The New Book Your Daughter Needs You to Read

When bestselling author Peggy Orenstein has something to say about girls, we listen. From inequality in the classroom to princess obsession and beyond, Peggy has devoted her life to shining a light on the most critical issues facing girls and women.

Read on for an exclusive Q & A with Peggy, and to win a free copy of the book! (Book contest has ended)

Girls and Sex, Peggy’s new book, is out this week, and we want you to read it. We need you to read it. Because what girls learn about sex will affect their self-esteem, body image, agency, and ability to advocate for themselves. And as Peggy shows, what girls learn can be confusing and dangerous.

This book is your roadmap to a world your daughter has already entered. It’s for parents, teachers, and girls. And it can’t be missed.

Peggy is funny, honest, brilliant and the mom of a daughter. Her bottom line is this: can girls achieve equality in the classroom or the boardroom if they don’t have it in the bedroom?

Co-founder Rachel Simmons asked Peggy about why Girls Leadership community should know about girls and sex.

Why do parents need to read this book, even if it makes them uncomfortable?

Look, I’m a mom myself. And I know that when you hear stories about the hook-up culture or about binge drinking or sexting or ubiquitous porn or whatever you just want to turn away and not look, you want to think, “Not my child! Never my child!” But the truth is, parenting from fear and ignorance is never a great strategy. And girls are suffering for it.

Because when we don’t educate them about sexualization, when we don’t talk to them frankly about the realities of sex (including balancing the responsibilities and joys) all they’re going to hear is the voice of the culture, and that will do the educating instead. Our daughters deserve sexual encounters that are consensual, respectful, reciprocal, safe and pleasurable. They deserve to be able to express their wishes, needs and limits with a partner and be heard. They deserve to understand their body as something that brings the joy, not just something that is there to be seen by others. That is not going to happen on its own. And in the end, rather than being scary or embarrassing, integrating conversations about sexuality into our relationships with our daughters—and our sons, by the way—is an opportunity to make those relationships closer, to show that we are unequivocally there for our daughters.

"Our daughters deserve sexual encounters that are consensual, respectful, reciprocal, safe and pleasurable." Peggy OrensteinThis book ends up being about so much more than sex. Why?

Because sex is a social justice issue, just the way who washes the dishes in the home is a social justice issue, as well as a personal issue that you navigate and accommodate the best you can in an imperfect world. So all the ideas that, for instance, Girls Leadership works with about assertiveness, finding your voice, being able to articulate what you want and being able to navigate conflict and be clear about your limits are true in sex, but they’re also true in any personal or professional relationship as well.

Sara McClelland at the University of Michigan talks about “intimate justice,” which is a phrase that really resonated with me. She urges us to ask, who is entitled to engage in a sexual encounter, who is entitled to enjoy it, who is the primary beneficiary of the encounter, how is “good enough” defined by each partner? Those are tough questions for adult women to grapple with, but especially important to think about with girls, because their early sexual experiences shouldn’t be something they have to get over.

What are the 3 most important things you want your own daughter, Daisy, to know — that you learned from writing this book?

Well, I’ve promised Daisy I won’t go into any specifics about her when talking about this book. So let me say this: at the end of the book I talk about sociologist Amy Schalet’s “ABCD” model for raising sexually healthy kids, which I think is pretty great.  A is for “Autonomous.” We want the to be able to understand desire and pleasure, to be able to assert sexual wishes and set limits, and to prepare responsibly for sexual encounters. And the best way to gain those skills is to move slowly, with awareness of your and your partner’s desire and comfort. Because when you think about it, who is really more sexually “experienced,” a teenager who has intercourse while drunk to divest herself of virginity, or the one who spends three hours kissing a partner, learning about erotic tension, mutual pleasure, intentionality? Honestly, if we only get that far, we’d be ahead of the game.

Still, there’s more. B is for building egalitarian, supportive relationships that value shared interest, respect, care, and trust. That doesn’t mean relationships are the only context in which to be sexually active, but whether a liaison lasts for ten minutes or ten year is should have those qualities, it should be entered into with care, respect, mutuality and trust. C is more about me—it’s about maintaining and nurturing connection with your child.

