I was on my way back from a playdate with the kids fast asleep in the car. The perfect opportunity to turn on NPR and listen to Diane Rehm’s show. I was very lucky to catch an interview with Peggy Orenstein about her book Girls and Sex (I’ve added the link in case you are curious).
The interview presented the complicated and contradictory messages that girls get in regards to sex and exploring their sexuality. But it also talked about how still in this age of women’s rights, of female candidates for the presidency of the United States; in this age of outspoken, smart young women, we still haven’t taught them that women’s sexuality does not exist for the benefit of men.
Orenstein interviewed numerous girls as young as 13-years-old from a middle to high economic level. Some were leaders in their classroom, in sports, some got scholarships to the most selected colleges in the country. Most were sure of themselves, except when it came to their sexual lives. A realm where porn is a large portion of “sexual education” these days, eroticizing the degradation of women. Contributing to the confusing messages that both girls and boys get in regards to what’s expected of them in that area.
The book presented cases that show how coercion, alcohol and drug use, and rape are much more common that we care to realize.
I’m not going to give you more of a summary of the book or the interview as I highly encourage you to look into them yourself, but I rather want to share my thoughts about how all this relates to me raising my small children, after all, they are still years away from entering puberty and exploring their sexuality, right?
Well no, I think that if we want assertive girls that turn into smart women that can be confident of their decisions, in the bedroom and elsewhere, we should start building them up for that. I also think that just because boys aren’t usually the rape victims appearing in courts in front of their attackers, we need to forget about them. Boys too need our guidance, they need to learn to be as assertive, empathetic, loving and caring as we would like our girls to be.
I’m lucky to be raising both genders and to summarize what I learned about the book, I would like to say that I want my girls to explore their sexuality without the shame imposed on their gender and I want my boy to explore his with respect and care for others. I don’t want any of my children to think that porn is the “real deal”.
I want them to understand their bodies, to understand that sexuality is much more than just “hooking up” with someone, that it is also about themselves and what they would carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I want them to know that loosing one’s virginity doesn’t only represent the main act of the show. It is more like a door you open when you start exploring your sexuality. I also want them to know that just because they opened one door, they don’t need to rush and open the rest.
I want them to know that I would like them to find a caring and fun person to accompany them in their journey, and that if at some point in this journey they feel unsure of what they are engaging themselves with, they should stop.
I want them to be able to say “no” and to respect when a “no” has been said. Even if it is unspoken, even if it is because the other person is too “out of it” to make an important decision at that moment.
I want all what’s great about sexuality to happen to them, of course, I’m their mother. But knowing that the world is not a perfect place, I want to be honest with them about the dangers that they may encounter. I want to prepare them by talking to them about knowing their limits and learning to respect the ones of others, by teaching them about what coercion and pressure looks like, by modeling what open lines of communication look like in a relationship. And all of these things I can teach from now.
It may seem like I’m getting ahead of myself, but it is never too early to teach children the values we want to see in them when it relates to human interaction and that includes sexuality and romantic relationships.