Sex 

It’s always easy to describe as happy, the situation in which one wishes to place others

Simone de Beauvoir 

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Oh parents of teens...this is where it gets complicated.

Hot but Not

Girls are expected to be sexy but not sexual, at least not too sexual. How sexual is acceptable is a moving target. Often if a girl chooses not to engage sexually she’s called a tease or prude, but if she does she’s considered slutty. This impossible bind in girls’ personal lives also shows up in a similar way in women’s professional lives in terms of power. Exercise power and you’re a bitch, don’t and you’re incompetent.

Sexualized attention is the grand prize for girls so they learn to compete with each other for it. This sense of competition undermines their ability to join each other in noticing the discomfort and sexual performance that is required of them to win. A patriarchal society depends, in part, on women distrusting and competing with each other. If they didn't, women might come together and demand to be treated as the three-dimensional human beings that they are.

 

Being passive or submissive is synonymous with cultural norms of femininity (and arguably the opposite of power) but when it comes to a young woman's sexuality, it's often considered shameful if she "submits" to a man. Maybe even worse, if she acts on her own sexual feelings (makes an empowered decision to engage sexually) it's often considered immoral.

 

A  girl’s morality is based on sexual activity (perceived or real), rather than on values like kindness and honesty. Tell your daughter that shouldn't be so!

 

A friend’s eighth grade son was recently caught by another mom making out with a girl in the girls’ bathroom at a homecoming party. The woman shooed the boy away and later told my friend she’d dressed down the girl involved saying “you know better than that!” The implication was likely: your reputation is at stake; boys will be boys but you're responsible for saying no. 

So often the boy gets let off the hook and the girl must endure the “walk of shame.” This is a great example of a probably very caring mother acting out her gender biases without thinking.

 

Girls learn that their ability to give or deny sex is their one superpower and they must wield it carefully, not just because they can get pregnant, but because denying sex is equivalent to preserving their value.

Click on the buttons below to learn more about all the confusing cultural (and sometimes parental!) messages kids get about sex and sexuality.

Feminist Parenting