Her First Time, and The Times After That
I listened to a TedTalk yesterday about female sexuality, specifically in young girls, and it made me sad because to everything Peggy Orenstein said I nodded my head like "Yep, exactly true. Yep, yep, yep."
I've been racking my brain since on whether I should speak up about it. Hey, I've got a blog—that's enough authority to speak about this, right?
Where do I even begin? I'll start with throwing my mother under the bus. (Sorry.) I became sexually active in high school and that seemed to be the important thing in a relationship at that age. Not an emotional connection (because let's be honest, 15 year-olds are not capable of being in healthy, functional relationships) so the sex was the point.
It was almost like we girls wanted to get it out of the way so we could say we did it and move on. Like getting access to a secret club that I thought would be serving chocolate cake on edible chocolate plates when really I was given a Hershey's bar, a pat on the back, and then it's onto the next thing I can "achieve" or "get over with". (I just made up that terrible analogy.)
"I just kept coming back to the idea that [a girl's] early sexual experience shouldn't have to be something they get over" - Orenstein
I told my mom what I was doing with my boyfriend and her response was "You're too young to be doing that!" Sheer horror. And what I thought was going to be an open discussion ended very abruptly. I never mentioned anything about my sexual life again to my parents (like hell I'd ever talk to my dad about anything.) Being told "You're too young!" wasn't going to stop me from doing it, it only stopped me from being open about it.
Most girls get a pregnancy scare at least once in their lives and instead of being comfortable enough to tell their parents, they rely on friends who know nothing more about it than what they saw on an episode of Degrassi. It's both a horrific moment and almost a right of passage to go to the pharmacy with an escort of friends to buy the pregnancy test. (Those things are so fucking expensive.)
We're terrified of being pregnant but we're also terrified of letting the world know we've had sex. It feels like 100% our responsibility and 100% our fault. Orenstein notes that through her research she's discovered that girls rarely experience pleasure and are more concerned with pleasuring their partner. It's almost like their pleasure is not as valuable as their male partner's. Or that how well they pleasure their partner defines their value. I've noticed girls gauging how sweet and kind a guy is by whether or not he pleasures her in the bedroom, as if guys like that are a rare find.
It's no one's fault. Boys aren't evil, they're just as clueless as girls are about sexuality. But girls need to be taught to communicate their desires and be taught not to settle for less than equal respect. Girls also need to be taught to punch a guy in the face if they whine about vaginas being gross. It's fucking damaging for a girl to hear.
"kids go into their puberty education classes and they learn that boys have erections and ejaculations, and girls have periods and unwanted pregnancy."
We're thrown condoms, birth control, and STD pamphlets. No one talks about female sexual pleasure in school. No one tells us how we can experience it, we just have to learn from first thinking there's something wrong with us, then asking friends, and then, of course, Googling it.
I'm so grateful that my mom took me to see a gynecologist when I was 15. Maybe that's a bit too young, but I was shocked to find girl friends at 18 who still hadn't seen a gynecologist. It doesn't matter if you're sexually active or not, you should regularly see a doctor who specializes in your reproductive system.
When us girls were getting sexual experiences "over with" in high school, we'd come back from most experiences relieved, ashamed, or superficially confident. When was the last time you saw a girl or a woman say to her friends "I totally did that guy last night!" *High fives all around* Yeah, it doesn't happen.
I know we've all heard this question before but I'll ask it again: Why are sexually active girls "sluts"? We've acknowledged the question but we still haven't fixed the problem.
"While young women might feel entitled to engage in sexual behavior, they don't necessarily feel entitled to enjoy it."
I was emotionally abused in a relationship for being sexually active to the point where my ex partner had convinced me that I was a bad person before I met him. He made me want to re-do my entire life just to come back to that moment and not be a slut—a skank—in his eyes. I had to plead for him to believe that I'd changed. I was lying to him and, worst of all, I was lying to myself because I didn't change. I never needed to change. There was nothing wrong with me. (I can't tell you how freeing it is to write this right now.)
I know it's awkward and uncomfortable to talk about sex, especially to your child, but you've got to do it. If you take just one thing away from my rant, let it be this: Talk to girls and boys about sexuality. Not just theirs, but of the opposite sex too. If you have a daughter, son, or a younger sister or brother, don't just sit them down one time to tell them what a condom is. Open up a dialogue that can be returned to at any time about sexuality and sexual health.
*I'm speaking from experience growing up as a millennial in the United States. I would be really interested to hear what women and men from other countries feel or what they've experienced and learned growing up. Please comment below.
Thanks for reading. Here's the TedTalk. Give it a listen, it's really good.