparents, Alicia didn’t have sex until after college, and then protected herself from unplanned pregnancies, which were common in her working-class family. When she finally did have sex, in committed relationships,...

    • CHAPTER SIX On Not Having It All: Phoebe
      (pp. 107-124)

      For a woman to concede that she cannot have it all seems, on the one hand, to be a realistic assessment of life: we can’t always get what we want. But on the other hand, abandoning the hope of getting what we want too early may foreclose possibilities that could otherwise exist.

      Phoebe almost managed to get what she wanted. She moved through periods of being in committed relationships and then playing the field, having good sex in either case. But Phoebe then found herself in a relationship that seemed likely to lead to marriage—he was financially stable and...

  7. PART III. THE DESIRING WOMAN

    • CHAPTER SEVEN How Does She Do It? Maria and Susan
      (pp. 127-150)

      Despite the challenges of mixed messages, and lacking a road map to follow in their twenties, some women do manage to get what they want from sex and love. Maria and Susan did so in their late twenties, after both struggled in their teens and early twenties. They progressed over time from using defensive strategies of desire to using productive strategies of desire. Although they still felt conflicted about their desires, they found compromise solutions to their conflicts and succeeded in pursuing sex, love, and pleasure.

      During her twenties, Maria developed the ability to give up some control and began...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Maybe She’s Born with It: Sophia and Jeanette
      (pp. 151-170)

      Some twenty-something women whom I interviewed didn’t need defensive strategies of desire to achieve satisfying sex and relationships. They didn’t overvalue control, independence, and safety. Nor did they avoid intimacy, need, vulnerability, and desires. So they weren’t prone to split. This meant that they didn’t feel the uncertainty and fear about sex and love that many other women with whom I spoke did. This freed them to pursue sexual and relationship experiences that furthered their development and allowed them to know clearly what they wanted and to pursue pleasure and mutuality.

      What set these women apart from the other twenty-something...

    • CHAPTER NINE Conclusion: What’s a Modern Woman to Do?
      (pp. 171-184)

      Unencumbered by marriage, motherhood, and all their attendant responsibilities and limitations, some twenty-something women’s lives may look free and easy. Digging under the surface, however, I came to learn that the freedom characterizing young women’s lives is paradoxical. While twenty-something women now have tremendous opportunities to be independent and to pursue their education, careers, and sexual and personal development, they receive little guidance in how to navigate the desires, vulnerabilities, and internal conflicts that accompany these freedoms. Possessed of greater opportunities than their grandmothers could have imagined, twenty-something women find themselves confused, conflicted, and uncertain about their goals in sex...

  8. APPENDIX I. SPLITTING
    (pp. 185-188)
  9. APPENDIX II. CLINICAL INTERVIEWING
    (pp. 189-204)
  10. APPENDIX III. DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION ABOUT RESPONDENTS
    (pp. 205-208)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 209-238)
  12. REFERENCES
    (pp. 239-252)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 253-262)