Calling all parents who are parenting girls! Please come GET REAL with me. I have an almost 14 year old daughter and her sexual development is front and center for me lately. She’s 5’5”, fully developed, and heading to high school next year. All I have to do is think back to my 14 year old self, and realize that I want to DO Better and arm her with more skills than I had at that age.
Perhaps that’s what inspired Peggy Orenstein to interview nearly 200 adolescents/young adult girls and boys about teen sex culture over the course of a decade or more. She has a daughter! In 2016, she published Girls & Sex: Navigating the complicated new landscape, and in 2020 followed up with Boys & Sex: Young men on hookups, love, porn, consent, and navigating the new masculinity. I delved into both of her books this past weekend, SERIOUS STUFF! I’m going to rescue you from wading through every detail and summarize her key findings below. Then I’ll task you with some very specific ways to GET REAL with your daughter about her sexual health.
Peggy borrows a definition of female sexuality— “intimate justice,”– and targets consensual, pleasurable, honest, non exploitative and protected sex as the goal for our girls. She makes a few key points about sexual experiences for modern teen girls.
- Sexualization is what society puts on girls; sexuality is what develops on the inside for a girl–her thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and internalized actions. (Even though we can’t compete fully with societal influences, parents port of entry is through a girls developing thoughts and values about herself as a sexual being).
- Not all boys harass, but all girls have been harassed (regardless of age, dress, actions, etc).
- Hypersexualizing girls causes them to feel both powerful and powerless.
- Girls are often treated like objects, and their bodies are traded as products.
- Girls are given confusing messages about expression vs exploitation.–The key question to discern is who has access to and control of her body?
- Media is Pornified; Most porn is largely for male pleasure, and often abusive
- 20% of Millennials identify as LGTBQ+; ⅔ of Gen Z say they are exclusively hetero
For our Teen/Young Adult Girls…..
- Hookups are often expected and include a range (kissing to sexual intercourse).
- Rarely is female satisfaction a factor in hookup culture.
- Oral sex is not usually reciprocal in hookups. Boys get it. Girls don’t or won’t.
- Anal sex (5th base) is more common and “the new oral.”
- Binge drinking and “pre-gaming” is associated with a higher chance of rape.
- Vcard (Virginity) is a stigma especially by college students.The goal is to lose your Vcard early and before college.
- FWB “Friends with Benefits” often only offers benefits to boys.
- “Caught feelings” or liking someone is often a trigger for ending a hookup relationship.
- Girls are insecure about their sexual anatomy and altering their bodies more and more.
- ⅓ of teen girls masturbate which is normal.
- Girls often freeze or acquiesce during hookups, which isn’t true consent.
- Blow jobs can be a girls way of ending the sexual encounter–Girls feel it is expected to satisfy the boy to end it.
Is any other parent sweating right now? I know I was as I read both of Orenstein’s books. What are we to do with this information?
First, we as parents need to GET REAL with ourselves and our girls that things are different. Our young women are operating in an ever-changing world where they need MORE skills for BETTER communication and navigation. And it is up to us to step into this territory with them as much as we can. Peggy Orenstein says we should follow the Dutch who have lower incidences of sexual assault and teen pregnancy. Most of our sex education programs teach disease (STD’s) and disaster (rape, assault and pregnancy). Few follow Charis Denison Teens & Parents – Prajna Consulting and Al Vernacchio’s principles in sexual education (https://youtu.be/hkUJdBkTDpE). Orenstein cites how Dutch teens have received regular education throughout their development and have had repeated conversations with mutiple adults (pediatricians, teachers, parents) in their lives on sexual health and SEXUAL PLEASURE. Here are my take home points for you and your daughter.
- Lead with pleasure: Explain to your daughter that sex is supposed to feel good. And, she can get to know her body by exploring her body–Yes, I mean through masturbation. Knowing what feels good will help her be more comfortable communicating with a consensual partner when the time is right.
- Game up on your LGTBQ+ affirmative language: You have to be able to have a conversation about sex in this century. If you can’t talk about persons who are gay, trans, non-binary, etc, then you are from a different generation and will be less competent (and less respected) in your conversations with your daughter. You don’t have to push or even mention these concepts. Yet, you need to know enough to have a two-way conversation when your daughter talks about these ideas with you.
- Focus on Self Confidence and Self Esteem: These skills come from knowing how you feel, saying how you feel and what you like/don’t like, and feeling comfortable with who you are (wants, actions, thoughts, feelings, body). We want to help girls remember how to access that feeling of “I’m okay. I matter,” during moments of feeling uncertain especially during sex.
- Include Consent & Safety: Safer sex occurs when two partners are sober and consenting. Assume binge-drinking will be a factor. Ask your daughter to have backup plans (wing person, exit plan, etc) for safety when she’s at a party where everyone is drunk. Make sure that you talk about consent as something that goes two ways. It needs to be spoken. And she can change her mind at any point. Healthy sex is also protected and pleasurable (not painful).
Second, we need to give ourselves some prompts and ways to amp up our conversations so that our talks are memorable for our daughters. We remember conversations where we have a lot of feelings and those talks that we’ve had often.
- Repetition is Your Friend: Be willing to have the conversation over and over.
- Prep Your Teen for The Convo: Lay the groundwork that you’re willing to have awkward conversations for their sake. Make it expected and playful. I’ve been telling my daughter that I love her too much not to talk to her about certain gross/awkward things.
- Play tennis, NOT golf: Open the conversation up with a starter question or statement. I call these “Oh by the way,” Conversations. You can also start by asking, “Do you have time for a mom convo?” Don’t lecture or just share information. Ask, and share. Tell, and listen.
- Have 1-3 Points in Mind Per Conversation: Humans process emotionally laden conversations very slowly, but we remember them better if we aren’t too overwhelmed. So try to just exchange a few ideas at once–even better, maybe only one point.
- Distill the Conversations to One Liners: Once you’ve had the conversation a bunch of times and you’re beginning to see that your teen understands, shorten your message out of respect and for effect. Then you can offer that one liner quickly as they head out the door—ie. “Got your Exit Plan, Right?”
- Leave them with Good Google Prompts: Our teens google everything! So be sure to look up a few words that you know will lead them in the right google direction. For instance, you could talk about sex positivity.
- Define Good Sex for them: Give your teen a standard to shoot for that includes your values. For instance, a good lover is a good listener. A bad lover doesn’t listen and might harm/hurt.
This is A LOT! I know! It’s not the topic, but the quality of the relationship that will make or break these conversations. Trust in your relationship with your teen. And, remember that you’ve been parenting them since they were born.