Kristen Morse / Gavel Media

Girls and Sex: Empowering Women to Embrace Their Sexuality

“I want sexuality to be the source of self-knowledge, creativity, and communication, despite its potential risks. I want you to be able to revel in your body’s sensuality without being reduced to it. I want you to be able to ask for what you want in bed and to get it. I want you to be safe from disease, unwanted pregnancy, cruelty, dehumanization, and violence. If you are assaulted, I want you to have recourse from administrators, from employers, from the courts. That’s a lot to ask for, but I don’t think it’s too much.” These are the hopes of Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. Her book was inspired by a series of interviews with about 70 girls, aged 15 to 20, on their attitudes, expectations, and experiences with sex.

On Monday, March 27, Orenstein spoke to a lecture hall full of Boston College students on female sexuality, self-objectification, and the idea of intimate justice. This presentation, hosted by the Women's and Gender Studies Program as part of their CARE Week, focused on the things that happen after the "yes." While it’s crucial that young people fully understand consent, Orenstein highlights that this is not where the conversation about sex should end. It’s important to have open conversations about sexuality, "including the way that today’s sexual landscape is not always serving young women."

Society teaches females from a young age that how they look is somehow more important than who they are. This mindset, coined by Orenstein as the 'Princess Industrial Complex', leads girls to start playing with sexy at a young age, without actually learning about their sexuality. Not surprisingly, this disconnect between a performance of sexuality, being sexy, and sexuality itself continues to grow just as the girls experiencing it do. We tend to understand our sexuality as what we wear or how we look, when in reality, we should be focused on understanding and enjoying our body’s own responses.

This clouded image of sexuality often leads girls to see themselves as objects for someone else’s use. This leads to increased pressure on females of all ages to be able to do everything, to do it well, and to look hot while doing it. Orenstein strongly believes that discussions on culture are necessary to get women out of this trap, since seeing one’s self as an object has lasting effects physically, emotionally, and even cognitively.

Self-objectification leads girls to feel less than equal to their partners in sexual encounters, something that intimate justice, an idea initiated by psychologist Sara McClelland, aims to erase. Intimate justice encourages us to ask who is entitled to engage in sexual behavior, who is entitled to enjoy it, who the primary beneficiary is, and how each partner defines "good enough."

Studies have shown that females tend to rate their sexual experiences based on their partner’s level of satisfaction, whereas men tend to rate their experiences on their own level of satisfaction. For many women, if he had a good time, then she had a good time. As a result, the equal satisfaction usually reported can be very misleading. Orenstein believes that while young women today feel entitled to engage in sexual experiences, they do not necessarily feel entitled to enjoy them.

Orenstein proposes, “We have raised a generation of girls to have a voice and to expect egalitarian treatment in the home, in the classroom, and in the workplace. Now it’s time to demand intimate justice in your personal lives as well.”

If we are never taught about sexuality, how will we ever believe that it is also about us, and that we have an equal voice? Achieving intimate justice will not come without proper education and increased conversation surrounding female sexuality.

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