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October 06, 2004



Hugo - Totally unrelated comment. I know you've written about the topic of dads and teenage daughters before, so I thought you might be interested in this story on ABCNews.com.


That's a good point, Hugo. Furthermore, there's tons of psychological research on memory and perception that suggests that we can't trust it anywhere near as much as we generally think we can, especially about distant events in our own lives. Vivid, clear memories may bear little relation to what actually happened.

This can, of course, cut both ways--people may remember away the hurt and heartbreak, or they may create a narrative that includes it as well. As others have noted in these threads, there are powerful institutional and ideological forces at work telling women and girls they should feel shame and heartbreak, and some of them might rewrite along those lines as well.

Still, while all this is true, it's hardly an insight one can reasonably imply or use when talking to actual people, as it veers dangerously close to a false consciousness-style argument. One thing psychology can't do is tell us how to accurately tell others what their feelings and experiences really were.

La Lubu

Whoa, Hugo! You didn't just bring some baggage into this, you brought the whole damn steamer trunk!!

I'll agree that there ought to be more honest and open communication about sex, but who said anything about victims? Losing one's virginity or having really lousy (read: fast, with no orgasm) sex hardly makes one a victim. You seem to be assuming a level of harm that the women in these narratives are not...and yes, they are the ones speaking, not you. And frankly, the youthful bravado tales aren't just about sex, but also about drinking, getting high, skipping school, streetfights, grafitti....you name it. Why single out sex?

Oh yeah, for the essentialism inherent later on in the post. The idea that young women are supposedly acting "more like a guy" and (horror of all horrors) appropriating male language to prove it. Sigh.

While you are lamenting the lack of cultural space for young women (and young men) to refrain from early sexual activity, I'm out here pulling my hair out at the idea of certain behaviors and stances being labeled "masculine" or "feminine". Gahh!!! Erect penises are masculine. Breastfeeding is feminine. But being outspoken, or aggressive, or liking sports, or....whatever...is simply human. OK???

You know, every Sunday, my mother's mother goes to the cemetery after Mass. When I'm in town, I go with her. She picks the weeds off the graves of family members, and sometimes dresses the graves, says a few prayers, that sort of thing. When I'm with her, it's History Lesson Time. We walk through the cemetery, and she tells me all about the dead people. Family, friends, everyone. Just about all my blood relatives on this side of the ocean are buried there. Her history diverges from what's offered up as standard fare.

Young women were having sex, even way back then. But no way could they talk about it. They certainly couldn't make any sort of public declaration of, 'yeah, I had sex...and?" It's better now. Just ask an old woman.

There isn't much cultural space for talking about sex, period. And there certainly isn't much for young folks...we're supposed to act like young people don't have sex. Or if they are, that they should be ashamed of it. Look what happened to Dr. Jocelyn Elders, when she just said that masturbation ought to be presented as a normal part of human sexuality in sex ed classes. She was run out on a rail!! Like teenagers don't jack off?! (umm...excuse me, I meant "engage in self-pleasure.")Please!

Ay. I've gotta go have a cup of coffee and take a breather.

Barbara Preuninger

OK - I feel like I need to jump in. Sorry if I sort-of repeat what others have said.

Hugo, your intentions seem good, but here's the problem with your assessment. You say you're talking about "adolescent sexuality", but you're really talking about adolescent *girls* sexuality.

It wouldn't sound so patronizing if you didn't implicitly assume that boys are not affected by the same types of things that you describe for girls. First of all, if you ask a random man on the street if he wishes he had sex at a younger age, do you think he'd most likely say yes? I doubt it. In general, that question is skewed, because you're asking someone who does not currently have to deal with the deprivation of sexual pleasure. It's like me now saying I wished I had practiced more piano when I was younger. But that doesn't mean I would have wished the same thing when I was a child!

Second, there are surely plenty of sexual experiences that boys/men have that they're not particularly happy about or would like to re-write. This phenomenon probably could be alleviated by better sex education, but there's nothing special about this message for girls vs. boys. Boys get a lot of pressure to act like they want sex all the time, like they'll do it with any (female) who offers, etc. They're not really expected to feel "love", at least not while they're young. So their bad sexual experiences (in terms of how their emotions are affected) are practically denied to exist.

"Women feel pressure not to be victims": OK, I buy it. But for men, that pressure is even stronger. Where's all the concern that people need to respect men's sensitive "boyishness" and sweet tender natures? Or should we continue to drag out the stereotype that adolescent boys "have it made" in our current culture? IMHO, the
problem with sexuality (as presented typically in U.S. culture) is how it's commodified, stripped of diversity,
and how it fails to respect any kind of weakness or vulnerability within the human psyche. This is not caused by sexual freedom for women, but actually a sign of continued control, repackaged. The question at hand might be "who's doing the repackaging?" I don't think it's feminists, or the application of their theories. The "slut" epithet is alive and well in modern discourse, so how is this any different from earlier times, where
women's sexuality was well desired within certain confines? The continued repression of "genuine" sexuality is closely tied to why girls & women center their sex lives around men in the first place. The feminist goal is to break those confines altogether, not to assume that girls are somehow "more sensitive and needing of protection" than boys.

How about "we all have sexual drives (not just boys) and we all need to protect ourselves emotionally (not just girls)?"


I hear you, Barbara -- but are you suggesting that young men are being coerced into early sexual activity by women? Is date rape something that women inflict on men? This refusal to draw distinctions minimizes the very real and radical problem of the sexual exploitation of women.

I am not denying that boys can be victimized -- I am denying that their victimization is in any meaningful way similar to that of their sisters.


Hugo, this makes me wonder if the opposite of your thoughts aren’t just as valid...that many young women are fine with their sexuality and exploring it until they get caught up in the mental garbage dumped on girls after the fact from everyone…parents, religion, school, friends, the opposite sex. I've always thought that so many things in life are lose/lose situations for girls/women. If we don't have sex, we're prudes; if we do have sex, we are tramps. If we get married, we are the ball and chain that caught a man; if we stay single, we are old maids. If we are cognizant of our appearance, we are shallow and vain; if we wear comfortable shoes, we are dumpy and frumpy. If we have a career and don’t have children, we are selfish; if we have kids and become housewives, we are wasting our knowledge and abilities. I came to believe at a very young age, that it was up to me to make my decisions based on what I wanted because regardless of my chosen path, there would always be someone there to criticize me.


Oh, and by the way, I think teenage boys are having a hell of a lot more orgasms than teenage girls, and having a hell of a lot more fun. That doesn't make them "not victims", but it does mean that they are deriving considerably more from the experience.

I suppose I will now be besieged by the orgasm-deprived male readership.

Joe Perez


One of your commenters sighed and wrote, "I'm out here pulling my hair out at the idea of certain behaviors and stances being labeled "masculine" or "feminine". Gahh!!! Erect penises are masculine. Breastfeeding is feminine. But being outspoken, or aggressive, or liking sports, or....whatever...is simply human. OK???"

I hope you don't stop writing about gender issues and using appropriately descriptive labels like masculine or feminine. I think you include more than enough disclaimers, qualifications, and links to background information to explain yourself well. The problem isn't how you write.

The problem is some highly sensitive souls refuse to acknowledge ways of talking about tendencies and generalizations regarding masculinity and femininity that are not oppressive. That's their problem, not yours. Like the commenter who wrote that liking sports is human, not masculine or feminine. I don't think you ever would claim that all men like sports and all women don't, or that only real men like sports, etc. But just the thought of acknowledging that there are tendencies among the genders -- women do not, on average, participate in sports or watch sporting events with nearly the frequency of men (ask any sports program director, media buyer, or Gallup pollster) -- will send some of your readers into a tizzy fit. Don't let it get you down.

As for your posts on teenage sexuality, I don't have a problem with anything you write, but nor do I find myself particularly interested. My own experience as a teenager, male and homosexual and closeted, is so different from their the typical male or female experiences you write about. I would engage in some generalizations that some of your readers so detest, but it would take longer than I have at the moment.

La Lubu

That was me that said that, so, since Joe doesn't get it, let me clarify.

The problem I have with essentialist ideas of what-is-masculine and what-is-feminine, is that I feel something fundamental to myself is being stolen from me, when I am referred to as "masculine". I am female, I am strong, outspoken, and still female. I work at a job that is 99% male, but I am still female. I have many avocations that are considered to be "masculine", yet here I am, still female.

The youthful braggadocio that Hugo was referring to doesn't have a gender. Really, it doesn't. Those young women are not aping young men. They are being themselves. Why can't we let them be themselves, without trying to tell them that they are less of a female because of it? Why is there this insistence on setting false limits on what is proper male or female behavior? Why should either men or women have to play into some false role, or be told, "well...yeah, but you're not a real woman (or man)".

When my union hall goes to career day at the area high schools and community colleges, we can't get young women interested in the apprenticeship. Why? Because they think it's too "masculine". They don't want anyone to think of them as "manly". Older women don't give a shit....they want to make the same wages men do.

Joe, I hold that those are false limits just by the changes I've seen in my lifetime. Why perpetuate stereotypes?

