Girls and Women and Sex and Pleasure: Are We Forgetting Something?


If we don't talk to girls about sex, who will?

If we don’t talk to girls about sex, who will?

By Alexa Day

Last week, I was reminded of just how small a world ours really is.

I read this article about Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. To research the book, Orenstein spoke to 70 girls and young women, between the ages of 15 and 20, to learn about their attitudes and perceptions about sex.

I’m not sure what I expected to hear about this, but the truth saddened me a little.

Orenstein’s research turned up a lot of young women who are very comfortable with the idea of sex and sexual attitudes as communication, and the notion of sex as currency. They just don’t seem to place a great deal of importance on their own pleasure. A blowjob, for instance, may or may not actually be sex, but it’s a near foolproof way to get a guy to stop hassling you about what you will or will not do for him. The notion that reciprocal oral seems to disgust these guys … well, Orenstein’s subjects didn’t think to be offended by that.

Orenstein goes on to observe that if young women do not prioritize their own pleasure, it might be because they come from households that make their sexual selves invisible. How many girls know nothing of their own sex organs? How many are discouraged from questioning or exploring sexuality in general? How many are being taught — sincerely or otherwise — that sexual things are naughty or dirty or morally deficient?

When was the last time you saw or heard someone refer to erotic romance as naughty? A dirty little read? Something for bad girls, about bad girls, or both?

Was it you?

I know that if you’re here on Lady Smut, you probably don’t think there’s a thing wrong with sexual pleasure. Hey, I get it. But this notion that sex exists in a context dictated by male partners … that idea came from someplace. This concept that a blowjob is just a way to get him to leave you alone, that of course he won’t go down on you, that our own sexual pleasure as women is an afterthought at best, that something is wrong with us if we demand that pleasure … all that came from somewhere. Shouldn’t we try harder to mitigate it?

Last week, I also attended a screening of Makers: Once and for All, a documentary about the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. You can actually watch the documentary in its entirety online. Women from all over the world converged on China for the conference, endlessly curious about each other and the roles women played in various cultures worldwide. As I listened to the participants share stories about the conference and the Platform for Action that emerged from it, I realized that the world is not such a huge place after all.

Consider this: somewhere in the world, a woman doesn’t know that sex is something she can choose for herself. Try that on for a minute.

Now try this: somewhere in the United States, a woman doesn’t know that sex is something she can choose for herself.

How does that feel? Obvious? Uncomfortable? Both?

How about this one: somewhere within half an hour’s drive, a woman doesn’t know that sex is something she can choose for herself.

How are you going to live with the truth of that? How will the generations of women that follow us live with it?

And what role do our pleasure-infused stories play in this new world?

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9 Comments

  • Madeline Iva
    April 5, 2016 at 8:50 am

    What about love? I thought that’s what you were going to say is missing. Ugh! I guess I can see a natural evolution from post-AIDS culture, to an oral sex first culture of the late nineties, to a blow jobs first culture. I’ve had friends who ‘audition’ with blow jobs, who think of having sex with someone as showing their own bravado to their friends. I cringe a bit over this news, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

    • Kel
      April 5, 2016 at 9:53 am

      This horrifies me because I’d be willing to be that those kids aren’t vetting their partners enough, or using barriers for oral… and you can definitely pass a number of STDs, including AIDs, if you’ve got any small cuts in your mouth… like from brushing and flossing. Not to mention that a large percentage of women suffer from anemia monthly, which causes bleeding in the gums.

      Oral isn’t safer for anything other than “not getting preggers”… which means someone IS NOT DOING their job educating people on how to be safe.

      There might be a reason I was affectionately (exasperatedly) called the “STDs are bad” Fairy in high school. There are flavoured condoms for a reason, humans.

      And love is great, but it’s a terrible protection from infection, even if it generally works out better than indifference.

    • Alexa Day
      April 5, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      I don’t think we can expect love to develop where women don’t make themselves, their desires and their pleasures a priority. It is simply not enough to wait for or to expect a partner to do it for them. It’s got to be done for oneself. Various mentors and inspirations and lovers and friends will contribute, sure. But this mission is hers, for her own future. A woman has to know that she matters, that what she wants also matters, and that what she likes definitely matters. What follows is bound to be more durable.

  • Kel
    April 5, 2016 at 9:49 am

    This doesn’t really surprise me. Disappoints me a bit, but it is the sort of natural progression of a society that publicly idolized male sexuality and cringes from female sexuality while coveting it.

    I get surprised every time I hear a woman refer to other women as sexual competition. (Uhm, if you’re competing, you’ve already lost. Honest.) I am downright baffled when I see women fighting for a man’s attention. (He’s not that into you. Honest.) I feel an enormous amount of pity for people (of any gender) who do not want a partner because they want a partner for themselves, but because they think they are nothing without one. (Fix yourself first. It’s better for everyone, honest.)

    It’s not about sex. Our whole society is intrinsically broken. You can’t expect young women to know they can demand sexual gratification when they don’t even know they’re supposed to be complete and whole people on their own. And sure, not all of them don’t… but the messages that society tells them are toxic; we need to be telling a very different message much louder and much earlier.

    Maybe it was easier in the days before AIDs, but I don’t think that’s it at all. I got the whole lesson (“and this is syphilis… and then you go mad…”) when I asked why sex should be done only with people you love* and trust and what condoms were. I got the long lecture when I asked where babies came from, and then kept asking questions. I was the scariest five year old evar… but I was never disappointed when i got around to having sex, and actually chose to start when I was ready, not when I wanted someone to pay attention to me or leave me alone. I am so much more than just my ability to get someone off, even during sex.

    *Note: You can love your friends. Love has never been (only) about romantic love in my universe, it’s just also about romantic love. English is so limited when speaking of love.

    • Alexa Day
      April 5, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      we need to be telling a very different message much louder and much earlier.

      We do! We desperately need to change the messages that are out there, whenever and wherever we can!

  • barbaramikula
    April 5, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I often refer to my books as “Naughty” (30 published so far) but it is more to make them acceptable to a wider base of readers who might be uncomfortable with “Erotic”. Maybe I should not do that. My books (in the BDSM genre) always have the woman receiving probably even more pleasure that she gives. LOL, as it should be! I have explored just about every possibility in the books and even have one Male/male series. Hopefully they show women some of what is possible and what they should be able to demand for themselves. – Skye Michaels (www.skyemichaelsbooks.com)

    • Alexa Day
      April 5, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      Yeah, I was never able to think of my stories as dirty, naughty or bad. I don’t know; I guess I approved WAY TOO ENERGETICALLY of my heroines’ choices! I tell people straight up that there is a lot of sex in my work, and I’ve been very fortunate — no one has flinched yet!

  • romancenovelsforfeminists
    April 5, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Have yet to read Orenstein’s book, but have read some comments that it should be titled “Sex and White Upper Middle Class Girls.” I worry that her interview subject pool is too narrow to draw the very negative conclusions that it does about ALL young women in America right now.

    Still, rather depressing to hear that ANY teen girls still act as if their worth is based on the boys they attract 🙁

    • Alexa Day
      April 5, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      That sounds like most studies. I was impressed that Orenstein’s sample included lesbians.

      I agree, though, that is depressing. But curable, I hope.

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