Keyser (The Way Back from Broken) compiles powerfullycandid and intimate essays from 17 women, many of whom are YA authors, abouttheir first times having sex, the pressure to do so, guilt, desire, and theconcept of virginity (“Life is an endless roller coaster of first times, oflost virginities,” writes Kiersi Burkhart). Their accounts includedisappointing hookups, thrilling same-sex explorations, and the decision toabstain from sex until marriage. In “Openly Bisexual,” Sara Ryan doubles downon the candor, sharing not just her sexual explorations but sometimes floridexcerpts from her teenage diary (“The more I consider it, the more I become certain:I want to share all with Robert”); Alex Meeks describes the search forfulfilling sex while coming out as transgender (“I felt doomed to eternaldisconnection from my body”). Also included are a Q&A with blogger KellyJensen about representations of sex in media, and supplementary resources forboth parents and teens. Frank, encouraging, and explicit, these stories nevercut away from the physical or emotional realities of sex, and the collection isstronger and more valuable for it.
– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*, November 23, 2015
All too aware that often media and pop culture messages about sex and virginity are at best inaccurate and at worst dangerous, Keyser has compiled 17 essays from female authors—straight, gay, bisexual, and transgender—on their first time having sex: the good, the bad, the ugly, and, of course, the awkward. The experiences range from a wedding night to a spontaneous but tender hookup to an alcohol-fueled one-night stand. The writing varies, but all the authors express genuine and heartfelt emotions. While there is a fair amount of explicit content, the tone is less sultry and more contemplative. Keyser prefaces each piece with a brief introduction that teases apart themes such as gender identity and sexual autonomy. The book concludes with information on topics such as consent, body image, and masturbation, all presented in a way that reflects the editor’s progressive mind-set. Appended is an interview between Keyser and contributor, former librarian, and editor Kelly Jensen, who offers many examples of YA novels with rich depictions of female sexuality. Although there’s a wealth of thought-provoking content here, Keyser is never preachy, and teens will come away feeling as though they’ve spent time in the company of a smart and self-assured but gentle and reassuring older sister or friend. VERDICT-A strong addition to sex ed shelves and a much-needed perspective on teenage sexuality.–Mahnaz Dar, SchoolLibrary Journal
– School Library Journal, January 1, 2016
Feminism has come a long way from the fight for suffrage, and in its current manifestation, it can be difficult for some to determine precisely what feminism stands for or, indeed, if it’s necessary at all. It seems like women have more freedom than ever, but, as these two titles emphasize, in both the political and personal spheres, there’s a lot of ground yet to cover.
Each of the broad range of contributors in Keyser’s The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex—gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, etc.—details the sometimes painfully awkward, sometimes blissful experience of choosing to have sex for the first time. The frank, sexually explicit (naturally) narratives cover a wide range of experiences—some are sweet and transformative; others are perfunctory or borderline forgettable—but the one thing they all share is the importance of sexual agency. One woman tells the story of waiting until her wedding night, while another describes a relationship with a man who respected her—a sharp contrast to the years of sexual abuse she endured before.
Each woman makes a choice to have sex, and choice is the key element here. The V in V-Word can be interpreted as “voice,” not “virginity,” and the takeaway is the importance of young women speaking up for what they want or don’t want and taking an active role in what happens to their bodies. While highlighting the importance of choice, moreover, the contributors’ accounts dismantle the idea that virginity is something to be revered as a mark of purity that, if lost, is a source of shame or mourning; rather, choosing to have sex is merely the first step down a path of new experiences.
Keyser follows the essays with in-depth, accessible advice for teens geared almost exclusively toward girls as well as extensive resources for further learning. Sexual empowerment is the name of the game here, and it’s a message not often doled out in today’s climate of abstinence-only sex ed. Vitally, some expert sex educators weigh in, which adds an air of credibility to the proceedings. Occasionally, the tone is overly sentimental, and teens allergic to sincerity might bristle, but, overall, this is an excellent resource for teens interested in sex that gives them not only meaningful and important tools for health, such as concrete advice about contraceptives and consent, but a supportive, sex-positive voice in a culture that’s still fairly uncomfortable addressing sexuality, in teen girls in particular. — Sarah Hunter
– Booklist, February 1, 2015
A selection of seventeen womenwriters tell about their experience of first-time sex. The stories reveal agreat diversity in age, situation, sexual orientation, gender identification,and even what counts as first-time sex. The resources section provides abibliography, notes, biographies of all the contributors, and several essays.One essay gives straight-forward advice, empowering young women to be informedand to make their own choice about when and with whom. Kelly Jensen, a formerteen librarian, suggests teen novels and nonfiction that deal particularly wellwith different sexual situations. Parents are also addressed with resources forthem as well as advice on opening an on-going conversation with their daughtersabout their values and experiences around sex.
The book serves youngwomen as a kind of rite of passage with a bevy of oldersisters telling it like it is, sharing experiences that are rarely talked about.Given the array of experiences (from wedding night to casual encounter) andidentifications (hetro, lesbian, bi, and trans) some readers may havedifficulties with some of the frankness, diversity, and language. Thetrade-off, however, is well worth it. Thevariety emphasizes how individual it is and how important it is for each youngwoman to make an informed and conscious choice for herself. It turns out theV-word of importance here is not so much “virginity” as it is finding one’s own“voice.”—Elizabeth Matson.
– VOYA, STARRED REVIEW, February 2016