Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things

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Release Date: 
July 1, 2013
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“. . . anxiety-riddled comic glory . . .”

Ashley Cardiff’s memoir isn’t just about her own sexual anxiety and her experiences growing up, but about ours as well. Reading the pages of Ms. Cardiff’s memoir compels the reader to remember her own early, often awkward, experiences by recognizing her past teenage and young adult self’s unspoken but valid fears about what’s going on “down there.”

Sexual anxiety is not exclusively a female subject, and many men will relate with their own memories of naiveté, precociousness, and/or terror.

Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things ranges in topics such as Ms. Cardiff’s childhood during which she drew angry sexually explicit pictures in order to raise her grandmother’s ire (and get booted out of Bible study): “The offending portion of the image showed the pilot, lifeless in the waters, missing approximately half of himself as two pirhana [sic] fought over his genitals.”

The pictures were of television shows with biblical messages, and the children in the Bible study were meant to illustrate what they had learned. Ms. Cardiff was not raised in any religion and only attended the Bible study as her father’s agreement with the grandmother in exchange for free babysitting.

One of the memoir’s funniest anecdotes is “The Time I Attended an Orgy.” An awkward teenager, Ms. Cardiff is invited by the cool girls to a “study session,” which turns out to be code for orgy with the hot boy from class.

“I handed [Tiffany] my backpack, weighed down with textbooks and flash cards and binders and even a stapler because you never know, etc.

[Tiffany] looked momentarily confused. ‘Did you bring toys?’ . . . ‘vibrators, dildos, anal beads, handcuffs?’
‘. . . What?’
. . . ‘You didn’t think I meant we were going to actually, like, read textbooks, right?’
. . . I laughed extra long to buy some time. I could hear my heart beating between my ears. They were going to have sex with him! All at once! With me.
. . . she held up the backpack again, ‘did you bring anything?’
I nodded frantically. ’Yeah, totally. I have, like . . . four . . . anal beads in there.’
She looked confused, lifting the bulging pack and shaking it, trying to determine how it could be so heavy.
I nodded urgently. ‘They’re huge.’”

Ms. Cardiff speaks candidly about her own experiences; nonetheless, her salacious details may not meet the expectations some readers prefer in such memoirs.

Yet she does often discuss her relationships with her various boyfriends—everything from “the Mormon” with who experienced tremendous sexual guilt to a boyfriend of four years who cheated on her through texts and online chat, by sharing explicit photos of himself with strangers.

She is, at least, able to find humor in each situation. Laughter is the best medicine.

The earliest chapters about Ms. Cardiff’s childhood hook the reader, bringing her along for the rest of the trip including through some discomfiting chapters, such as “So You’ve Caused an Abortion.”

Ms. Cardiff recalls a college dare, innocent in its stupidity, in which Ms. Cardiff gives a young man (in the process of making out with his girlfriend) a condom, after being egged on by friends, and tells the young man to “seal the deal.”

At a party, long after this incident, the young man confronts Ms. Cardiff and accuses her of being responsible for his girlfriend’s abortion. The man says he knew nothing about sex and the condom broke leading to the unwanted pregnancy.

When dealing with the topic of masturbation and sexual fantasies, Ms. Cardiff comes across as somewhat ignorant and it can be difficult to tell if she’s speaking tongue in cheek; one hopes she is, otherwise this book loses most of its appeal and makes Ms. Cardiff less sympathetic with her readers by placing herself on a pedestal from whence she judges.

The chapter “Sexual Fantasies” is about masturbation, which Ms. Cardiff claims she never does though having tried once or twice, unsuccessfully to do so. At issue is that she judges what she has little experience with and paints an ugly portrait of the person who does self-pleasure with a hunched back and gritted teeth and calls said person desperate.

While she attempts humor and claims she’s fascinated by such people, she is clearly disgusted by the idea. It is a shame this particular chapter is in this otherwise enjoyable book. Those who do suffer with sexual anxiety will only feel it more keenly under Ms. Cardiff’s glare.

With anecdotes and satire, Night Terrors reads a bit like comedian Dennis Miller’s rants: clever, honest, and satiric. The rants often end on a humorous observation, or “moral” to the tale, following the dark moment of the tale itself.

Ms. Cardiff’s chapters stand alone in anxiety-riddled comic glory, whether approaching topics such as homophobia or infidelity; however, Night Terrors can be a bit much to read in one sitting: the sexual humor and anxiety’s repetitiveness grows tiresome.

Overall, Night Terrors could have benefitted from a few less dramatic flourishes, but is still enjoyable as a memoir.