It's a safe bet that copies of Restless Virgins, a new book about the Milton Academy, won't be handed out at this week's orientation at the elite coed prep school (tuition $38,275 a year). But students are sure to have copies of this racy tome squirreled away. The controversial book chronicles the school year of 2004-2005, when a sex scandal drew unwanted nationwide attention to the 200-year-old academy eight miles south of Boston. (Its famous alumni include Robert Kennedy, T.S. Eliot and James Taylor.) Five male students, all varsity hockey players, were caught receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old female student in the school locker room. Reports of other incidents involving some of the same students surfaced over the following weeks. The boys were all expelled. Three of them eventually apologized to the 15-year-old girl as part of a plea agreement that dismissed statutory rape charges after two years if they stayed out of trouble. After conducting hundreds of hours of interviews with Milton students, the authors say that the incidents were just the tip of the iceberg. Publishers Weekly sniffed at their efforts, calling the book "puerile." But sex sells. The book made it to the extended New York Times best-sellers list this week. TIME's publishing reporter Andrea Sachs spoke with the 26-year-old authors, Abigail Jones (Milton '99) and Marissa Miley (Milton '98).
TIME: In the Boston Globe, a couple of the kids who were interviewed said that they were sorry they participated in your book, because the book only focuses on sex, and they felt that they were deceived. How would you respond?
Marissa: Restless Virgins is a compassionate and honest narrative about real lives and experiences. We are so grateful and appreciative for the time and the thought that these students put into the book.
Abigail: Frankly, we're surprised to hear that some of the students we interviewed reacted that way. We were upfront about what the book was about. We really went in to try to portray real life. We believe that these students are contributing to a larger conversation. We're really proud of our work, and we stand behind it 100%.
But what about the charge that the book is closer to soft porn than sociology?
Marissa: We presented what's real. The students are not in a vacuum, without going to class, without the pressures for college, issues with their parents. We put all those in there. But frankly, not to understand and to devote a lot of the book to the real concerns and everyday thoughts that these students were having, wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be real.
Abigail: Someone who's saying that Restless Virgins is soft porn, they're the person who needs to read the book. They're our audience. That's the evidence that there needs to be more conversation about this.
Marissa: Our book isn't soft porn, but the acts are more than soft porn. They're very pornographic in nature.
Abigail: Right. The goal here was to portray what was real. This book is nonfiction. We didn't make anything up. Couldn't!
How did the two of you come to write this book together?
Abigail: When this came out, we read the articles and we were shocked. We looked at each other, and we thought, Do you remember this going on in high school? And we didn't. The sex acts themselves seemed more extreme than we remembered. We asked ourselves, How much has changed since we were in high school? At that time, we weren't even a decade out from Milton. So we asked ourselves, What is it like to be in high school today?
Is this just an aberration, or does it speak to a national trend?
Marissa: It's certainly not an aberration. We found that many girls and boys in our research were engaging in sex of a very casual nature. Certainly, nationwide, the statistics and studies show that this is not an aberration either, with over half of teenagers in the U.S. between 15 to 19 engaging in oral sex, [according] to a CDC study.
Did the boys in this case received a fair punishment?
Abigail: That was the law in Massachusetts, so there's really nothing we can say about that. I think we are really interested here in opening up conversations about teenage sexual experiences and social pressures. What are the motivations behind why these boys engaged in the acts? A lot of what we found was that, among some of the guys we interviewed, there's this desire to get a story, to get a hook-up story, from a girl or from multiple girls. So there's that motivation. At the same time, we talked with other guys who, when commenting on the sex scandal and those five hockey players, said, "Maybe they felt pressure to be involved from other guys."
What about the fact that the boys were punished, but the girl wasn't?
Marissa: That was really a complicated [issue] within the Milton community. The student body was split: The boys should have been expelled; they shouldn't have been. The girl was at fault; the girl was a victim.
What's your definition of a "restless virgin"?
Abigail: We think that every teenager is virginal. They're virgins in life; they're having all new experiences. And they're restless for all of these experiences. So it's not strictly just about sex.
What was the impact of the scandal on students?
Marissa: It definitely had a tremendous impact on the students that were there. [But] many of the students we interviewed said that they were not shocked by what had happened.
Abigail: They thought it was gross, maybe.
Marissa: But they were not surprised. They had heard similar stories throughout their years in high school. The fact that it was so shocking to adults really was the point we wanted to explore. We found that there was not only a generational gap especially when we read the newspapers and letters to editors, and letters from the school but a generational chasm between what teenagers are doing, and what's going on in their real lives, and what parents and adults are aware of.
Abigail: Granted, not all of the students we interviewed are engaging in these extreme sex acts. Some students are in relationships there's a whole broad spectrum. But the reality for every parent is that if your teenager isn't engaging in this behavior, his or her friends are. And if his or her friends aren't, his or her classmates are.