i believe you. it’s not your fault

Posted: September 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm

“A Cool Girl” excerpt from Loose Girl as part of Lindy West’s important tumblr

Fire Island 19


Posted: March 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

I curated a fantastic anthology about women’s complicated relationship to shopping. SO EXCITED. The cover is a stunner, and the writing is even better. Please pre-order here! It will be out October 28.

Isn't it pretty?

Psychology Today blog post: Romancing your Pain

Posted: March 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm

A client told me about a situation recently in which her boyfriend became less available to her for a week or so, and then the following week he was back to his usual level of accessibility. She confessed that she spent the week he was occupied miserable and desperate. She sent him texts and called him, devastated that he seemed to be going away.

“I’m going to push him away,” she told me.

We discussed what happened, how she went down a rabbit hole of fear, based on pain she carries with her, pain about abandonment, and pain that has nothing to do with her boyfriend. What my client did that week was romance her pain. She caressed and held her pain while her pain did the equivalent of saying, see? No one loves us. Everyone leaves us. I knew he’d leave us too. She fed it. She bought it drink after drink. She nodded along and wiped its tears. And she held back its hair while it got sick.

She romanced her pain.

So many of us do it.

For many, it’s old habit. It’s the path of least resistance. And it’s also a great way to avoid responsibility. If you romance your pain rather than simply feel it, own it, and allow it to move through you, then you are allowing it to be much more powerful than it need be.

Listen, you’re entitled to your pain. I said this to my client too. You’re entitled to how painful that old sense of abandonment feels. But it wasn’t her boyfriend’s pain. He hadn’t caused it. He didn’t have to carry it for her. He didn’t even need to acknowledge it. Someday, maybe, if they decided to make a more long-term commitment, if they got to know one another more intimately, she might teach him about her pain, she might say, “When you don’t call me for two days, my old pain creeps up. It would help me if you could just check in, or if I text you, you could say, ‘I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.’” That would be a nice thing for him to do. It would be loving, the sort of thing people who love each other do for one another because they don’t want them to hurt, and when they know that the other person is not going to make them responsible for their pain.

I have written before about how easy it is to be in love with our pain. There’s something about it, isn’t there? It’s so comforting, so familiar. It affirms our belief systems, even when they are skewed and self-harming. I like to think of my pain sometimes as a figure, a dark passenger, to use Dexter’s phrase. Sometimes, I want to make love to it. It is so needy, so desperate, and also so powerful. It is like every bad boy I’ve ever loved. But, I don’t let myself do that for long anymore.

It’s important to think about your relationship to your pain. Do you enable it? Do you wrestle with it? Each moment that brings it to the surface demands a different relationship, but most often, the best thing to do is to treat it like a small child that needs love. Sometimes, I imagine holding it, almost like that tired cliché of the inner child. But it helps. And then it quiets down and I can tuck it into bed and it leaves me be for awhile. I don’t avoid it anymore, like I did when I was younger and using men to feel better about myself. I also don’t hand it over to my husband, telling him he has to stop doing what he’s doing to make it feel better.

It’s my pain. You have yours too. We all must learn to be with it. We don’t have to love it, although sometimes we love it a little too much. But we do have to learn to carry it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Loose Girls

Posted: October 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Some people have taken issue with my use of the phrase ‘loose girls.’ I understand the trouble. It has an obvious negative connotation. The assumption, of course, is that if a girl is ‘loose’ and has lots ofsex with lots of people, then she’s a bad person, a slut. It’s not new information that our culture works hard to shame girls who express their sexuality, and girls and women, maybe even more than boys and men, put that pressure to be “good” and chaste on one another.

When I wrote my memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity about the decades I spent giving my body over to boys and men in a desperate plea for attention, I didn’t have any of these thoughts in mind. I wasn’t thinking about connotations, or whether girls should or shouldn’t be able to have sex whenever and however they want. I didn’t think about feminism, although I was a feminist then, and still am now. I thought only about the feelings that had strangled me all those years, the many times I walked away from a boy, filled once more with shame, not because I had sex with him, but because of my neediness for him, because boys never ever seemed to need me the way I needed them. And the truth is, I didn’t need them. I needed love, yes. I needed attention. But it wasn’t for many years that I came to understand that the notion that a boy would fill me in those ways was a misguided fantasy. In the process, I didn’t almost die. I didn’t contract more than a couple treatable STDs. I never tried to give myself a back alley abortion. But I did get raped. I did lose the ability to differentiate all that much between the rape and the boys to whom I gave consent. I did give up dreams and interests and all of my self-respect in the hopes that just one boy would choose me and make me worthwhile as a result.

            Perhaps it’s not surprising to know that no one did. It wasn’t until I learned to separate my fantasies from reality, until I learned to see the person in front of me as a human being also with needs, not just someone there to serve me. It was a long road, but I got there eventually, and slowly, so very slowly, I learned to have real intimacy.

The many girls and women – and even men – who have contacted me since the book came out didn’t think of connotations either. They weren’t concerned with whether I was fighting to either make sure girls could have sex or to try to stop them. They simply connected with my story. They saw themselves in it. They said, “This is my story too.”

So, I’m often confused critics get upset that I would even write such a book, that I would call those of us who struggled in this particular way with boys and men ‘loose girls.’ Why would it ever be a bad thing to share an emotional truth that so many others needed to hear too?

Recently I posted a “Loose Girl Assessment” to my counseling website. An acquaintance wrote me, “Oh, maybe I qualify as a loose girl because I had fun sleeping with lots of men before I got married.” I wrote back, “If you had fun, you weren’t a loose girl.” And that, my friends, is the distinction.

