A Slut’s Story: Review of “Loose Girl”

Ever call someone a slut? Or a ho?

You might think twice about the object (not subject since we objectify when we call someone names) of your label after reading Kerry Cohen’s memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity.

Sex addiction is a real disorder–and treated by therapists and in rehab facilities around the country. This is the first book I’ve read about a girl who has this addiction. Her self-worth is completely connected to getting attention from guys. I use the word “guys,” rather than men, because at the end of the book, in an interview of Cohen, she explains that men have feelings and needs of their own, but that a “loose girl” doesn’t view males that way. She uses them for her own overpowering needs.

In this book, the reader is brought into the mindset of a teen girl and, later, young woman who is a sex addict. For me, this book was horrifying to read. Cohen knew intellectually the dangers of having unprotected sex, and yet she did, with guys she barely knew–one after another after another.

I suspect there are women and young women I know who have engaged in this kind of behavior.  There might be many women like this.

The book is an engaging read, although the subject was disturbing. I stayed up too late finishing it as I wanted to have things set right for me at the end. I don’t want to include any spoilers here as I want you to have the same suspenseful read I had, so I will just say that the ending surprised me.

From this book I learned that in memoir the most critical scenes and shifts or turns in the plot don’t have to be earth-shattering. They can be more subtle, as often happens in life. In fact, in this book sometimes the most dramatic events don’t trigger any change in the narrative, whereas something almost invisible can trigger more change.

I did notice a couple of places where, if the book was in my group’s critique session, readers would demand something more. For instance, after Cohen develops a medical problem, readers don’t get to see how this affects her relationship with her boyfriend at the time. Instead, we jump ahead to “summer.”

Another opportunity missed might actually be intentional and part of the design of the book. Most of the characters, other than the male sex objects, are barely described. I don’t really have a good idea of how Cohen looks (other than her photo at the back of the book). Or her parents or therapist or best friends. The only exception is her sister Tyler, another victim of their neglectful upbringing. I suspect Cohen wants the reader to see the world as she saw it–cute boys with straight or curly hair and pretty eyes that single her out with their gaze. She may have described Tyler as a nod to Tyler’s shared family experience.

This book can benefit society by showing us what’s at stake when we just call someone a slut in a derisive way and don’t examine the root causes of her behavior.





Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

35 responses to “A Slut’s Story: Review of “Loose Girl”

  1. This is a fascinating subject, Luanne, and not an easy one to read about or talk about. As a society we have such a puritanical belief system around sex and even talking about it raises eyebrows and invites judgement. Kudos to the author and to you for raising it.

    • Thanks, S. You are so right that it’s difficult to have a practical and productive discussion about the subject, but I’m really happy to see that readers here today have been so open-minded about the subject. I do think that our society is just getting around to understanding that there is even such a thing as sex addiction, but I suspect people are more apt to see it as a man’s disease, not a woman’s. And then look at all the history with “nymphomania,” like with locking up women in mental institutions because of their sexuality.

  2. This is certainly one of the books I wouldn’t normally read. But your review makes me want to check it out! I’ll be honest, I’ve seen women who can hardly say ‘no’ to men, but I’ve never called a woman a whore or slut before, why? You may ask, because I’m a woman…
    It’s somehow unbelievable that people have sexual addictions, but it happens and it’s real. Thanks for sharing this review Luanne.

    • Seyi, yes, when I was young I had no idea that there could be such a thing as a sex addiction, but now I know it’s true that they exist. And this book really does a wonderful job of placing the reader inside the mind of a person who finds herself obsessed. That she is so young is particularly disturbing, but it also makes it more understandable for me. Now maybe I need to read a book by a person who became a sex addict after they were already a mature person in order to understand how that could happen!
      I do don’t use those terms to describe other women, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been very saddened to see that kind of behavior.

