NEW YORK – The FCC's censors might want to get out their red pens the next time women want to engage in "girl talk."
According to a study at Penn State University, young women speak more frequently and frankly about sex and sex-related subjects than young men do.
It's a definite challenge to the age-old image of locker-room banter versus the demure chatting of a knitting circle. Yet Eva Lefkowitz, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, said that the real world is much less like American Pie and more like The Sweetest Thing or a certain hit show on HBO.
"Movies generally portray college-age men talking about sex with each other frequently and openly. There are stereotypes of men in terms of 'lockerroom talk.' There are reports that men think about sex many more times a day than do women," Lefkowitz wrote in an e-mail interview. "The reason the TV show Sex in the City is considered so groundbreaking is that it actually shows women talking about sex."
Lefkowitz conducted her study over three months among 124 women and 81 men between 18 to 25 and focused on how the subjects communicated with their same-sex friends.
It found that women talked more frequently than men about sexual matters including sexual behavior, sexual feelings, dating and romantic relationships, "making out," the dangers of sex, abstinence, how attractive members of the other sex were, how attractive they themselves were, date rape and contraception.
The findings were published last month in the paper "Communication with Friends about Sex-Related Topics During the Transition to Adulthood."
"If parents (particularly mothers) talk about sex more with their daughters than with their sons, women may learn to discuss these issues more openly and frequently than men," she wrote. "This experience may then translate into women's friendships in young adulthood."
The only topic that men discussed more than women did: masturbation.
"My hunch would be that, first, there's evidence that men masturbate more than women so there is more experience with masturbation to begin with," she wrote. "Also, female masturbation may be more of a taboo subject in our society than male masturbation ('nice girls' don't do that)."
The data might be more valuable than simple blind-date small talk, Lefkowitz said. Women could be going into relationships with a lot more experience talking about sexual issues than their mates, meaning that there would be an unequal level of comfort in the relationship.
But none of the study's results particularly shocked or titillated some twentysomethings.
"We talk openly about orgasms, about what works and what doesn't," 27-year-old freelance editor Lauren Neefe said. "It's not so much about whether I had sex last night, but I like to talk frankly about sex … and I think you have to talk openly about it to make (a relationship) work."
Holly Rich, 28, a buzz marketer, said that she can't talk to all women as openly, but "once the floodgates are open, there's no holding back."
"I have very close friends who I'm surprised don't want to know anything about my bedroom life, and I have friends who want to go into every last detail," she said.
"It's about becoming a more complete person, and sexuality is a part of it. You talk about eating healthy, exercising; being healthy sexually is just another aspect of that."
Predictably more reticent about the subject was 27-year-old Web designer Brian Miksic, who never spoke to his parents about sex at all while growing up in Milwaukee.
"I don't talk about it with anybody," he said.
And when he does, he said it's more about the relationship than about the sex itself.
"It's usually about the meanings behind it, like what does it mean, what's going to happen next," he said, sounding increasingly embarrassed by the subject. "I rarely talk about actual acts. I just don't think it's anybody's business."