One thing that really struck me about comparisons between Americans and the Dutch, who speak more frankly and honestly with kids about sex, is that Schalet says Americans force their kids to mature by creating a rift with their parents. Girls, especially, are forced to play the “ good girl” at home, either lying or not mentioning what they are actually doing. Then they are someone else in the outside world. Dutch families expect the child to grow up and remain connected with the family and that means talking about everything including sex. That also allows them to assert what Schalet calls a “ soft control” over the kids in terms of communicating about values and safety in an on-going way. I’m not saying our children have to tell us every little thing, but it really made me think: do I want to force my child to lie to me or do I want to be on her tea, be one of her advisors, be one of her guides? And finally, D is for recognizing the diversity and range of sexual orientation, cultural beliefs, and development among their peers.

Book Giveaway!

(Book Contest has ended) To win a free copy of the book, comment your answer to:

What’s the best relationship advice a parent or adult ever gave you?

3 winners were randomly picked from amongst commenters.

Did you know?

The average teenager is exposed to nearly 14,000 references to sex each year on television?

92% of the top songs on the Billboard charts are about sex.[i]

One in three girls aged 15-17 say they have performed oral sex on a partner to avoid having intercourse.[ii]

The average American has first intercourse at seventeen; by nineteen, three quarters of teens have had sex.[iii]

72% of both male and female college students “hook up” at least once by senior year, with the average number of partners being seven.[iv] Only a third of college hookups include intercourse.[v]

89% of college students get drunk before a random hookup; three-quarters get drunk before hooking up with an acquaintance; less than twenty percent drink before a romantic sexual encounter.[vi]

70% of young people aged 16-24 say they wish they had known more before their first sexual experiences, especially about relationships and the emotional side of sex.[vii]

This book will help you tell your daughter what she needs to know – before she finds out somewhere else.

[i], 2011.

[ii] Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003.

[iii] “Sexual Initiation, Contraceptive Use, and Pregnancy Among Young Adolescents.” Pediatrics, 2013.

[iv] “Is Hooking Up Bad For Young Women?” Contexts 2010.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] “Do Alcohol and Marijuana Use Decrease the Probability of Condom Use for College Women?” The Journal of Sex Research, 2014.

[vii] Popular Science, March 5, 2015.

Read more from Girls Leadership:

by Rachel Simmons   on Parenting

  1. Maria

    Sadly I was not taught about my body and relationships and I hope resources such as this book will help me educate and guide my daughter to respect herself and her body, as well as to be safe from harm.

  2. Lisa FP

    As a teenager perhaps the most surprising and helpful information from my mother was that sex was an enjoyable and special experience. That helped orient me toward thinking about what I enjoyed and wanted out of sexual encounters.

  3. Elle Rivers

    The best gift you can give someone you love is yourself. Took me 20 years to understand that one…

  4. Lisa

    The best relationship advice I received was that my worth comes from how I feel about myself, not how someone else feels about me. So, find someone who respects you for who you are. Be true to yourself and don’t try to be someone different just to please someone else.

  5. Charmaine

    I don’t recall getting specific advise about relationships. I only hope I can have more meaningful conversations with my daughters.

  6. J May

    I’m not sure I was ever given any good advice to be honest. That is why today, in my 50’s, I’m still trying to figure out how to love and take care of myself. I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with this, but admit I am very scared to talk to her about sex. Thank goodness I have a great counselor to help guide me through this with my daughter so I don’t make the same mistakes with her…

  7. Amabelle Camba

    Like many, my parents didn’t talk about sex or relationships. I had to garner these lessons on my own. But, now that I have a 13 year old girl, I have impressed upon her the following advice: Love = Respect. If your boyfriend/girlfriend does not respect your mind, body and soul, then that person doesn’t love you.

  8. Jen Kittleson

    I was brought up in a fairly strict Catholic Family. I was told more what not to do, how not to act,what the church tells us we are not to do. I am looking forward to teaching my daughter what to do and how to act that is respectful for her, her body and her soul.

  9. Emily Abramenko

    My mother always told me to be honest with myself and to not do anything to please other people. I’ve been attempting to add concrete advice about how to actually “do” that in the face of peer and societal pressure with my kids.

  10. Robyn Judelsohn

    Love changes from 15 to 22 to 42. But do you trust him and does he respect you? Those never change.

