Karen Owen had sex with 13 guys at Duke University. She kept scrupulous notes about her activities. She gossiped about it with girlfriends. Then it leaked all over the Internet.
As the media went overboard, they overlooked key issues regarding sex, privacy and pleasure.
Karen had sex with 13 men.
Whether she had one man or 40 is irrelevant — so long as they are all of legal age and consent.
Karen kept scrupulous notes about her activities. That’s what women do. Yes, gentlemen, we keep tabs on all of you. Twenty years later we still know your names’, your penis size and how many orgasms we had in your presence. No, you cannot claim credit for those orgasms. We must own our orgasms and allow them to happen. We’ll give you brownie points for good hygiene, grooming and diversity of touch.
Karen gossiped about it with girlfriends. It would not matter if she told three friends or intentionally e-mailed her entire address book. Now, what may matter here is Karen’s disrespect for confidentiality. If planning to put names on paper, it’s courteous to obtain informed consent before disclosing real identities. If her thesis was an actual academic work, breaching confidentiality would be the gravest of scientific sins.
If I were in Karen’s shoes, I might be inclined to tell you the juicy details of how I was seduced with a moonlit Pad Thai picnic atop Flagstaff last weekend, then aroused with light touches on the upper thigh, and then brought to orgasm with delicate and delicious finger maneuvering. But if I told you the name of the person who has incredible fingers, I’d be infringing on a person’s privacy — a considerable violation in any field (besides tabloid journalism).
Now, in this case, I’ve been given permission to publish the name … drum roll please … Dr. Jenni Skyler. Yes, I took myself on a date — and it was grand.
But Karen’s thesis was for recreational documentation. And thus, the only potential liability she carries would be a civil one should any of the said gentlemen decide to bring an individual case against her for defamation of small penis size or lack of adequate foreplay.
At the end of the day, Karen did a lot of kissing and a lot of telling. And though it’s poor etiquette to spread around the names and faces of the men in question, the media has exercised the worst of manners by shaming Karen for engaging in casual sex.
However, it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect young people to stifle their sexual energy. At puberty, we enter an important era of profound sexual changes in bodies and hormones. This is also a time when we give adolescents significant lessons about sex. But silence speaks volumes. “If I can’t learn about sex at home, I guess I’ll go learn about it elsewhere.” (Then they go searching the Internet to inquire about sex and stumble upon drunk college girls named Karen Owen.)
Add social and religious messages that forbid scratching your sexual itch until you get married, and you have a lot of frustration in a time when adolescents are most sexually aroused. Furthermore, some believe the hormones in today’s diet have pushed puberty even earlier, particularly for girls, adding another three to four years of abstinence. And those who postpone marriage to finish graduate school can look at another five to seven years of implied abstinence.
If Karen Owen lived 200 years ago, she would have already had a decade of childbearing. Just because we have culturally constructed a longer window of adolescence and young adulthood doesn’t mean our sexual hormones have gone hibernating as well. Yet no one is getting married at puberty, so thus is born “casual sex.” Yes, the quality of intimacy may be informal, but as long as it’s safe and in the name of “pleasure for both parties,” then it can be chalked up to practice and finding one’s sexual sea legs.
These are key years of sexual exploration and expression for Karen and her generational cohorts. If I was on her faux thesis committee, I’d certainly make her conceal the names of her sexual subjects, but I would give her an A for exploring her own sexual pleasure.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.