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October 04, 2004



This is something I've often lamented myself, mostly because the secret language of sexual negotiating is kept a secret in sex ed (or was when I got it - another post of my own). I wish to some degree that we could teach kids how to negotiate mutual limits in their early sexual experiences. Hell, some adults could use the same lessons.

Nonetheless, I feel that without heavy qualification, this conversation can easily drift into a longing for the days of stricter moral standards. What we need is a true sexual revolution, not one that makes young women more vulnerable and open to the whims of horny boys.


Also, I should say that I agree with you that a feminist yes is a "Hell yes!" I think too many young people assume that freedom means playing fast and loose (no pun intended) with their bodies.

I would prefer a more open conversation about real sex, not idealized sex, and the firm assertion that real sexual relationships rarely look and feel like that of mass media instead of a prim talk about genitals and their functions.

La Lubu

Lauren, I am definitely in your amen corner!


I'll sign on with a hallelujah; Lauren is right on -- including the problem of idealizing the past.

Joe G.

It's good to see someone raise this issue of how teens are pressured to say "yes" too quickly. I agree.

While reading it, however, I wondered if you thought that a similar process can happen (or does happen) for boys: they, too are pressured to be active too quickly, and may experience a similarly negative effect for becoming sexually active too soon.


I must be missing something here. Why is woman still on the receptive side of the sexual dialogue, and why isn't she the one doing the asking?



Spend much time around high school students? I do -- day in and day out. We frame our questions based on our desires. What most high school girls want to ask is this:

Will you love me even if I don't put out?

They fear the answer is no. So they often don't ask.

Lawrence Krubner

"Again, speaking in sweeping generalizations, we have undergone a major cultural shift that has produced little real benefit for girls and young women."

Since you started this weblog I've been wondering if you make these generalizations for convenience or out of a manipulative desire to increase your weblog's traffic. Such generalizations as these are maddening, thus controversial, thus they draw a response, thus they increase traffic to your site. Of course all of us make generalizations, often, because of the intellectual convenience afforded by generalizing - it allows you to skip past some points so that you can spend more time developing a careful and nuanced picture of the point that you'd really like to discuss. But, speaking only of myself, I know it's these generalizations you make that I find the most aggravating, and yet also, in a train-wreck kind of way, fascinating, and they draw me back to your weblog.

Generalizations aside, I think we can agree that women have more freedoms now than they had 150 years ago.


You bring up some very valid points. However, it sounds as though you believe that the teenage boys are the only ones who want to have sex. There are plenty of teenage girls who actually enjoy sex, and who are not just doing it because of social pressure. Unfortunately, as you point out, some girls do have sex because of social pressure, but to broadly assume that this is usually the case is to ignore and discount female desire. Sex feels good to both males and females!

One thing that has not changed is that teenage females who enjoy sex with a variety of partners will continue to be labeled "hoes" while their male counterparts are "playas".

I was sexually active in high school, and while of course I thank my lucky stars that I didn't get pregnant (of course it is always good to wait until one is prepared for the possible consequences), I never felt "pressured". I just liked it. And in this social climate, there are still some who will judge me for that when they wouldn't give it a second thought if I had been a boy.


Oh my goodness, Lawrence, you've outed me. It's amazing what I think I can get away with if I just characterize it as a sweeping generalization!

Again, let me clarify:

The cultural shift I refer to is not the entire feminist movement, it is the increasing sexualization of the young. Equal Pay Act = good. Thong underwear for kids at A&F = bad.


That's fair, Michelle. But I have no problem saying that the number of girls under 18 who genuinely "enjoy sex with a variety of partners" is quite small. By enjoy, I don't mean "receive emotional validation" either -- I mean deep emotional and physical satisfaction outside of committed relationship.

I honor the exceptional cases, and won't pathologize or demonize them. But they are exceptional.

Lawrence Krubner

It seems to me that young girls have a very powerful desire to prove to themselves how powerful their sexuality makes them. 100 years ago there were coercive restraints in place aimed at limiting the ability of girls to explore this particular form of power. Now those restraints are much weaker.

Go see the movie Thirteen, based in part on the diary entries of the actress Nikki Reed. The girls in the movie are sexualizing themselves at a young age. Is it because boys are forcing them to do so, or because they themselves are hungry to find out how powerful their emerging mature forms have made them?

My own feeling is that if you could imagine a society in which only women lived, perhaps a society on some strange island somewhere from which all male children were taken at a young age, you would still find the young girls hungry to explore the power their new sexuality gives them.

If the problem was as simple as restraining the desires of men, it would have been solved already. If women were of one united mind on this issue, the issue would be a non-issue. All the complexities of this issue arise from the interaction of both genders - everyone on every side sometimes wanting and also, sometimes, not wanting.