  11. Sandra Strozier

    The most valuable thing you have to offer is yourself. Always cherish who you are and remember that it will help you meet your goals. Only share your self with a person who will also value what you with that same respect.

  12. Cheryl

    ” Above all else to your own self – – be true. All decisions come with consequences; some consequences are natural (unprotected sex can result in pregnancy) and some are logical (getting caught stealing can lead to jail). When you make decisions with your head and not your heart [read : ‘you’ are not your emotions] it all works out.”

    …as life as gone, this has remained for me, a truth.

  13. Arlene

    I have yet to have “the talk” with my mom! That said, when I was 17, a good friend of my godmother told me, that her mom’s saying was, “Look, but not touch.” (I understood this to be that the look-er and the look-ee would both be fully dressed.)

  14. Sharon Andersen

    I didn’t receive any advice—my mother told me that I was a smart girl and she trusted I would make good choices when I was being pressured by a guy. when I was 15. My parents gave me the books about sex and body changes when I was around 11; they also gave me the Parent’s Guide–pretty much a do-it-yourself manual! I’m looking forward to reading the book and getting the guidance I need to be able to share with my daughters.

  15. Florence

    Best advice:
    1) You can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself. Does he love himself?
    2) If you fake orgasm, your partner will never learn how to truly give you pleasure!

  16. Kellie Ramirez

    “It’s not consent if you are too just afraid to say no.”

  17. Heather G

    When I told my mom, at 16, that I was having sex and wanted to get on “the pill”, we cried together and had a big heart to heart talk. She told me to “always put myself first”, and that “sex should be with someone you truly love”. They were simple words but never left me, and I’m still having sex with the same man, my husband now, after 25 years. I am so grateful for my close relationship with my mom and how she encouraged (begged!) me to keep the lines of communication open always. I did, and hope to be as successful with my 2 young daughters!

  18. Heather

    My parents told me a lot of hoo-ha about sex happening only between people who love each other. The best thing I figured out for myself: sex does not equal love. The two are completely separate concepts and one doesn’t necessarily follow from the other.

  19. Caroline

    “If you don’t respect yourself, then no one will respect you.” A loving high school counselor gave me this advice as my own mother chose not to have any discussions regarding sex as it was taboo in a strict Catholic home.

  20. Margaret

    Pay attention to how your potential partner treats or talks about his mother and sisters. I forget who told me that, but it has worked for me.

  21. Colleen DelVecchio

    Find the person that you can be 100% honest with all the time.

  22. Katie

    I don’t think I ever received advice in my teen years about sex or relationships, but I observed others’ relationships and learned from that. As an adult, the best advice has come from a marriage counselor: life is about choices, and you get to choose how you live your life, i.e., don’t just sit back and let life happen or let others make choices for you. Relationships require active choices.

  23. Lisa White

    My mom told me that I would have my heart broken 7 times and break 7 hearts.

  24. Jennie

    I wish I did get some advice when I was younger. This book is invaluable because it a difficult topic to discuss with your daughter.

  25. Kristan Shimpi

    To be honest when talking to your daughter. This means showing that you are not always right, it is ok to make mistakes. Model for her what you want her to do. Mistakes are some of life’s greatest lessons.

  26. Suzan

    “There are more fish in the sea. ” Told to me by my big brother after weeks of seeing me cry over the most devastating break up in all of my life.
    It really helped.

  27. Susmita

    To begin with – my family is Hindu. We like temples! Whenever we visit one, we’re on our best temple behavior. 🙂 My mom always said “Your body is a temple,” which to me meant that I should treat myself with respect and share my time only with those I respect – sexually and otherwise.

  28. Maggi Simpson

    The best relationship advice I’ve ever received was also the most basic of ideas, and reduces the most entangled of relationship issues down to this one simple litmus test: If someone does not make you feel good about YOURSELF , then this is not a relationship you currently should be in… PERIOD.
    Ask yourself: does this person make me love myself? does this person’s behavior/ words cause me to say bad things to and about myself? (i.e. “what’s wrong with me?” “why can’t I just….” “I’m so… needy/annoying/jealous/stupid/fat/ugly, etc”) does this person make me feel special, loved and “seen”? Answering these questions in a lucid, genuine manner, and without judgement, helps tremendously with the clarity one needs to set boundaries and ensure that you attract and allow only those people in your life that lift you up and encourage self love.
    The objective is to take the spotlight off the other person, and place it squarely on one’s self.. and by spotlight, I mean the warm, soft, bright, loving light that reminds us we are worthy of love from others exactly as we are!

