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Psychology book award goes to new faculty member

October 3, 2003

Image of the front cover of Tolman's "Dilemmas of Desire"A groundbreaking book on teenage girls and sexuality by new faculty member Deborah L. Tolman, professor of human sexuality studies, has received the 2003 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology.

The book, "Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality," was published by Harvard University Press late last year while Tolman was a senior research scientist and associate director at Wellesley College's Center for Research on Women. She joined the SFSU faculty at the start of the fall semester.

The award honors a work that makes significant and substantial contributions to research and theory advancing the understanding of the psychology of women, gender issues and sex roles. Tolman will receive the award at the annual meeting of the Association for Women in Psychology in February.

"Dilemmas of Desire" is designed for use by practitioners in such fields as psychiatry, adolescent psychology and human sexuality. It is based on extensive interviews with adolescent girls in urban and suburban settings on their feelings about and experiences of their own sexuality.

Through the book Tolman helps shed light on how teenage girls struggle during a time when cultural messages often portray them as the object of someone else's desire. But girls are virtually never depicted as someone with acceptable sexual feelings of their own, she says.

Tolman said her research looks at how a double standard continues to exist. Society assumes and approves of the burgeoning sexuality in boys, she says, yet frowns at its equivalent in girls. That dichotomy leads girls to experience their sexuality as a dilemma.

"This research underscores the importance of both boys and girls knowledge about and respect of girls' own sexual feelings and the need for girls to have a vocabulary larger than just 'no' to facilitate communication in their adolescent relationship and enable them to make healthy sexual choices," Tolman said. "Girls -- and boys -- deserve comprehensive sexuality education and supportive adults who can help them navigate this challenging time in their development."

A nationally known expert on adolescent sexuality, Tolman, who earned her doctorate in human development and psychology from Harvard University Graduate School of Education, joins one of the country's top academic programs in human sexuality studies at SFSU and one of the few universities to offer a master's degree in this multidisciplinary field.

Tolman, who founded the Gender and Sexuality Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women, will teach courses at SFSU on developmental perspectives in human sexuality, bio-psycho-social dimensions of human sexuality, adolescent sexuality and research methods in human sexuality.

At SFSU She will continue her research work on adolescent sexuality and female sexuality. She will be starting and directing a new research center as part of the Institute on Sexuality, Social Inequality and Health, currently comprised of the National Sexuality Resource Center and the Human Sexuality Studies' Summer Institute.

She is now transitioning to SFSU her own research program on adolescent sexuality development, the role of gender in adolescent relationships and the impact of television on adolescent sexuality, funded by the National Institute on Child Health and Development and the Ford Foundation.

-- Ted DeAdwyler


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Last modified October 3, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs