This article is based off of a Ted Talk given by Peggy Orenstein regarding how young women see themselves and their sexual experiences and pleasure. The link can be found here.
Understanding consent is a vital part of growing up and dealing with the amount of sexual assault and rape culture in today’s society, particularly on college campuses. Young people must understand the ground rules of consent. This requires open honest discussion about what “yes.” means and what happens afterwards. There is a feeling of entitlement to engage in sexual behavior, but not a feeling of the idea that women could enjoy it.
Many young women describe their earliest sexual encounter as not responsible or enjoyable and often not even reciprocal. One young woman didn’t realize that her smart, strong image didn’t include sex. These young people are engaging in other behaviors like oral sex, instead of traditional penis in vagina sex, because often girls will provide the oral sex in order to avoid a situation that they don’t want to be in or as a form of protection. Young men or boys seldom reciprocate, but will expect a blowjob in lieu of sex.
Because there has always been a shadow cast over the female genitalia where they were made to feel dirty or unclean this creates a feeling of shame that is almost an indoctrination of the evils of female genitals. At the same time they are taught that their genitals are sacred. Studies show that this can lead to many young women removing most or all of their pubic hair, because they feel cleaner, or because they feel it can be humiliating because young guys might be (or are likely to be compared to older men) grossed out and would talk poorly about them. As this trend of shaving has risen is has the trend of labiaplasty in teenage girls. This is not a medically indicated procedure as a rule and can include side effects such as scarring, numbness, and diminished sexual sensation. It can also be problematic simply because it isn’t a part of a young girls sexual knowledge in many cases because, as you’re read more below, young women simply aren’t taught about the anatomy of their genitalia.
A psychologist at the University of Michigan posited the idea of intimate justice has political and personal effects on both partners. This theory raises issues about inequality, health, and violence among other thing. So who is entitled to engage and enjoy a sexual experience? The speaker kept coming back to the idea that the earliest sexual experiences they have aren’t things to “get over.” Women will use their sexual experiences to say that if their male partner is satisfied then so are they. Young men judged good sex on their own orgasms.
If sexual encounters are defined by young women with the words depressing, humiliating or degrading, and in almost 30% of sexual encounters women report pain during it, what does that say about the education for young women and men when it comes to sex ed? We can and should be doing better to provide education for these young people so they can go into their future and be able to make informed decisions, regarding consent, sexual activity, and help them define the parameters of that sexual encounter in a way that allows both partners to receive pleasure from the act. This is something that is important for a person’s entire life, not just as randy college students finding out who they are from a sexual standpoint.
Wanting your partner to be happy is not a bad thing or feel close to them, but there are many other ways to experience sexual pleasure or to enrich a relationship such as intimate touch or simple cuddling. An orgasm isn’t the only measure of happiness and the absence of pain should not be the bar for your own sexual happiness as a woman. Instead she should be able to have a pain free consenting encounter that gives her and her partner pleasure, that may or may not include orgasm.
“Parents of female children go right from navel to knees” and often skip explaining their genitals to them. It again, goes back to being ashamed of the female sex. And when sex education comes into play, boys are told about erections and ejaculation, where girls aren’t taught about how their sex organs work, but instead about periods and unplanned pregnancy; the idea of the vulva or clitoris is never mentioned. I know when I was a child that was the stereotype that I was taught. And it created something of a “psychological clitoraldectemy.” Not knowing how one’s sexual organs function is a problem and it can mean that many girls and young women don’t begin to learn their bodies or masturbate in a healthy way. This is a problem in their adult life, when these young women realize they have no idea what they want from sex or how they get pleasure from sex. I feel like this is part of why many young women say that hey are satisfied if their (typically male) partner reaches orgasm
In same sex encounters there is no orgasm gap and that is a liberating feeling that lets them work out their own scenarios of intercourse that don’t necessarily fall inside the norm. This gives gay girls a wholly different perspective on their sexuality and not having sexual intercourse for the reason of shedding their virginity. Some of them define their loss of virginity by achieving their first partnered orgasm.
Thinking of sex as something organic and not rushing towards a goal means that thing like intimacy, sensual touch, a pool of experiences of desire and touch and arousal. Sex must be talked about and normalized into everyday life in order to make those things OK. A study from a both a Dutch and American university had wildly varying results because the Dutch students were taught from an early age about sex and pleasure. American parents framed such conversations as risky or dangerous behavior. The Dutch children were taught more about consent and responsibility and enjoying themselves. The conclusion drawn here is simply that being more open and forthcoming about sex and sexuality with your children is going to lead to (gasp) them being more responsible and get more enjoyment out of sex. It needs to become far less of a taboo topic.
Hopefully, eventually a young girl can see her sexuality and revel in her sensuality instead of being afraid of the risks of sex, such as disease or violence, not to mention unwanted pregnancy. These girls have a voice and should be demanding that intimate justice for their own lives. Making the entire country more aware or sex positive could lead to better protections for assault victims and a happier, healthier sexual culture where young women or men aren’t afraid to come forth about what they need or want regarding their sexuality.