  29. Michelle

    “Step around the shit.” That was my aunt’s way of telling me to forget about, and not engage with, a good-for-nothing guy and move on.

  30. Claudia Hendricks

    “When you think is ok but your guts says is wrong, follow your guts’ instinct”

  31. Michele Lewis

    Best advice: it’s okay to disagree with your partner…nicely.

  32. Andrea Reid

    What’s the best relationship advice a parent or adult ever gave you?
    It was from Oprah! 🙂 She said, “When you are considering getting married, ask yourself: If this person never changed anything about themselves, would I be happy?” It makes such perfect sense – especially for women because we have such faith that our guy will “grow up and become a wonderful partner. I’m willing to work on him.” Maybe you can have an honest conversation with your potential partner about their willingness to grow into someone you’re envisioning, so they’re clear that you really are expecting some changes when you’re married.

    • Katie

      Don’t expect positive change after marriage. Unfortunately complacency or fatigue (tired of trying to be some one he is not) is usually what occurs.

  33. lisa

    The best relationship advice I received was about forgiveness and grace. No one is perfect and there will be mistakes made by all partners so be forgiving not judgemental. Forgiving truly means to forgive otherwise it is not forgiveness.. It is an action, a purposeful movement toward letting go of that which needs forgiving and the person who has to be forgiven. In doing so, you forgive not only the deed and other person but yourself for holding on and you move toward a place of grace.

  34. tara

    I was the youngest of 5, two older sisters. Advice was not offered up to me, unfortunately, even though I was all eyes and ears of what my older sisters were experiencing… One day, when I was 15, my mom just gives me this little very pretty dainty diamond ring and asked me to wear it as a reminder to not do drugs and get pregnant. Then she preceded to ask me to never get an abortion because she always had trouble getting pregnant and was happy to adopt the 4 kids before I came along as a total surprise. Hmmm. That was all very confusing. She died when I was 18, so we never got to talk more about it. I want so much more for my daughters (12 and 8) and would like the have the tools my mom obviously didn’t have to talk to them openly.

  35. Diane L

    The best relationship advice (not sex, really) was from my parents who said to choose someone who has similar interests and values. Simple but easy to overlook. It worked for 47 years for them so I listened!

  36. Kathy

    Sex isn’t unimportant; it is. Many push this topic aside, and not deal with real feelings about it. If sex weren’t important, our society wouldn’t have so many rules, shame, and taboos about it. Pay attention to any message that may be demeaning, from subtle to overt, from media, family, or friends; and call them out at least in your own mind. The more whole we feel, the more whole we are as human beings.

  37. Laura Maneschi

    My parents said, “make important decisions in the morning. “

  38. Jodie S

    I never got relationship advice from anyone, and would really like to give my (teenage) kids the best advice I can give. After listening to Peggy’s interview with Terri Gross, I was inspired to have a conversation with my 14yo. It was in the car, not too painful, and I think a good start. Now I need to read the book!

  39. Jessica

    I never got any advice. I am trying so hard to be present for my daughters, and to be there for them, even when I have no experience on how to do this- which is why I need to read this book!

  40. Jodie Siegel

    After hearing your interview with Terri Gross, I realized I definitely want to read it and give it to all my friends. Thanks so much for this perspective!

  41. Alexia

    My parents did not give me any advice., so my advice came from others. A trusted friend told me to go with ‘my gut’. In hindsight, that did not always work. I’d like my daughters to have more to go on and I think this book may guide me on where to start.

  42. Alyssa Jelinek

    Best advice my parent gave me: Wait to have sex until you are with someone you love and you know loves and respects you. This helped me have high standards and self-esteem. I had boyfriends dump me because of this but it was worth it. My first time was loving, honest and sincere. I have no regrets.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Hi Alyssa,
      You’re one of our book winners!
      Please send your mailing address to dorothy @

  43. daniella schrader

    treat your body as a castle and others will worship it

  44. Colleen J.

    Sexuality was considered taboo in my family but the best advice my mother ever gave me was, “If something doesn’t feel right, run.” While I took that advice literally, several time in my early years (it saved my life from harmful sexual encounters at least twice), I later found its simplicity profoundly helpful. It gave me self-confidence, empowerment, and permission to listen only to my inner voice so I could act earnestly.