  3. Nelly Arcan wrote a novel titled Whore, which is partly biographical.
    It was a finalist for both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina, two of France’s most prestigious literary awards.”I didn’t become a whore with the first client,” Cynthia explains. “No, it was long before that, during the figure skating and tap dancing of my childhood, in the fairy tales where you had to be the most beautiful and sleep yourself to distraction.”
    It’s a hard read, as Loose Girl also seems to be. These books are disturbing and what seems to be the common ground is a neglectful upbringing. It’s all very sad.

  4. I was reading something recently that offered debate on how much to describe characters. I always described in detail, the way I visualized in my mind. I try to do it creatively so it doesn’t come off as a grocery list. Experts advise using emotion to create the character rather than a shopping list of physical features…else it come off as something anyone with an ounce of literacy and a lap top could write. They suggest not describing any physical attributes but allowing the reader to devise those in their own mind. Maybe I’m just not wordsmithy enough yet to accomplish that.

    • SK, you have brought up a rich topic. Yes, how much to describe? I do think it needs to come naturally, but without any guideposts, it’s hard to get a take on a character. It doesn’t as if sound your “wordsmithiness” is what’s at stake here, but rather like one of those either/or mandates about writing that usually bug me. Emotion is important to create in the reader, but emotion in the character means less to me than knowing if he is trying to grow a beard to be cool or in knowing that she’s plucked her eyebrows into nothings.

  5. Another excellent review, Luanne. Despite the disturbing subject matter, I would say this book should be read by any parent raising a daughter. Building a young girl’s self-esteem, starting at an early age, is so important.

    • Jill, that is something that I should have mentioned. Dropped. the. ball. Yes, very important. Self-esteem, yes, and also attention from the parents. What I saw in the book was that the parents ignored the girls and when they did get any attention at all it was either negative from the mother (that speaks to self-esteem) or the dad trying to be friends with the girls’ friends.

  6. Such a complicated issue! A person could write a book about the book!

    • Anneli, and about the subject itself, I think! I really hope that the sex addiction programs in rehabs, etc., are separate for men and women, not for the obvious reason alone, but because I’m sure the underlying issues have got to be different.

  7. Quite a few movies have been made in the past few years about sexual addiction and I’ve discovered I can’t watch them so not sure I could read this book. Very disturbing. I admire though every person who has decided to document their experiences. I know their sharing will help others.

    • Yolanda, I think it might be easier with a book than a movie, quite honestly. It’s not as graphic because it is a book, if that makes sense. But I completely understand. It’s very disturbing, as you say. I do like Jill’s idea thought that it would be a good book for the parents of young girls to read. Almost as a cautionary tale.

  8. A great review Luanne – whether the subject interested me or not, I find your review riveting and encourages me to want to read it.

    • Andrea, that is so kind of you to say! I love to hear that a review makes a reader interested in a book! I didn’t even start writing these thinking “review,” but was just thinking what did I learn from this book. But now I realize that in talking about the books I’ve read that is like when we tell our friends about a book we read, which is what I’m doing :)!

  9. Perhaps the turns are so subtle because the overall topic is so shocking?

  10. Luanne: I love that you review memoirs that are out-of-the-box. Your insights are objective and helpful, despite the subject and your detachment from it. Thanks for bring attention to a memoir that may not be mainstream, but an important subject for all women.

    • Yes, it’s such an important subject, and after reading comments here I think it’s an important book for parents of girls. Thanks for weighing in, Rudri! xo

  11. Great review of an uncomfortable subject, Luanne. It’s interesting that the parents were neglectful and I wonder if an alternative upbringing may have changed the way Kerry saw the world. I also find it interesting that her father wanted to be friends with her and her sister’s friends – this has an underlying weirdness about it.

    When children aren’t given love I guess they search for love everywhere (and don’t actually know what it is that they’re searching for). Even if this means having sex with a lot of people. What a brave book.

