The major subject of this novel is teenage sexuality. The sexual language of the novel is graphic. The sexual scenes are slightly vague about details, but they are nonetheless realistic. The sexual act is described in open terms. The book was written in the midst of the so-called sexual revolution of the 1970s, when young people were attempting to throw off limiting social rules that, on the surface, demanded that girls remain virgins, while they gave boys permission to act out sexually. As Katherine's mother suggests, there were two types of girls: those who remained virgins were the ones the boys wanted to marry; those who had sex were dated for fun but did not get married. That was the dichotomy that dominated Katherine's mother's time, but it was not necessarily the reality, and the sexual revolution of the 1970s generation brought the truth closer to the surface, as does Blume's book.
There are different attitudes toward sex in this novel. Sybil, who is described as having a poor self-concept, uses sexuality to feel loved and to gain affection from boys. She does so unwisely, and this, Blume points out, is not a good idea no matter what generation a person belongs to. Sybil does not think highly enough of herself to protect herself, and she ends up pregnant.
Erica, a friend of the protagonist, does not believe that people have to be emotionally invested in order to have sex. Sex, to Erica, is a dramatic experience. Erica is eager to gain the knowledge that a sexual encounter affords. Her relationship with Artie, however, is too challenging for her. The topic of male impotence is discussed in connection to Artie. Erica mistakenly believes that if she can attract him, she can cure him. Artie's problem goes too deep, though, and Erica's attempts only make the matter worse. She does not understand the psychological implications in Artie's inability to have an erection.
Michael is more experienced than Erica or Katherine, but not by much. He had one other sexual partner before he met Katherine. Michael did not even know the girl's last name, so apparently he felt no particular commitment to his first partner. Michael wanted to have a sexual encounter, and the unnamed girl was available. But she was a bit too available as the story implies, and Michael receives a sexually transmitted disease in the process.
Katherine is a virgin like Erica. It is through Katherine's relationship with Michael that the story develops. Katherine is rational about engaging in sexual intercourse. At one point, she is so rational that she understands that despite the fact that her body physically longs for the sexual act, her mind is not ready. Katherine also wants the experience to amount to more than just physical satisfaction. She wants to feel something exceptional on an emotional level, too. She wants her first sexual experience to be with a special person. She could have had a sexual (or physical) experience with her previous boyfriend, Tommy Aronson,...
(The entire section is 1,379 words.)