I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein‘s book, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. Whoa. Parents, listen up. Whether you have a son or a daughter, you NEED to know what sexual life is like for your teenagers and college students. Moreover, we NEED (!) to help empower and support our kids through this intense, not-so-brave new world.
Because it’s a different game now. The bases have changed. And they’re loaded.
And what doesn’t help? Parental silence, classroom moralizing, and media distortion.
This book is a sex education about what’s happening and how to parent accordingly.
Honestly, I got a stomach ache from reading a lot of this book — it’s not pretty. But it’s happening. And my daughters need me to know. They need me (not their friends, not Scarleteen, Go Ask Alice! or Sex, Etc.) to discuss everything with them. Without judgement or shame. But with honesty and curiosity.
Review of Girls and Sex: Updated Sex Information and Education for Parents
Orenstein writes about teens and college age students, “They all, however, had to negotiate the culture of casual sex, whether they participated in it own not. They all had to find comfortable ground in a culture that was simultaneously fun and antagonistic, carefree yet riddled with risk.” (105)
Because there’s SO much shaming going on, (name calling like “prude” and “slut”) peer pressure, regrets, bad decisions . . . the list goes on and on. This affects all kids.
One of the most important points Orenstein makes that many strong, independent young women DO NOT REALIZE that they CAN and SHOULD stand up for themselves. They are being passive, not assertive, with boys.
So as parents, we need to help our daughters and sons with communication skills. Girls must understand that if a boy isn’t stopping when a girls says “no” that it’s okay to hurt his feelings, to not be nice, and to not worry if the boy will like you.
One girl interviewed said, “I guess no one ever told me that the strong female image also applies to sex.” (52)
Girls are growing “more accustomed to coercion and discomfort” with sex. They are “afraid to say “no” lest they seem uptight.” (Again with the judgement and shaming.)
Tell your sons and daughters that “any good lover is a good listener. And a bad listener is at best a bad lover and at worst a rapist.” (221)
Tell your sons and daughters that their partners deserve “esteem and generosity, just as people do in any human interaction.” (134)
Pleasurable and Positive
Not to mention, girls (and boys) need to know that sexual experiences are supposed to be positive and pleasurable for BOTH people. Not just the boy.
Boys and girls need to know that sexual encounters emulating porn are not pleasurable for women.
“When do we talk to girls about desire and pleasure?” wonders Orenstein “. . . no wonder boys’ physical needs seem inevitable to teens while girls’ are, at best, optional.” (56)
Girls surveyed “talked about pain. But they also talked about feeling degraded and depressed. Not a single man surveyed expressed similar feelings.” (65)
We could educate kids about masturbation and that sex (of any kind) should feel good. (This includes all sexual encounters including oral and anal; anal because it’s becoming a new and common thing with this generation.)
“What if understanding one’s own physical responses, truly “expressing your sexuality” instead of just impersonating sexiness, could actually raise girls’ expectations of intimate encounters? What if self-knowledge encouraged them to hold a higher standard for their experiences . . . ” (66)
“So how girls feel about “down there” matters. It matters a lot.” (60)
Coercion and Consent
Ornstein shares many instances of girls doing things for the boys or just hoping it will be over soon, not expecting that it’s supposed to be an experience between two people, and not all about the boy.
She writes that boys use a lot of guilt tactics, compliments, and flattery –which often work to get the girl to participate. (P.S. Girls are falling for the blue ball myth often so dispel this when you can.)
Parents of boys, please discuss coercion and consent. Our silence could affect the lives of girls.
Most of the girls interviewed talked about how before a “hookup” (sex with a random person without a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship) that they would drink alcohol. Usually a lot of alcohol. The girls interviewed said that the hook-up would be awkward without being drunk.
(Doesn’t that make you think twice about doing it?)
As parents, we need to educate our kids what alcohol does to the body and decision making. Share that girls metabolize alcohol faster than boys and that “with alcohol and drugs you’re surrendering power.” (220)
Let’s help our kids understand that “alcohol reduces your ability to recognize and escape a dangerous situation.” (180)
“Alcohol is endemic to hookup culture. Hookups aren’t just lubricated by drinking; they are dependent on it.”
In different surveys about alcohol use and hookups — “one said 89% of college students get drunk before a random hookup, averaging four or more drinks each time” and another said “three quarters get drunk before hooking up with an acquaintance.” (112)
. . . “they’re also most likely to express regret after such experiences.” (112)
I hear that.
Acknowledge to your kids that you understand how getting loaded can seem like a good way to reduce social anxiety but . . . perhaps it’s overkill to do 6 shots in an hour, especially for a female’s metabolism.
Parents, tell your sons that drunk girls are not easy pickings, not a free pass to sex. That if there is any doubt about consent, don’t have sex. (Doesn’t this seem obvious. To drunk boys, it isn’t.)
With the popularity of social media, “young people have begun talking about the self as a brand rather than something to be developed from within.”(13) How do I look in this selfie?
“Self-objectification has been associated with depression, reduced cognitive function, lower GPA, distorted body image, body monitoring, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, and reduced sexual pleasure.” (6)
Therefore, it’s not much of a stretch go from self-objectifying to letting others objectify you.
Many girls interviewed shared that they saw the sexual act as a performance — what would the boy like? what would a porn star do now? They were totally disconnected from their feelings.
Why You Should Read This Book
There’s much more that you’ll find in Girls & Sex. I personally think it’s one of the most important books that parents of teens can and should read — especially parents of girls.
What Else You’ll Learn
You’ll learn about the contrast between Dutch parents and American parents.
You’ll learn about how by the legal definition of rape, all 70 of the girls interviewed had been raped. Then you’ll learn more about rape and rape culture.
You’ll learn what the bases are today — they are not what they were. And that’s totally disturbing.
You’ll learn how common oral sex is and anal. (I know!)
You’ll learn what Orenstein will tell her daughters about everything to do with sex.
You’ll learn about how from age 14 and up, a lot of girls are removing all hair down there.
(Oh, one thing not covered in this book was STDs . ‘Cause eeew. I’m especially puzzled about this and want to know why it’s not a deciding factor in people’s hooking up, particularly with oral sex.)
All in all, I think that armed with this information, we can make a positive difference in our children’s lives.
I’m with you. It’s hard. But we can do this.