Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe

Notes on a scandal

New book on Milton Academy offers shocking insight into teens and sex

There are startling scenes in "Restless Virgins" that are bound to -- and meant to -- shock readers. Three hockey players in a girl's bedroom. Clothes come off. Two of the guys hook up with the girl while the third watches and gives instructions.

Another scene: a girl performing oral sex on a guy in a campus chapel.

And another: "The three of them went at it for 15 minutes. . . . On the way home, Brady let Quinn take a turn with Emma in the back seat, then pulled over so the boys could switch places again." To the hockey players, "group sex acts were just like showering together after practice."

The teenagers were students at prestigious Milton Academy, alma mater to Kennedys and Rockefellers, T.S. Eliot and Governor Deval Patrick. The book, filled with such steamy scenarios, leaves the impression that many students at the highly selective prep school spend much of their time either engaging in casual sex or trying to.

It will no doubt create a stir on a campus that in the past two years has weathered a sex scandal, a controversial attempt to close its lower school, and the abrupt resignation of its head of school. Due out next week, the book takes seven pseudonymous seniors from the Class of 2005 and delves into the most personal corners of their lives.

But at least two of the seven subjects profiled have raised questions about the methods used by the authors and about the results. The two girls, who are now halfway through college, say they feel misled and betrayed. Though they did talk about sex with the authors, they say they also talked at length of teachers, classes, sports, college applications -- all of which play a minor role in the book.

The authors, who obtained signed releases from the participants, stand by their work. "We were direct, clear, and open about the subject of 'Restless Virgins,' " authors Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley said in an e-mail. They say their intent was to write "a compassionate and concerned examination of what it's like to be a girl and a guy in high school today."

In another era, "Restless Virgins: Love, Sex, and Survival at a New England Prep School" would be a kiss-and-tell book. But that era has gone the way of lava lamps and Farrah Fawcett posters. In fact, there's little meaningful kissing in the book, but plenty of oral sex, which, in the words of one of the authors, "is treated like handshakes."

There are girls kissing girls in front of boys, to turn them on. Girls servicing boys. Anal sex. Teens engaging in acrobatic threesomes. Much of the extreme sex involves younger girls with older boys. This isn't your parents' campus guide. It's soft porn and soap opera, a cross between "The O.C." and "Sex and the City." But the authors, who are Milton Academy alumnae, say they hope that parents will read it and begin a serious conversation with their children about sex.

Private lives, public places
Jones, who graduated in 1999, and Miley, who graduated in 1998, decided to probe the private lives of Milton students after the scandal two years ago in which a 15-year-old girl engaged in oral sex with five hockey players in the campus locker room.

"We were in shock," says Jones, 26, who lives in Boston. "We both sat there saying, 'Do you remember this? I don't remember this.' This was different, and that was the impetus for the book."

How was it different? "Oral sex and sex aren't new," says Jones, who majored in English at Dartmouth and earned a master's degree in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh. "But it's the extreme nature regarding hookups: how far they go, and with how many people, that is new."

Jones and Miley, who both interned at The Atlantic magazine, say they've devoted more than two years to the book. They interviewed 28 of the 181 members of the Class of 2005 and decided to focus on four girls and three boys. Names and details were changed to protect identities, but the authors, who tape-recorded their interviews, say the stories are true.

They acknowledge that the highly sexualized nature of the book does not represent the entire campus, but that the main issue -- casual and sometimes hardcore teen sex -- is a nationwide phenomenon. "For parents, it's a window into this world. If your child isn't engaging in this behavior, their friends are, or their classmates are," says Jones. "We asked questions parents don't ask."

"Restless Virgins" takes the reader into the locker room, dorms, parked cars, basement parties, hotel rooms, bars, and on spring break. The boys' demands and the girls' deference is a common theme; of the 28 interviewees, only one girl was in a healthy relationship, the authors say. They write in a highly personal, omniscient "we-were-there" style, reconstructing racy scenes -- and interior thoughts -- that they said they pieced together from multiple interviews and sources.