Autistic Carpool

Posted: October 10, 2013 at 10:42 am

For those unaware, I have a blog about my adventures with the carpool that takes Ezra and two of his classmates to their autism-only school. See it here!

Interview series about Seeing Ezra

Posted: June 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

Seeing Ezra interview 1

Seeing Ezra interview series 2

Seeing Ezra interview series 3

Seeing Ezra interview series 4

My piece about fathers and sexualization

Posted: June 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

At Role/Reboot

Dear women of the world…

Posted: April 28, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Dear women of the world: please, PLEASE stop projecting your stuff onto me just because I write about things that wind up making you feel bad. I never wanted to make you feel bad. I wanted you (or your friend, if not you) feel seen. I’m not trying to hurt you. Please stop trying to hurt me. Signed, just another woman like you.

New Psychology Today Blog post: “There Is No Getting Past It”: What Can A Teenager Do About Regretful Texts

Posted: March 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

“There Is No Getting Past It”: What Can A Teenager Do About Regretful Sexts?

Know it gets better. It does.
Published on March 12, 2012 by Kerry Cohen in Loose Girl

When Ben asked Jenna to send him pictures, she did. It started with her chest, clothed, then unclothed. Then her entire body, first in bra and underwear, then nude. She examined the final one before she sent it off – a body with a head cut off, like a manikin, like a doll. A body that could be anyone’s. A sinking feeling started in her stomach, but she sent it anyway.

Later, discussing it with me, she identified why it felt so bad. She had agreed to send the photos to Ben because she wanted to feel special. She wanted him to like her, to want her, to acknowledge her. But if the photo of her body could have been anyone’s, what was she really getting?

Predictably, Ben shared the photos with his friends. He denied it to Jenna at first, but soon it became obvious that kids all over school had seen them. Head cut off or not, everyone knew it was Jenna. Ben started avoiding her, laughing with his friends about it when she walked by. The people she had thought were her friends turned on her. They called her “slut,” “whore,” and a slew of other names she didn’t want to recount for me. It was too painful to talk about at this point. She just wanted it to go away.

She made a bad mistake, one she regretted. She knew she shouldn’t have sent the photos. She’d been educated like everyone else about what could happen. But in her teenage mind she thought this would be different. She thought Ben really liked her. And she was desperate for someone to like her in that way. She wanted to feel the intoxication she felt every time he told her how sexy she was, how hot, how much he wanted her. Jenna didn’t need anymore admonishing. She didn’t need to hear again that she shouldn’t have done it, that it was a stupid move. She knew that. No one knew it better than her.

Jenna’s story could be so many girls’ stories. They made a terrible mistake. They know this. Now what? What can girls do after the fact, when it’s too late, when the photos can’t be taken back? The bottom line is that there is no easy way out. “There is no getting past it,” as Jenna said. But there are small things girls (and their parents) can do to cushion the blow a little bit.

Spend some time determining what was behind your behavior. Why did you do it? Jenna understood that she did it because she was desperate to be wanted by a boy in this way. Your reasons may be similar, or they may not be. Whatever the reasons, be compassionate with yourself. Be kind. Beneath those reasons are probably more difficult ones: you don’t feel loved. You don’t feel seen. You don’t feel worthwhile or special or real. Find out what that underlying belief is that led you to send the photos and care for yourself. Don’t let yourself live inside the shame of what you did. It will get you nowhere. You’ll never feel better that way. Be good to yourself right now.

Figure out who your real friends are and lean on them. Amid those who are scared to be your friend now are also some gems that can put their own concerns aside and genuinely care about you. I know there are. People are good. Lots of teenagers know how to be there for their friends. Seek these friends out. Admit your mistake. Talk about your feelings. Tell them why you think you made the bad choice.

When people call you names like “slut” and “whore” they are bullying. They are “slut-shaming” (perpetuating cultural limitations put on girls by shaming you for your sexual behavior). They are the ones in the wrong. You made a mistake. You are admitting that mistake. But now they are the ones making bad choices. At least when you made your mistake, you only hurt yourself. They are choosing to hurt someone else. We can’t know for sure why they do this – perhaps it is to establish that they are not you. They are not sluts, by God. Perhaps they do it because they are afraid that what’s happened to you would happen to them. There is something sad about bullying, don’t you think? They have to put you down because they don’t have the confidence to feel okay about themselves unless they clarify that they are not you, not you, not you. I’m not saying you have to feel bad for them. But don’t let them touch you. Don’t allow their insecurities to determine who you are. You made a mistake. They’ve made plenty of mistakes, too. We all have. At least you are admitting yours.

Talk to a trusted adult about what you did and why. Ideally, this adult is your parent, but there are other adults out there who can help: school counselors, teachers, other friends’ parents. An adult can help you talk through what’s happened and determine a plan of action to deal with the repercussions. For instance, you can start a campaign to help keep other girls from making the same mistake. You can offer to peer counsel other girls. The possibilities are endless.

Know it gets better. It does. Right now, your social life at school feels so important. It feels like everything that matters. But you will grow up. You will move on from high school. You will move away, go to college, travel…the world is so much bigger than this one mistake. Whatever happens, don’t allow this to determine the rest of your life. If you take on the feelings that led you to send the photos, you’ll make better choices in the future. Better things are coming. I promise.

My It Happened to Me on

Posted: November 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Warning: might be triggering for some.

It Happened to Me: I Had a Golden Shower