Nicola's Reviews > Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality

Dilemmas of Desire by Deborah L. Tolman
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May 29, 09

bookshelves: gender, sociology, non-fiction

When researching Dilemmas of Desire, Deborah Tolman expected to uncover a wealth of feelings about sexuality from teenage girls who had never had the opportunity to reveal or interrogate their sexual identity. Instead, she found a number of girls who were so detached from their sexuality that they had “silent bodies” that deadened any sexual feelings. They described their sexual experiences in terms of “it just happened” and “I just went along with what he wanted”.

Tolman’s “silent bodies” theory is a really interesting one. Unfortunately, this book is as dull as dishwater.

Firstly, Tolman’s study isn’t a very in-depth one. She conducted interviews with ~30 high-school-age girls. That’s it. That’s all. She brings in some outside material, but the vast majority of the book hangs on these 30 interviews. The interview material is used exhaustively. As a PhD thesis, I’m sure this is fine. But when something is bound and I pay money for it, I expect a little more, y’know?

Tolman’s writing is unbearably dry, repetitive and filled with academiaspeak clichés. Dilemmas is not a long book, but even the interesting parts are a misery to read. As something to dip into for a quote on female sexuality to use in an essay, it’s fine – as something to read for pleasure, well, just don’t bother.
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