What You Really Really Want: An Interview With Jaclyn Friedman
I don’t have words for how much I respect and admire Jaclyn Friedman. Her book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape is amazing and is on my must-read list for anyone interested in sex-positivity and gender equality. Her new book What You Really, Really Want offers young women some of the best advice on how to make decisions around sex that are supportive of their desires and their well-being. In my entirely biased opinion, this book should be required reading for all teenagers, young adults, parents, teachers, school counselors, and therapists. It’s that good.
Jaclyn took the time to share her thoughts about her work with me. Check them out and pass it on!
1) There’s a growing number of books written for young women and for parents of young women about sex. What was your vision for What You Really Really Want that makes it different from the others?
The book answers a basic but difficult question that I heard over and over from women while touring for Yes Means Yes: given the overwhelmingly sexualized culture we live in (and I include virginity fetishists under the umbrella of sexualization) and the misinformation we’re drowning in, how do I even figure out what I really want to say “yes” to? After hearing that question enough times, I realized that I actually knew how to answer it, but I couldn’t do it in five minutes during a Q&A. Instead, I poured everything I know (and quite a few things that other smart people know) into this book. It’s really a toolbox that women can use to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the possibilities of sex and safety, discover their own, authentic desires and boundaries, and work out how best to pursue them in the real world.
I can’t count the number of times I wrote some version of “it doesn’t matter what your answer to this question is, what matters is that you answer it in a way that is true for yourself right now.” That’s one of the core messages of the book. We live in this world where our basic choices are to emulate Taylor Swift or The Pussycat Dolls (and some of us don’t even get both choices). It’s astonishing to me that, after all these years, we’re still stuck with this virgin/slut dichotomy, when nearly every woman falls somewhere between those two points (well, if you imagine a multi-dimensional graph, anyhow). And where we fall changes throughout our days and our lives. This is a book designed to make space for all the missing choices.
2) One of the things that I really liked about WYRRW is that you covered such a wide range of topics and concerns that are linked to sexuality, including love, consent, sexual assault, communication, and more. How did you decide which ones to include? Were there any that you left out?
There’s not a lot that I left out entirely, but there’s plenty that I wish I’d had more space to expand on. That list would include more advice for people raising (or helping to raise) girls, more info on how dis/abilities interact with sexuality, more explicitly on exploring your sexual orientation and gender expression, deeper explorations of the world of kink, more advice for dealing with people in your life who aren’t healthy for your sexuality… the list could go on. As it is, I had to cut an entire chapter from the print edition because the book I turned in was too long. That chapter now only lives online – it’s Thomas MacAulay Millar’s excellent piece designed for the women using the book to give to the men in their lives (whether partners, family or friends) to help open a conversation about how those men can be more supportive forces in the women’s lives. I hope everyone reads it anyhow — it’s at whatyoureallyreallywant.net/just-for-men
3) The subtitle of the book is The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety, but a lot of the book is definitely relevant for guys. Do you expect any boys and young men to check it out? What do you think the response would be?
I’ve heard from a couple of guys already that they’re planning to use the book for themselves which I love. Honestly, the only reason I didn’t write the book for people of all genders is that it would have made it too long, and we’ve already established I had length problems. (Yes, yes, that’s what she said.) But we all have a lot more in common across genders — in terms of the ways the culture makes it hard for us to build a strong relationship with our own, authentic sexuality — than we often think we do. I would really encourage anyone, of any gender, to check the book out and see if there’s a place for them in it. I’m sure there’ll be parts that really resonate and parts that don’t as much, but that’s going to be true of almost any reader.
4) Did you have any parents read drafts of the book? What did they think of it?
I didn’t. I was really focused on the reader herself, on making her experience with the book as positive and as powerful as possible. That’s why the team of volunteer readers who worked through each chapter with me were all focused on developing their own sexualities. But I’ve heard from people who have dedicated their careers to helping young people navigate sex (I’m thinking of Heather Corinna, the superhuman force behind Scarleteen), and to fostering healthy, strong young women (Lyn Mikel Brown, Co-founder of SPARK and Hardy Girls, Healthy Women), and they’ve been so excited about the potential to use the book with the young women they work with. It could be a powerful tool in the hands of parents. But the key is: have the parents themselves worked through their questions about their own sexualities? Depending on the parent, I might encourage them to do the book themselves first, before working through it with their daughters. The best thing parents can do to raise sexually healthy and resilient children is to embody the principles they want to pass on.
5) What do you have planned to help get the word out about WYRRW? How can folks find out more?
What haven’t I planned? The best thing to do is start at the website whatyoureallyreallywant.net. There you’ll find all my current tour dates (for both my in-person tour and my blog tour) as they become available, read the introduction to the book, check out the latest news and media that I’ve done – you can even get in touch with me directly using the contact form on the site.