La Lubu

Oh, and blackkoffeeblues too the words right out of my mouth. Brava!

La Lubu

Shoulda been "took"; whoops, hit the wrong button!


Hugo, my sexual relationships as a teenager were overwhelmingly positive as far as fun, orgasms, whatever. And I'm not rewriting history--as I'm sure you can tell, I tend to deprive myself of that comfort. (If you don't believe me, ask my boyfriend who has had his head bitten off a number of times for absent-minded sexist behavior.)

I will agree, my experiences were not typical--most adult women are not as in as much control of or get as much out of their sex lives as I did before I clicked over to 21. But that was because I didn't suffer so badly from the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" mentality. Not because I had less freedom, but because I had more.

That's the answer right there to the quandary. Instead of making pious pronouncements about how girls want love and boys want sex, let's take a good long look at the conflicting messages girls get about sex and give them tools to rebel against it. One of those conflicting messages is that girls want love and boys want sex--the first time you find a boy clinging to you forlornly in love when you'd rather be left alone, your mind reels because it goes against everything you've ever been taught.

Also, we need to get rid of the "should's" when talking to girls. Our society tells boys things and preaches to girls. Listen to adults talk to teenagers about sex and relationships--to boys it's all phrased as explanations. To girls, it's all advice--do this, don't do that, he won't respect you, he will leave you--and very little discussion about what *they* want.

I was spared much of those traumas as a teenager because I followed a very simple rule when it came to sex--what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Boys who told me they didn't go down got laughed at. Talk about my performance in the sack, you can expect the same. I am not a toy--a boy expects gratification from me he is to return it. This is called a "bad attitude" or "selfish". I call it taking care of myself.

I say teach girls that they should expect that their lovers put them first as they put their lovers first and many of these problems would go away. But in order to first do that, we have to learn to speak frankly about these issues. More, not less, freedom for girls is what's called for.


By the way, that is no contradiction of what I said earlier about my bad experiences with boyfriends. If I had learned to take the goose/gander rule out of the bedroom and into the living room earlier in life, I think things would have been easier for me.


Oh God, Amanda, you just jogged a series of memories for me of men who just couldn't let go. Yeah, women seek out love. Right.

EVERY time I've been the one to breka up with a man, he has this sudden realization that we're soulmates, meant to be together for eternity. This prompts love letters, love short stories, and anything to try and convince me that they're just heartbroken.

Then, there's the meltdowns. Two boyfriends ago, he melted down in my living room, BEGGING me to just 'hold' him.

That was just precious.

I told him he failed, but the sex was good.

Joe Perez

La Lubu: Imagine, for the same of argument, that ideas about gender generally go through three stages of development. In the first stage, masculine and feminine are understood as rigid gender roles; all men are conditioned to be macho men, and all women are conditioned to be demure ladies. Masculine and feminine are said to be complementary, but the supposed complementarity actually reveals that men are on top, and women come out on bottom. In the second stage, masculine and feminine are understood as balanced pairs within a single self. Men and women each have a "masculine side" and a "feminine side," and such distinctions as masculine and feminine are seen as arbitrary, culturally conditioned, and barriers to seeing the common humanity. At this stage of development, the task with gender is to deny differences. In the third stage, as in the second, masculine and feminine are understood to reveal a "deep, underlying structure" that is said to be a universal aspects of human nature. The goal of development at this stage is to embrace that which we discover within ourselves, whether it be masculine, feminine, or balanced, and to bring it forth as a gift by opening our hearts to love. And men may have a masculine or feminine or balanced essence; the same is true of women, straight or gay. At this stage, a woman with a feminine essence may embrace her femininity without slipping into false, limiting, socially constructed lady-like roles. And she may act from her true nature, finding herself filled with both masculine and feminine impulses. Well, from my spiritual perspective, I think something like this developmental model is real. And I am advocating (and believe Hugo may be talking about) the third stage conception. Do you see how I may believe that we are talking in circles, where Hugo or I talk about stage three, but you see only stage one?


Hmmmm, i'm agreeing with Hugo here, whenever I see displays of bravado in women with regards to men, I think they're just fooling themselves. I'm not saying that I wasn't conditioned to feel that way, just that I do. Sorry. Astarte, I usually really like your comments, but I think the one above was kind of mean. I'd be horrified if someone spoke of me like that, irregardless of my gender.


How about a fourth stage, where we stop sorting personality traits into two conceptual containers and calling them essences?


P.S., Why is "seeking love" a bad thing and isn't possible that girls are being conditioned to be "more like a guy" in denying that they are seeking love so that they don't appear to "clingy". How convenient for men! (those men that aren't also seeking love at least).