Joe Perez

I like this post, too, though I must admit to not having much of an experiential base from which to speak about the inner life of teenage girls. Does watching a Gilmore Girls episode last month count? It sounds like you are basing your generalizations not only on theory, but on your experiences working with teenagers.

With regard to Lawrence's comments on your cunning efforts to boost your weblog traffic by making generalizations, I think he's on to your secret plan. Now that I know what the secret is, I plan to begin making generalizations in my own writing. Generalizations are awesome.


Amen. Joe, you're blogrolled.

Lawrence, I did see "Thirteen". Powerful and convincing, and though a bit overdone, it rank true with my "kids."



The funny thing is, I very very much agree with you, yet there's just something about the way you put it...

Anyway, I wonder if there is any way to get the conformity thing out of high schools. Even if adult society could create a context where a woman's sexuality is respected in (most) any form it takes, I'm not confident that it's possible to achieve moderation and respect for individuals in high school. Whenever I think we're close it just becomes something else. Now you can be any color you come in (for the most part) as long as you come thin. You can wear almost anything you want, as long as you shave your legs.

I guess you're more optimistic about it, and since you're in the middle of it, you have more to base your feelings on, and I hope you're right!


Is it the way I put it, Tara, or the fact that I am a man making the point in a traditionally male way (with lots of bombast)? ;-)

Lawrence Krubner

"Is it the way I put it, Tara, or the fact that I am a man making the point in a traditionally male way (with lots of bombast)?"

For me, at least, it is the way you put things. I find, often, reading one of your posts, I start to write a comment explaining why I disagree with everything you've said, but then I realize that actually I do agree with you, I only have to completely reword it.

La Lubu

I think that's more the teacher coming out....say something controversial, or in a controversial manner, to get heads off the desks and into some serious conversation! Verbal caffiene, so to speak.



You say above that girls who have "deep[ly] emotional and physical[ly] satisf[ying sex] outside of committed relationship[s]" in highschool are the exception. In your experience, are such people not the exception among boys? Hell, couldn't we say the same inside of committed teen relationships?

I had sex young (by my standards, I was 15), and some of it was physically and psychologically deeply satisfying (all of my young highschool sex was in a single committed relationship) but much of it was horrible. If I had it to do over, I can't say I wouldn't have had sex, but I sure wish I hadn't been quite such an idiot, and if I had to choose between having exactly the same sex, and having no sex, I think I'd chosen to have waited until later.

Girls are still taught to have a sense of shame about having sex, so they may be more comfortable expressing their doubts and discomfort with being sexual (or having been sexual) early. Do you find that men who were sexual at a young age are really glad that they started having sex so young? Do you find that men who didn't have sex very young have real regrets about not having had lots of crappy, young-teen sex, or do you just find that men who didn't have sex very young will joke about how they really wanted to have sex then, and how much happier they would have been if they had? There certainly remains more pressure on men to want to have sex, so the greater degree of jokey "wish I'd been a player in J school" is not unexpected.

Also, can the sexual liberation aspects be so perfectly seperated from all of the other changes that you can cleanly say that women have gained nothing from moving from not being allowed to have sex to being expected to have sex? Are women really as strictly required to have sex now as they were forbidden to have sex 100 yers ago? Don't women actually still have a greater degree of sexual choice now (when they not only can choose to have sex or choose not to have sex, but they can also talk about those choices in public) than they did 100 years ago when it was unacceptible for them to choose to have sex outside of marriage, or 50 years ago when they could do it, but whether or not they did determined who they were socially, and they couldn't talk about their choices in public no matter which way they chose?

And I so have to say "Amen" to Lauren: I so wish I had been better taught how to talk about sex, how to negotiate sex, what sex is, etc. before I started having it.


Charles makes some extremely important points, but I'm just going to point-blank ask one question--Why is that we only seemed concerned about young WOMEN having sex? Boys on average have sex younger and there's actual pressure on them to be disdainful of emotional connections. If we are worried about kids having sex without understanding the emotional ramifications, boys are in a much worse position that girls.


I didn't have (consensual) sex until I was 20. There was no opportunity for me to have sex in h.s. as I was a social outcast, and did not date at all. My first boyfriend, after h.s., was 29 (to my 19), and I'm glad it happened with him, since he knew what he was doing, and did love me (as I loved him). As it turns out, I had psychosexual problems due to being raped at age 18 by a family member, and my first consensual experience (and many afterwards) were not precisely enjoyable, but they improved over time. When I got married at age 26, we managed to work through my issues in an amazingly short time, and have had the best sex I can imagine for the last 11+ years.