    As a side, I especially enjoyed reading about the ABCD method (it articulated nicely my approach to educating my child about herself and all relationships) and am happy for the validation that my approach with my daughter is rather Dutch-like. (: I’m very much looking forward to adding to my knowledge by participating in a Girls Leadership workshop in April!

  45. Alison

    The only advice I received is to wait until you’re old enough to enjoy the emotional side of sex, not only the physical side. That didn’t really provide much guidance and I want to be able to tell my daughter much more.

  46. Maryanne Cattaneo

    The best relationship advice I was ever given is to think about how you feel *after* you are with your significant other. Are you even better from this connection?

  47. Stacy

    My folks told me, among other things, to listen to my gut. If it tells me that what I am about to do is not right for me to not do it. Any partner not understanding that is not the right one for me.

  48. Vanessa O'Neil

    The best advise an adult gave me: “Don’t try to make sense out of things that just don’t make sense.” This was after the passing of my daughter to childhood cancer and the estrangement of my father (as an adult daughter).

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Oh Vanessa, I’m so sorry for your losses. Thank you for sharing the advice that helped you.

  49. Montse

    My parents did not give any advice, sadly. Communicate, inform yourself, and be honest!

  50. CKC

    Best Advice:

    “You can talk to us about anything. You are free to make your own decisions and we love and support you in making those. Please just make sure you are safe and protect yourself.”

  51. Shannon McLeod

    Honestly, I have never been good advice around sex. The topic was always avoided and I can’t let that happen to my daughter. It really scares me.

  52. Julie Flower

    My parents never really talked directly about relationships, though they did model a healthy, loving one. The most I advice I got was about not having sex before marriage (yeah, right) and “being careful.” They came to accept a live-in relationship I had, eventually, but never gave me real advice about any of it.

    • Julie Flower

      I really want my teenage daughter to have a different experience than I had, and a much better relationship. I know she respects and knows herself and is generally a strong person, and I don’t want her to feel intimidated by or less valuable than any boy!

  53. Holly

    The best relationship advice I ever got was “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear” meaning you can’t fix a broken male, nor should you even try.

  54. T.Kaufman

    Best advice came from my godmother who said see how he treats animals; if he has no patience, warmth or kindness towards smaller less wise animals – he is not the one to be with in tough times…everyone is fun in good times.

  55. Kara g

    Best advice I wish someone had given me: love yourself first and foremost.

  56. Leslie Noble

    Best advice was “You deserve respect and if someone isn’t going to give that to you, they don’t deserve you.”

  57. Sarah H

    My dad told me when I was 14, ‘ you’re your own person now; we’ve given you all the tools, we love you, we respect you and we trust you to make good, safe decisions. We’re here if you need advice or information or support. You’ll make mistakes and you can come to me when you do and I won’t judge, we all make mistakes…go do your thing!’ It wasn’t just about sex or relationships, but I applied his words to that. I felt empowered to make my own decisions but I also felt trusted to be mature and safe, so I was. I waited until I was 22 and I was sure it was the right time to have sex because my dad made me feel like I deserved someone wonderful and I was allowed the freedom to make my own mistakes

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Hi Sarah,
      You’re one of our book winners!
      Please send your mailing address to dorothy @

  58. Tiffany Chin

    Best advice; marry your best friend!

  59. Sarah Haddon

    My dad told me when I was 14, ‘ you’re your own person now; we’ve given you all the tools, we love you, we respect you and we trust you to make good, safe decisions. We’re here if you need advice or information or support. You’ll make mistakes and you can come to me when you do and I won’t judge, we all make mistakes…go do your thing!’ It wasn’t just about sex or relationships, but I applied his words to that. I felt empowered to make my own decisions but I also felt trusted to be mature and safe, so I was. I waited until I was 22 and I was sure it was the right time to have sex because my dad made me feel like I deserved someone wonderful and I was allowed the freedom to make my own mistakes and decisions.

