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Judy Blume and Lena Dunham on What It’s Like to be Pioneers in Sexual Frankness

Judy Blume and Lena Dunham on What It's Like to be Pioneers in Sexual Frankness

Lena Dunham and Judy Blume interviewed each other for a book called Judy Blume and Lena Dunham in Conversation: Two Cultural Icons Discuss Writing, Feminism, Censorship, Sex, and a Sixth-Grade Literary Hoax which is available for free with a subscription or renewal to The Believer magazine.  

The two women are one another’s fans. As McSweeney’s notes, “Dunham grew up reading Blume’s coming-of-age books like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Summer Sisters — the latter of which helped to inspire Dunham’s wildly popular HBO show, Girls. Blume says she loves Dunham’s show because she ‘never had that experience of being a young woman living on her own,’ and watching Girls means getting ‘to live it vicariously.'”

Blume and Dunham have in common their trailblazing work in introducing greater frankness about women’s sexuality and bodies in media aimed at (though not exclusive for) girls and young women. Blume has broached topics like menstruation, masturbation, and losing one’s virginity in her YA books, while the radicalness in Girls lies in Dunham’s embrace of her own un-modelesque physique and her exploration of the many different ways sex can go awry.

In an excerpt of the book hosted by the AV Club, the two writers discuss what it’s like being pioneers of sexual frankness. Apparently, it involves listening to a lot of intimate stories from fans and acquaintances: 

Lena Dunham: I get a lot of unasked-for sexual confessions. Have you got a lot of those in your day because of what you do and your books?

Judy Blume: They’re probably different from yours, but yes, especially when everybody wrote by hand. Email is just not the same. Do you get this stuff by email?

LD: I get some papers — again, the letters from the men in prison come on paper — but I do occasionally…. But did children and adolescents say to you, “I’m having this experience, I’m starting to dip my toe in the sexual waters?” Do people respond to Forever like, “Here’s how it went with my first boyfriend?”

JB: Yes, sometimes. But not so much sexually explicit stuff. It’s more about their regrets at having done it. Especially girls who did it to keep a boyfriend. Their disappointments. One young man wrote to say he was thinking of killing himself when his girlfriend broke up with him, but Forever helped him see that life goes on.

LD: Well, that’s good. It’s better that way, it really is. Basically, my new litmus test for people is like, in the first ten minutes of us talking, do they make me hear about a blow job they gave? And if they didn’t, then I can feel… It’s not that I don’t want to hear about that stuff, I just don’t want to hear about it immediately. I want to hear about it on more-comfortable terms.

As a writer, an association with “controversial” material can be a burden. Blume’s had her share of her books being banned by libraries, while Dunham’s nudity on Girls and her focus on the sexual evolutions of her characters have been met with accusations of narcissism and triviality. It’s too bad they’ve had to deal with too-familiar fans, though in the context of their work, greater honesty is perhaps preferable to the alternative. 

Later in the same excerpt, Dunham and Blume discuss blow jobs, “heavy petting,” and twerking — an act that, unsurprisingly, doesn’t faze Blume in the least. 

McSweeneys offers a different excerpt of the book with the two writers talking about books from Blume’s favorite childhood books (they’re not what you’d think). 

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