My husband had been married before, and his first sexual experience/s were with his first wife. She asked him out, and it may have been her idea to have sex, but apparently the first few times it was painful and embarrassing and not something he looks back at with any fondness. He's a sensitive guy, so I'm not sure if his discomfort with it all is because he accidentally hurt her, or he didn't enjoy it himself much, or what, but his "first time" was something he'd be happy to forget if he could. (And he was 21 at the time. Like me, no dating in h.s.)


The comments to this post are really fleshing out this issue and I'd like to add my take on it.

I had sex at age 15 and have always regretted it. I did get pregnant, and continued to have sex with the same boy after I had my son. I was simply too insecure to say no. And I didn't have an orgasm until after I had my SECOND child, which is just horrible, IMO.

I am now 37 (son from said union is 21! Oy!) and have a 16-year-old daughter. I know that she had a sexual experience at 14, and may have had more sexual experiences since then.

It's very different with her, though (at least I get that sense). She's not going to have sex with anyone unless SHE wants to -- she doesn't take shit from anyone, including being pressured into doing something she doesn't want to do.

I think that if you'd ask her later in life whether she regretted having sex that young, she'd say no. There were no consequences for her -- she didn't become pregnant or get a disease (he used protection), she didn't get a bad reputation, and she stayed friends with the boy. That, despite my parental distress, seems like the best-case scenario all around.

But high school culture is just poisonous and awful when it comes to personal relationships -- it's rife with harassment and back-biting and double standards (from the administration as well as the students -- ever wonder why the majority of the dress codes are addressed toward female students?). I think it's very difficult for boys and girls to have meaningful emotional or physical relationships in that kind of culture.

I further think that our first sexual experiences, taken from a strictly physical satisfaction viewpoint, are usually not that great, whether we're 15, 19, 25, or whatever. It takes patience and practice (mmmm, practice:) to get to that level of physical satisfaction, and it often requires a deeper emotional attachment (whether people want to admit it or not) simply to make yourself vulnerable enough to trust that the other person values both his/her AND your physical satisfaction.

I see more openness in my daughter and her friends than I had when I was in high school, and that was only 20 years ago. They actually talk about birth control and other issues as if they are no big deal. I think this is important and should be encouraged.

But by no means do I think that this attitude is widespread, unfortunately.

On a side note, my ex-husband flipped his lid when my daughter told him she intended to go on birth control. He wrote her a letter saying that he had hoped to be able to say that his daughter was strong enough to say no to sex.

Of course, in the same letter he also trashed my high school sexual behavior without implicating himself, but whatthefuckever, dude.


I'm not convinced that teenage girls had any more power in saying no in the 1950's than now. Probably less, actually. Look at the teenage pregnancy statistics from those days. The difference was, of course, that the girls got married then, and that everyone pretended this thing didn't happen.

I am concerned about the sexualization of the very young, and it seems to be focused more on girls than on boys. I went shopping with my twelve-year old nieces, and all that was offered to these thin little girls with no breasts or anything was outfits that to me looked almost obscene. But the girls were poring over them eagerly, and later when we were having ice-cream I gently probed the question I had. They have no idea what the clothes appear to be to me. It's just fashion to them, and in this sense it's the corporations that are to blame. We bought nothing, by the way, but not because of my opinions.


the corporations are not the ones directly to be blamed, maybe not even indirectly. it is as you said, Echidne, "the sexualization of the very young" and might i just add, the young. the young need to look sexy because, we the liberals, are slowly eroding long established norms that entitle the young to participate in sexual activities i.e. behaviors, acts, clothing etc. of course, our enlightened liberals want to curb the aftereffects and ill effects of relieving oppression, hence blame corporations and oppressive traditionalists.


I'd just like to add that I'm an exception to what you've stated above. I turned down the wrong guy (and lost him, and got over it) at 14, said yes to the right girl at 15 and the right guy a few months later.

I don't know if it's just the fact I attend college with the children of mostly middle-class liberal types, or that my generation actually are different, but most (not all but most) girls I know just haven't experienced this great and crushing pressure to say "yes". Maybe their parents' hippy-ish sentiments rubbed off on them lending more confidence and ease in relationships, who knows. My parents certainly aren't liberal, and I had little or no self confidence at 15 (all of 3 years ago) but I have no regrets about having sex t that age.

I agree with Wendy, that first sexual experiences, particulalry for women, are unlikely to be great from the physical pleasure side of things. However, I'm also a supporter of the idea that having sex a bit too young, or maybe with the wrong guy, is not the end of the world or even that damaging (provided, of course, you are not abused or exploited by someone older/more powerful). We have to stop telling young girls that they must make the right decision, at the right time, or the consequences will be dire, and they will have lost something that makes them "pure". People make mistakes. Virginity isn't everything, and everyone chooses the wrong guy once in a while.

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