Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Is it really this bad? Perhaps.

When a book completely reinforces all my preconceptions, I have to wonder whether, just perhaps, the author has missed something. Is there some other way to look at this material?

That's how I felt when I read Peggy Orenstein's Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. As her daughter came into adolescence, this feminist writer decided to find out what sex meant to her generation. She interviewed some 70 young women between the ages of 15 and 20 and reports what they said.

What they told her reads for me as if very little has changed since the mid-60s when it comes to young women feeling empowered and happy about their sexual desires. Oh, there are obvious differences: porn in many guises is everywhere and the poor things think they have to shave their pubic hair to be attractive. But the underlying dynamic seem to work just as it did when I was young: girls believe they must put out in order to get or keep the attention of young males -- and young males think they have a natural right to have girls provide them with sexual pleasure. Neither partner much gives a damn about, or even expects, girls' pleasure.

Some snippets from this book:

So what, I asked [a young woman named] Sam, was today's version of 'the bases'?

..."Well, first base would be kissing, ... second base would be a hand job for a guy and fingering the girl... And third base would be oral."

"Both ways?" I asked.

Sam laughed ... "For the guy ... Girls don't get oral sex ... For us, oral sex is not a big deal. Everyone does it."

Orenstein points out that giving blow jobs can and does pass around STDs among teens, leading to rising rates of gonorrhea and herpes.

Boys, incidentally, far and away, said the number one reason they engaged in oral sex was for physical pleasure.

... particularly for girls, giving oral sex was also seen as a path to popularity. Intercourse could bring stigma, turn you into a "slut"; fellatio, at least under certain circumstances, conferred the right sort of reputation. "Oral sex is like money or some kind of currency," Sam explained. "it's how you make friends with popular guys ..."

[A college freshman named Anna elucidated:] "Sometimes a girl will give a guy a blow job at the end of a night because she doesn't want to have sex with him and he expects to be satisfied. So if I want him to leave and I don't want anything to happen ..."

Orenstein does report that under some circumstances, giving oral sex offers young women a feeling of power.

"I guess I like that feeling of 'Ha! You can't get this from anyone else. I am in control here!' You knew they really, really wanted it and you could be like, 'No! No!' and they'd be like, 'Please! Please!' Because they were so desperate. That part's kind of fun. But it's definitely not the physical side of it, because that's so gross and it really hurts my throat. I mean, it's sort of fun getting in the rhythm of it. But it is never fun fun."

Well at least she gets one sort of sexual pleasure. I would wish she were able to enjoy sex a little more whole-heartedly.

These are young women who have grown up expecting equality with boys. They often excel as much or more than their male peers in school and intend to undertake difficult career paths. So Orenstein challenged them:

What if, rather that blow jobs, guys were expecting girls to, say, fetch them lattes from Starbucks? Would the girls be so compliant?

Sam laughed when I asked her that. "Well, a latte costs money..."

"Okay," I said. "Pretend it was free. Let's say guys expected you to keep getting them cups of water from the kitchen whenever you were alone. Would you be so willing? And would you mind that they never offered to bring you one in return?"

Sam laughed again. "Well, if you put it that way ..."

Obviously these young women aren't "putting it that way."

Orenstein theorizes that, like generations past, these girls have internalized a sense that their genitals are "icky". Most don't masturbate, so they know little more about their bodies than the boys do. For some, "absence of pain" is about all they expect from a boyfriend.

The book ends with an indictment of most sex education. Orenstein asks: can't we just teach both sexes that sex is for their pleasure and to enable intimacy between equal partners? The Dutch apparently do, according to her research.

But in the land of the religious right, "abstinence-only," and prurient sexist adults, that's apparently not yet possible.

Or is there more to this story? This childless old lesbian can't claim to know.


Rain Trueax said...

Wow, that is such a shallow look at sex. I've taught about it both to church youth groups (years ago), and to my own kids, then I hear what my daughter has taught to her teen-age daughter. It does not sound like this. When I taught it in the youth group, I didn't emphasize the sin aspect but the development as a whole person where you don't let sexuality dominate you at ages when you need to develop other aspects of yourself. It wasn't never do it but wait to do it-- as once you start in, it can become all encompassing especially with youthful hormones. I wonder if the girls who have a parent who is willing to discuss this do better with putting it off and then treating it like part of a whole relationship, not just for a piece of one-- and never a way to get a boyfriend or girlfriend as that's a lose/lose situation in the end.

jac said...

Having a 10 yr old daughter, I think a lot about how best to approach her sexual education/awareness. She's already had her first HPV vaccine. I pray that having 2 moms will be advantagoes for her - at least she knows that it's not all about the boys.

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