On a conservative Christian college campus, the numbers of sexual assault and rape cases climbed in the 2016-17 academic year, the same year that The New York Times bestseller By the Way, Meet the Porn Star was published to widespread outrage. Now, their college goth chick brethren are also joining the pageant at a heavily male bastion where sexual violence is also rampant.
In their return to college, the reigning queen of student activism, Tessa, decides it’s time to help the new freshmen unpack their like-minded collectivity. Tessa is part of an odd circle of the precocious, studious, flirtatious and sometimes debauched. Trish is “frustrated by how passionately so many of her friends wanted to love and live with men while thinking that their own feelings were strange and unjustified,” while Penthouse Pet Lexi is the innocent who regrets getting into Playboy when she loses her virginity.
“The Sex Lives of College Girls” is based on the memoir of a group of L.A. girls who sought fame and notoriety in the adult entertainment industry before matriculating from Occidental College in California. All of them landed it, but more important, their survival skills are invaluable when alpha males become alpha leaders.
This foursome does good deeds for an ailing professor, populates the sorority sister calendar with naked women, and “learns what it’s like to be impressed by the life choices of other women,” as the debut novel opens.
“The Sex Lives of College Girls” collects an anthology of diverse, outspoken women that better represent the diversity of students on today’s campuses than if they’d populated a time machine. These women’s choices do not allow them to “embrace and refine” a straitlaced adult life that they used to abhor when “in theory, college girls want to just live and let live,” as Penthouse Pet Lexi observes. But doing good work also helps them get through a crushing roommate search, and their creative circles have them exploring various sexuality from the past. Their meta-narrative reveals how a fan’s flip-book of several of their experiences with BDSM in an adult film is an academic project first.
The sex scenes are generally (as in any first novel), not graphic. With the exception of a somewhat lengthy depiction of bondage, each of the lives is relatively tasteful. The themes are generally less wince-inducing.
Author Trisha Ziff’s exuberant, energetic dialogue is at its best when she’s expressing ideas, or speaking the words aloud to make them real. She uses extreme freedom as a metaphor for unbridled youthful enthusiasm. It’s not the subtlest book in terms of exposition. But it offers fresh takes on familiar truths.
“Why are we opposed to this, when the shame and guilt and repression of adolescence has led to a desperate form of ‘self-indulgence,’ a world of hurt? Why is it the opposite of bravery to admit that we don’t know when it’s time to stop, and that we should stop anyway?” asks Penthouse Pet Lexi.