Jaclyn Friedman is best girlfriend material. She's the kind of woman that leans toward you when you speak in a way that makes you feel important. You can tell she would console you about a breakup as willingly as she’d discuss your latest hookup. She is the kind of woman who stands up for her beliefs.
In a world where women and girls hear countless conflicting messages about how to live their sex lives, Friedman will be the friend you need to get you through. A feminist, an activist, and a writer, she is truly dedicated to helping women explore their sexuality in a way that is pleasurable and safe. This Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friedman will be holding a high-energy book release at the Brattle Theatre (40 Brattle St., Harvard Square) for her new book, What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.
“It’s a workbook for women who want to form a better relationship with their own sexuality,” Friedman said. What You Really Really Want uses that workbook format -- which she perfected with a focus group of 19- to 42-year-old women -- to provide an interactive framework for women to use in navigating the many cultural and interpersonal influences on their sex lives.
“Some of the things we really do want [from sex], we’re taught not to pursue,” Friedman said. “There’s a lot of punishment in our culture, whether it’s actual violence or just slut-shaming of women who say, ‘I want this from sex,’ and pursue it. That’s a very taboo thing."
Instead of seeing sexuality as a matter of being a “good” girl or “bad” girl, Friedman sees it as a wide range of equally correct, greatly varying options. Instead of buying into predetermined ideas of female sexuality, she encourages women to find an identity that is uniquely her own.
"I like to say that there are two poles: You’re either Taylor Swift or The Pussycat Dolls, and you have to pick one," she said. "Women are told to ideally be Taylor Swift, but if you can’t be or we’re not giving you the chance to be, you have to be the best Pussycat Doll.”
The book also teaches women how to do their own risk assessment, rather than following every rule, which she believes is essential to the pursuit of pleasure. The latter half of the workbook covers how to have difficult conversations with sexual partners about everything from sexually transmitted diseases and relationship parameters to kinks and “enthusiastic consent.” Friedman uses humor and a friendly tone (complete with pop culture references) to create a structure through which women can recognize and assess cultural messages, giving them the tools to become empowered and, in turn, empower others.
What You Really Really Want is an especially important read for Gen Y women, as many of us are still deep in the process of sexual discovery. In a society where women are not only encouraged to feel that their sexuality exists to serve others but to feel “too weird, too damaged, too othered” to act on their desires, sex-positive messages are key to creating an environment where women and their fulfillment matter.
“‘Freaks and Geeks’ is a chapter in the workbook that encourages readers to make peace with whatever makes you feel freaky or damaged around sexuality and then figure out how to develop strength from it and take control of it,” Friedman said. “You can look those feelings in the eye and find a place where that freakiness gives you power.”
Friedman was determined to make this particular book release a celebration. With her birthday coming up, she knew she had to make the first night of the launch in Boston, her hometown, and incorporate details that would make the event a party, not just your average book release. So while she will be reading passages, the event will also include performances from Boston Sass Attack, a radical cheerleading squad, and the Bitches of Destiny, a local burlesque troupe.
"The seven of us have a wide range of sexual identities, body types, political interests and cultural influences, and we’ve tried very hard to bring those varying perspectives into our work,” said Jane Doe, a dancer with Bitches of Destiny, who will be performing alongside fellow dancer Kirby Bits.
Tickets for Jaclyn Friedman's What You Really Really Want book release are $5 and are available on the Harvard Book Store website.
About Vanessa -- Vanessa Formato is a 22-year-old Clark University graduate, freelance journalist, vegan cupcake enthusiast and video game aficionado. She blogs about body image and tweets about puppies. So awesome, even John Stamos is impressed.
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