A national issue
Milton Academy spokeswoman Cathy Everett says the school cannot do much about what happens off-campus, though if the administration learns about a home party, it contacts parents to make sure it is supervised. But if incidents occur on campus, the school can act "in loco parentis," or in place of parents, Everett says. On the rare occasion a couple is caught, "counseling and connection with parents" is the first step, and then the school decides what disciplinary action to take. Milton offers elective and required classes on health, sexuality, values and ethics, she says.

Everett said it is important to remember that the authors interviewed "a fraction of Milton students" and that many of the incidents described in "Restless Virgins" happened off campus. (Some of the sex scenes in the book, though, occur in the dorm, the library, bathrooms, campus fields, and even the chapel.)

"Stories like this about teenagers all over this country, in all kinds of neighborhoods and schools, have been written in detail and at length," Everett said in a written statement, after being asked to respond to questions about the book. "We would be naive and out of touch if we thought that some Milton students were not involved in the same behaviors as teenagers everywhere. Our culture -- what we read, see, buy, listen to, and watch -- promotes this behavior, so why would a subset of Milton students be any different than a subset of students at any other school?"

The authors agree that casual sex among teenagers is a national phenomenon that can be blamed in part on the hypersexualized culture. "You've had Abercrombie [& Fitch] selling thongs to 10-year-olds, and TV sex scenes doubled from 1998 to 2002," says Miley, who majored in English and economics at the University of Pennsylvania and now lives in New York. That, coupled with websites such as Facebook and MySpace, have created a universe where little is considered out-of-bounds.

Jones calls it "generational exhibitionism."

"These kids are putting their lives on display," she says. "People didn't used to have sex in front of others. This is the first generation of kids coming of age in the Internet, and there's a breaking down of privacy."

'We're the eggs'
None of the main subjects were involved in the hockey scandal. In their acknowledgements, the authors thank them: "They believed in our book and devoted themselves to it wholeheartedly . . . [they] indulged our questions about everything imaginable."

And that, say a couple of the girls, is precisely why they feel betrayed. One -- who has read an advance copy that the publisher, William Morrow, provided to the Globe -- says the authors chatted her up about myriad topics. "They came off like they were our friends. They're not that much older than us, they related to us, they went to our school, they acted like they understood [the pressures] and were sympathetic. It really feels like we're the eggs they cracked to make their omelets."

The scenes in the book are sensationalized and distorted, says the girl, who just finished her sophomore year at an Ivy League school. "I was definitely under the impression that it would be tasteful, appropriate, academic, more like a sociological study. It's a sexualized version of events they chose to show. I feel extremely stupid for talking to them."

A second girl featured in the book also expressed dismay. "Although we discussed sex, it was not the focus of my senior year at all. I feel like they're just capitalizing on the [hockey] scandal."

Another Milton graduate, Sarah Magaziner, was a class behind the subjects and was not interviewed for the book, but she knows some who were. Magaziner, who will be a sophomore at Brown University, questions the book's credibility. The girls -- who she says are clearly identifiable to fellow students -- were smart, hard workers, and went on to top colleges.

Magaziner, who was a class leader at Milton, says she resents the fact that the school is "dumbed down" in the book: "It's not at all just about drinking and hooking up over there." Still, she says the book makes one good point: the gender disparity regarding sexual expectations on campus.

An old playing field
In a joint e-mail, the authors say they're sorry if those who "eagerly agreed to be interviewed" are now unhappy. "When we first started working with the kids, it was just exploring what teenage life was today. For us, it was about so much more than sex," Miley says. And that, say the subjects, is what they were led to believe.

But sex runs like a river through the book, from the title to the last page.

The authors say they were most alarmed by the entitled attitude toward sex by a group of boys, and the willingness of younger girls in particular to go along with extreme and casual encounters. Why would such bright achievers succumb to performances on command?

Miley calls it the reality of post-feminist sex. "The girls feel so empowered that they can do anything they want including having sex like guys can," she says. "But they're still playing in a guy's world, and it's not an even playing field."