Pain & Pleasure... All Mixed Up
Girls and women are conditioned to believe that discomfort in the service of hotness is normal. Being hot at any cost, whether to your wallet or your body, is completely culturally acceptable.
Pleasure however, is another story.
Boys learn they're entitled to pleasure and girls learn it’s virtuous to deprive themselves of it. Girls learn how to be sexually desirable and to please, -- a performance for boys' pleasure. But that's very different than exploring their own embodied desires and pleasure. As girls absorb the cultural expectations and media images of themselves, they come to think of themselves more as the objects of others' desires rather than as sexual beings in their own right .
Of course, being hot comes with rewards that are pleasurable -- male attention and popularity to name a couple. The pain may seem worth it in the short-run. But it's often tied up with regret and too little physical joy. And the consequences of dissociating from your body and your desires can last a lifetime, getting in the way of real intimacy.
Sex should feel good
Girls learn about sex in the context of power, purity, and risk, not pleasure. Pervasive abstinence-only programs disseminate misinformation and shame, and parent information usually stops at disaster prevention: here’s how to avoid getting pregnant or an STI. Too rarely do girls learn about physical joy and what they deserve in bed.
Instead, girls often believe sex is supposed to hurt and that boys are in charge. Bad sex for girls often means emotionally or physically painful or non-consensual sex; humiliation and degradation. To boys, bad sex more often means they were bored or they didn't come.
In her book Girls and Sex, Peggy Orenstein provides useful lessons from the Netherlands where Dutch girls learn about sex as an important and pleasurable part of life rather than as taboo or something to giggle about. Dutch girls are more likely to have sex in the context of loving relationships, and less because of boys’ expectations, than girls here in the United States. And...drum roll please...While the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, the Dutch have among the lowest. The US teen birth rate is eight times that of the Dutch and the teen abortion rate in the U.S. is 1.7 times higher.
Sex feels good. It's a form of recreation, connection, and self-expression and not just for reproductive purposes. Masturbation helps establish sexuality and when you know what gives you pleasure, you know more what you can expect from a partner when that time comes. Telling kids otherwise is dishonest and they know it. Duh. That's why they keep doing it despite pledges to wait until marriage and warnings it's life- and reputation-ruining. But in the United States we continue to peddle denial, abstinence-only , and medically-inaccurate information. We refuse to learn the lessons of what really helps keep teens safe because the message of shame is more important than safety.
Most porn isn't real life
To be sure, not all pornography is created equal and a small percentage is made with higher standards for what sex is and should be -- a sex-positive sphere for women where mutual respect and consent is paramount.
But free commercial porn -- where too many of our children learn about sex -- often features scenes of women enjoying pain, coercion and control.
Pornography not only sets up girls to be degraded, it sets up boys for disappointment, insecurity, and can poorly affect how they relate to a partner.
- Boys may believe they're supposed to do what the actors do, look how the actors look, and when they don't, they can feel anxious and insecure.
- They may start to prefer the ease of a sexual experience without the distraction of an interpersonal context.
- Overstimulation of porn can lead to desensitization with a partner.
- Porn is usually devoid of female pubic hair and diverse body types. Some boys find a girl's pubic hair repulsive because they've only ever seen a shaved vulva.
- For all of these reasons, some studies have shown a relationship between porn and erectile dysfunction.
It's also easy to abuse pornography in order to manage anxiety.
Our kids need to hear most pornography doesn't depict real sex.
It's people doing a job for money.
It's devoid of intimacy
Safe sex, open communication, and consent are generally nonexistent.
Marginalized groups are often fetishized.
Free pornography is everywhere and it's unlikely we can shield our kids from it altogether so it's important to talk to kids about porn starting in middle school. Research found that college students whose parents had talked to them consistently about porn when they were younger and shared their own values, were less likely to view porn. And if they dated someone who did, it had a less negative impact on their self-esteem.