  60. Barbra Rosenstein

    Relationships are like a roller coaster ride- sometimes their on an up and other times they are on a downward cycle- but it’s the ride (or entire experience) that matters

  61. Janah Boccio

    The best relationship advice I ever got came from my mom, who told me that I didn’t have to tolerate bad or red-flag behavior from a partner, and that making room for a healthy, positive relationship was better than staying in an unhealthy one.

  62. Joanna Harper

    I don’t know that I ever got great advice from anyone. This book would be immensely helpful for me in giving advice to my own daughters!

  63. Christine English

    Love that someone has taken this approach and I agree! As an American that’s traveled internationally, we are burying our heads in the sand. I love the open approach Europeans have about sex, it should be talked about openly. I know I’ve been open with my son and it’s paid off. I would absolutely LOVE a copy of this book, I have a 7 year old daughter going on 21, it was easier with my son, my daughter? Looking forward to learning more, thank you!

  64. Vanessa Rognlien

    To know myself first before entering in a serious relationship.

  65. Danielle

    The best relationship advice I’ve been given is that relationships involve compromise, but there should still be limits on what you are personally willing to compromise on. There are things you may be willing to compromise on and other things you are not. It’s important to hold to your values and your needs. If those are not compatible with your partner’s values and needs, stepping out of the relationship will be a better in the long run for the both of you.

  66. Celeste Stern

    I loved Peggy’s other book Cinderella Ate My Daughter! I have no doubt this book will also be filled with amazing insights and thought provoking conversations.

    The best relationship advice I receive from my mom was ‘In order to love someone else well, you have to love yourself first’.

  67. Ivette

    Hope to read this book to help me help my daughter takes the next steps into adolescence! Thank you for writing about such an important topic.

    • Ivette

      Funny enough I grew up in a “we don’t talk about those things” environment where any mention of sex or even menstruation was considered taboo. I don’t want that for my daughter!

  68. Sara

    Question: The best advice my parents gave me was get the most education you can and make sure you can always take care of yourself and your kids

  69. Alicia

    The best relationship advice my mom ever gave me was that it was my responsibility to protect myself from STDs and pregnancy. If I chose to have sexual relations, I needed to be prepared to provide the protection.

  70. Pam Walsh

    When I was about 10 or so, my friend and I heard the slang word for ejaculate and had no idea what it meant. I approached my mom and she told us what it was, fairly “unmatter of factly”, and did not ask how we heard it or cast any weird judgement about the question. This stuck with me and I recall it now, about 30+ years later, as I reflect on how her approach helped so much to destigmatize sexual language, and talking about sex at an early age for me and I count it as a proud moment I have of my mom.

  71. Jill Mallin

    Ask for what you need and want. The worst someone can say is ‘no.’

  72. Holly McLane

    Sadly, I never was given any advice, good or bad, on sex through my teen and early adult years. Having this book as a resource would be helpful as I advise my daughter through puberty and relationships.

  73. April Pierce

    My aunt told me when I stared dating to think of myself as a beautiful jewel and to wear a jeweled ring to remind myself that I am of value and worthy. I found it helpful to have something concrete to look at that reminded me of this belief. Now in my forties, I still think of myself as jewel thanks to my aunt!

  74. Karen Wendelken

    Best advise: Listen more than you talk

  75. Tina

    Unfortunately I didn’t receive any advice from parents but had great boyfriends who respected me. My advice to young kids is if you are not ready to purchase birth control on your own, then you are not ready to have sex.

  76. Stacey

    The best advice I received is to trust my instincts. I’ve rarely regretting it when I have and usually regret it when I don’t.

  77. Madeleine Wood

    Always have an “exit plan”. For example: you are going to a party or on a date – make sure you always have $30 in your back pocket to catch a taxi if things aren’t going well.

  78. Kate Van Cott

    Best thing I’ve heard:

    If you’re not ready to talk about sex with your partner, you shouldn’t be having it.

  79. Alyssa Mogensen

    “No one will ever respect you more than you respect yourself”

  80. Rose Huber

    Yes!!! Thank you! Its about time we had a book to share with our daughters and students about healthy sexual relationships. I tell my daughter and her friends that they should not be giving over their bodies to anyone until they know them themselves!

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