Mean? There's no meanness there. He had a habit of telling people that they'd failed whenever /he/ felt like being mean. It was just deserts, and I never claimed to be a saint.

The point of the matter was, and is, that men do that glommy lovey dovey thing just as often as women do.


Hmmmm, i'm agreeing with Hugo here, whenever I see displays of bravado in women with regards to men, I think they're just fooling themselves.

And you base your painting of everyone with the same broad brush on what? I mean, seriously, what gives you the right to judge? This isn't making some sort of opinion on how someone dresses or talks. We're talking about how someone really feels inside, and no one, but NO ONE, can really know that or communicate it but the person feeling it. I find your assertion offensive.


I think my last comment (to Joe Perez) might come across as a bit snarky and rude, so just to clarify I didn't mean it that way and I meant it quite seriously.


Aurora, I think that pretty much everything that is said on this blog allows for exceptions and that broad, sweeping generalizations are not unusual here (Hugo pointed this out himself just yesterday). I sincerely didn't mean to offend YOU (or anyone else for that matter), though I understand why you are offended and I apologize for causing you offense. I still don't take back what I said though. What am I basing it on? Personal experience, my own and that of my friends' (who knows, maybe we're all just a bunch of pansy ass girly-girls?) and as far as judging, that would imply that i'm imposing a value of right or wrong or good and bad, and i'm not, i'm just saying that I don't believe them. Perhaps I should've added that in individual cases i'm more than happy to be wrong.


I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I think I'm with Hugo on this one. As much as I would like to believe that young women are making logically reasoned, deliberate choices about their earliest sexual experiences, everything I know about female teen sexuality says otherwise. Further, to leave young men out of the equation is hardly painting with too broad a brush. Yes they have similar emotional circumstances, but there are enough glaring differences in the socialization of young men to allow all that another post. Hell, this is the stuff that makes careers, not anything that can be fully addressed in one blog post.

To me, many early sexual experiences can be summed up in this anecdote, the story of my best friend's first sexual experience:

She meets a guy at a party and heads off for some privacy. She feels like she's ready for this and gives her hearty feminist hell-yes, consenting to lose her virginity. The experience isn't so bad, not quite what she thought, but okay. Suddenly from the next room the guy's friend asks if they need more beer. He responds: "In a minute, dude. I got my dick in somebody."

Within a few minutes she has gone from a whole, consenting human being to a fancy masturbation box. Those early experiences are such vulnerable places because it is so easy to degrade or mislead your partner. You don't have the personal experience yet to anticipate potential bad outcomes in the face-to-face inertia of a sexual event.


I was one of the women who was told that I was "like a guy" because of how I approached my sexuality and acted upon it. I usually ended up being the one to "dump" the guys, who were being too clingy and needy for me.

Perhaps women with my experience are less vocal, because we go against society's mores regarding typical feminine behavior. In other words, we are called sluts.

I don't discount the victimization of women, because I have been a victim. I have been raped, sexually harrassed, etc. I don't define myself as such, however, because I have had many, many more positive experiences (ie: experiences where I felt empowered and in control, pleasurable experiences) than negative ones. I am also smart enough to recognize that I am not reframing experiences. It was either a good experience, a so-so one, or it was great. When I was younger, I did feel the temptation to reframe the rape, but I *knew*.

Vicimization and the enjoyment of sex as a teenage girl are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

How convenient for men! (those men that aren't also seeking love at least).

You know what's really convenient for men? The advice books let them play it both ways. Men, we're told, are different from women, able to detach themselves emotionally from sex. So, if he says the sex didn't mean anything, you can believe him.

But, once you turn to the advice about sex within marriage, ah, then it changes. Men, it turns out, are different from women. They're heavily invested in their sex lives, and take sexual attentiveness as a sign of love, and refusal as a personal rejection. So, don't ever turn your husband down, even if you're dog tired.

Women, on the other hand, apparently consistently attach sex to love, right up until the moment they marry, at which point they start to care a whole lot more whether the husband picks up his towel after taking a shower. Or so I am told.

Oh, yeah, on my early sexual experience, my mother advised me not to have sex in high school because it was too easy, when young, to confuse sex with love. Boys had just barely started treating me civilly, so I concluded she was right, and being real friends with a few boys before losing my virginity would be a good idea. I graduated high school still a virgin and didn't regret it, for what it's worth (of course, it was really easy not to have sex, given that I found maybe four people sexually attractive my entire time in high school, and wasn't exactly popular).

And yeah, once I hit college, I felt more bothered by pressure to say yes than by pressure to say no.

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