Are You There God? It's Me, Monica

How nice girls got so casual about oral sex

Parents could click on a helpful report from Rutgers University's "Oral Sex Lady," Nora Gelperin. She digs her job, which involves providing teenagers with information about oral sex, an activity for which she's sort of a booster. She does offer some tips for those who want to curb the oral-sex trend: they should have bull sessions with groups of kids to "illuminate the variety of teens' opinions about oral sex," in order to "more accurately reflect the range of opinions instead of continuing to propagate the stereotype that 'all teens are having oral sex.'" In other words, instead of the adult instructing kids in what is right and wrong and telling them what is expected of them, the kids themselves should seek direction from each other. A mother concerned that her daughter has turned to performing oral sex on strangers at age twelve should bear this in mind: "We must not forget that the desire of early adolescents to feel sexual pleasure is normal and natural and should be celebrated, not censored." (DAD: Geez I had a rough day at the office. MOM: Put it out of your mind, honey. Trudy just told me that we have something very special to celebrate!)

For me, the most shocking moment in "The Lost Children of Rockdale County"—more shocking even than "the sandwich"—involves three giggly blonde best friends forever who give an extensive, girly interview while sitting in one of their bedrooms, surrounded by stuffed animals. At a certain point one of the producers asks them what kind of music they like, and they all squeal, "Rap!" "Give me an example," the coaxing producer says to them. The girls decide to sing for her, and their sweet, piping voices flow easily over the lyrics, which they all know by heart—three teenyboppers sitting in a suburban bedroom, singing their favorite song, "Love in Ya Mouth":

I take 3 little bitches and I put 'em
in a line
I take 4, 5, 6 and blow 'dem hos
It'll take 1 more before I go for
7 bitches get fucked at the same
She eats me, sun she, she can suck
a ding dong
All day all night all evenin long
She said she neva done it, she said
she neva tried
Shes sittin there tellin a motha-
fuckin lie
Now, how many licks does it take to
make my dick split
Well, not many licks if the bitch is
a good trick
Now, any nigga can talk to a bitch
and get the bitch to fuck
But how many niggaz can talk to a
bitch and get they dick sucked
Like me a pimp that you neva saw
Now how do you say "manger et
trois" [uh, sic]

One of the most astonishing things to happen during the 1990s was that rap music that included some of the most violent, sexually explicit, and misogynistic lyrics ever recorded slipped seamlessly and virtually unnoticed into the households of so many apparently responsible American families. Boomer parents, remembering their own struggles with their square parents over rock-and-roll, were lenient about their kids' music. Tipper Gore's heroic campaign to get explicit music rated and labeled was born after she decided to do something few parents had even attempted: actually listen to the albums her kids had bought. She was ridiculed by many factions, including those forces on the American left who cry censorship whenever anyone attempts to protect the public, including children, from smut (and in the case of rap, smut emanating from a source the left valorizes: black urban America). In the summer of 2004 Bill Cosby brought down a hail of criticism when he lambasted the hip-hop culture as a shameful squandering of the civil-rights gains that his generation had fought for and won.

But the protests of white senators' wives and African-American senior citizens have not had much effect on music sales, and have not prevented a large number of poor and middle-class kids alike from becoming saturated by the world of spoken-word, hard-core pornography that is rap music. Add to this the countless other products of our increasingly sexualized teen culture, in which male sexual fantasy of the type once reserved for prison-yard posturing has been adopted and championed by very young girls who stand only to be brutalized by it—emotionally, if not physically.

Ironically, many of the objectives stated in rap lyrics are the same as those of contemporary American feminism: to encourage girls not to be shackled by the double standard and to abandon modesty as a goal, to erode patriarchal notions of how men ought to treat women, and to champion aggressiveness in girls. It was very possible for a girl in the nineties to have her well-intentioned parents buy her a CD in which she was urged to suck dick and get fucked, and to have a well-intentioned teacher (I was one such) tell her to be as intellectually and verbally aggressive as she could—that aggression for its own sake was a good thing, because it leveled the playing field in a male-dominated world.

At the same time, actual pornography—once the province of the most marginalized and criminally suspect performers and businessmen; once a slice of illicit commerce entirely beyond the purview of decent society—was entering the mainstream. It became possible to find porn star Jenna Jameson discussing her trade with the likes of Anderson Cooper on CNN. It was possible, furthermore, to discover that she was being interviewed not as a fallen woman but as a successful businessperson. Simultaneously, feminists were turning themselves into pretzels trying to get together a coherent policy on pornography. Obviously it was exploitative—unless it wasn't. Because if it was explicit sexual material made for the arousal of women, then it was somehow … empowering? And how to deal with the Jenna Jamesons of the world, who were proving themselves to be feminist powerhouses, keeping the government out of private decisions about their own bodies (thank you, abortion rhetoric!) and profiting handsomely from the results?

W hen I was in eleventh grade, I invited a new boyfriend to come to my house after school one day. My mother was outside gardening, or maybe she was on the telephone, or reading—she was around, but through a glass. The boy and I made Top Ramen at the stove, and afterward I invited him to come up to my bedroom. I had never been told not to do such a thing; I seemed then to be lacking a lot of clear information about what I could and could not do. My parents were preoccupied at the time with other things. I was the youngest girl in a daughter-raising project that they appeared to think had gone terribly wrong. They were no longer giving the enterprise their full oomph.

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Caitlin Flanagan has contributed to The Atlantic's books section since 2000. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of an upcoming book, To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. More

Caitlin FlanaganCaitlin Flanagan began her magazine-writing career, in 2001, with a series of extended book reviews about the conflicts at the very heart of modern life—specifically, modern domestic life as it is lived by professional-class women. Flanagan has quickly established herself as a highly entertaining social critic unafraid to take on self-indulgence and political correctness, and her reviews provide penetrating and witheringly funny observations about the sexes and their discontents.

Flanagan's Atlantic articles have been named as finalists for the National Magazine Award five times, and her essay "Confessions of a Prep School College Counselor," which ran in September 2001, was included in the 2002 compilation of Best American Magazine Writing. Her work has also been included in Best American Essays 2003 and Best American Magazine Writing 2003. She is the author of the book To Hell with All That—an exploration, based on her Atlantic articles, of the lives of modern women.

Born and raised in Berkeley, California, Flanagan earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Art History from the University of Virginia. She now lives in California, where she spends her time writing and raising twins.

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