    • Dianne, that’s what I have been wondering!! What IF. Her upbringing does seem so very neglectful and then the part of it that was not seems as if the mother was a hyper critical narcissist. Yes, the father does seem weird. Very disengaged with the girls as daughters and very very immature. Cohen admits she didn’t know what she was searching for, but she definitely confused whatever it was with sex. She clearly was after sex–on the surface of things.

  12. I appreciate the difference stated between men and guys 🙂 Men have feelings and needs and this is the truth but with guys, there is altogether a different story. I guess this difference has a similar connotation for girls and women. Well, this sounds like an interesting read. I am surely going to follow it.Thanks sharing!

    • I think it probably is similar for the difference between girls and women. And there is a girl in most women as there is a guy in most men. 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

  13. I think today’s young women are even more pressured than our generation. As a person who was raised in an open-minded family, I tried not to put labels on others. I did one time, though, regretfully, when a young woman managed to lure away my boyfriend, tell a few of my high school friends, “It is because she ‘puts out.'” I am embarrassed to have said this, since truly it took both people, the boy and the girl, to get together!
    I am not sure how I would do in reading this book, but I am always appreciative of your reading and reviewing a wide variety of memoirs, Luanne! I trust your judgment and when in the ‘mood’ for an autobiography, I may read this one, along with several fine ones you have featured! Smiles, Robin

    • Robin, it’s interesting how you say you were raised in an open-minded family and so tried not to put labels on people. I also was raised in a family where we didn’t label people, and YET my father in particular was very critical. But it was never about labeling people. Does that make sense?
      That takes a big spirit to understand that it was both the boy and the girl, Robin, when you were the one who was hurt. xo

  14. Interesting and sad topic, Luanne. On a parallel note, I just heard a woman on a news program discussing “sex trade” workers and her belief is that society needs to stop this definition as it isn’t a “job” like any other; it is dangerous and often has roots in human trafficking. So, so sad as children can’t choose their parents.

    • I remember when the tide began to turn to give “sex trade” workers respect for the choice they made in their careers. It was the cool new way of thinking. But while the famous madams have ostensibly made these choices, the masses of young women and even girls and sometimes boys whose lives are ruined by pimps and the system show that the reality is that it IS “dangerous and often has roots in human trafficking.”

  15. I’m so glad you reviewed this book, Luanne. I haven’t read it, but it sounds like an important book to read. I do wonder at the label of sex addict. Was she really addicted to sex in and of itself, or the attention she got by having sex? My family was not very affectionate when I was growing up and I remember often feeling desperate for someone to just hold me. Hugging usually wasn’t enough for the boys whose attention I wanted to have. And I often wondered about the girls in my school who were considered sluts (or pigs as we used to call them (yup, I’m guilty of that although I was also guilty of the same behavior)). When I think back on those times, and definitely my memory is colored by decades of reflection, I also wonder how us young girls could have even understood what we were getting ourselves into by being sexually active. So often we were driven by desires for affection, love, acceptance, but rarely by the desire for sex itself. It was just the price we paid.

    • Marie, my take on it is that all addictions have underlying psychological issues. Addicts tend to go into recovery when these issues are addressed satisfactorily. So while her underlying issues had nothing to do with sex itself, the manifestation for her was a sex addiction. She wanted the sex and went out of her way to find it. She didn’t see the young men as individuals, but as means to the end of her gratification. But of course it wasn’t the sex she truly wanted–she just didn’t know that. Like all addicts.
      And thank you so much for this very brave and clear account of “real life” here. So well put–and so alarming for the mothers of young girls. What has really changed? Maybe only even more emphasis on sleeping around as a way of living.

      • Luanne, you provide a great clarification of how the sex was an addiction like so many other addictions. I know I struggle with he idea because of my own personal experiences, and because our society can be so unforgiving of women/girls who are perceived as promiscuous.

        • And sadly there are lovely young women in rehabs today for sex addiction, but at least those are the ones there getting help for their underlying issues.

  16. Thanks for this Luanne….just enough review to force me to add it to my collection.

Leave a Reply