6 ways our fears around sex are damaging our girls

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The most panicked calls and emails that I receive from parents are the ones that go something like this: “We just found K-Y lubricant in my daughter’s room! We are furious and terrified. How soon can we see you?!”

We could replace the K-Y Jelly with any number of signs of sexual “awakening” or activity, and they would all be equally unsettling for many parents of girls. The uncomfortable and scary feelings that come up often lead us to imagine locking her in her room until she’s thirty (or at least twenty-one), just so that we don’t have to deal with it.

Fear leads some parents to take extreme, restrictive actions that can be more damaging than they are protective because they tell her it is wrong for her to have sexual desires. We perpetuate the absurd notion that female sexuality is either nonexistent or shameful, and ultimately, we prompt her to disconnect from her body—the same one we that want her to love and protect.

Given that the healthy sexual development of our girls is an absolutely fundamental part of their healthy development overall, failing as her guides in this realm means screwing her up on multiple levels—so we need to get it together. This is a really tough one for many of parents, because our thoughts and feelings around the subject of sex are loaded with programming.

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The way in which we, as women and men, see ourselves as sexual beings has been determined largely by this programming, and it quickly makes its way to the surface and affects the way in which we perceive our daughters as they begin to discover and explore their sexuality.

The average mum is terrified that her daughter’s sexual activity will deem her a “slut,” and the average dad knows that she could be objectified by boys and men, just as he was programmed to do. Both are terrified—whether they can define it or not—that this objectification of their daughter will make her a target for ridicule, abuse, rape, or worse. In some cases there is even concern about her behavior bringing shame to her family! We begin to ooze this fear from the mument we even think about our daughter’s entry into this realm.

And how does all this fear impact a girl’s perception of herself? There are six really big and very connected problems with all this fear swirling around a girl’s budding sexuality:

 

1. Human beings rarely make wise choices from a place of fear. Rather, we make rash, unreasonable, extreme choices that often yield the opposite results of what we were hoping for. In this case, our fears can lead us to make poor parenting choices that fail to protect our daughters. Simply saying “no” or implementing extreme restrictions first and foremost makes her associate the feeling of shame with her sexuality.

Second, it will lead her to stop asking questions and seeking accurate information about sex. This puts her at much higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Third, it can prompt her to explore in more secretive, less supervised, and less safe settings, like the back seat of someone’s car.

 

2. Because she will undoubtedly feel our fear, she will naturally make associations between her sexual desires and fear. Imagine if in the weeks and months leading up to her first day of kindergarten, you were exuding fear. She would naturally view going to kindergarten as something scary, and this would hinder her ability to be fully present and capable of getting the most out of the experience.

In the case of her sexual development and desires, she makes the same association, and she, too, becomes more apt to make choices from a place of fear rather than ones rooted in strength and clarity. (Think: “I was afraid he wouldn’t like me if I said ‘no.’”)

 

3. With this strong message from her parents and myriad similar messages out in the world in tow, by the time she reaches middle school, she begins to face a very common dilemma. She realizes there are only two paths to choose from when it comes to her sexuality, and both are dangerous. She will be shamed for being a “prude” or a “tease” if she isn’t sexually active, and she will be shamed for being a “slut” or a “whore” if she is. No matter what, she’s still expected to be sexy.

In either case, someone other than herself is dictating what is acceptable or unacceptable sexual behavior. This frequently leads a girl to feel a lack of power over her own sexuality, and she will begin to disconnect from her sexual desire and, inevitably, from her body. (Deborah Tolman speaks to this dilemma at length in Dilemmas of Desire.)

 

4. When a girl disconnects from her sexuality and her body, several things happen that put her in danger. She stops being the gatekeeper of her body. She stops being actively responsible for listening to what feels good and what doesn’t, determining who touches her and how, and fiercely protecting herself.

Instead, she explains away her sexual behavior as having “just happened” (easily explained away if she gets “drunk” first). She defers to what someone else determines feels good or doesn’t, and she is much less likely to insist that protection is used if it does “just happen.” 2

 

5. This also sets our boys up to receive mixed messages they are underprepared to interpret. When a girl doesn’t feel like she can own her sexuality and be in charge of her sexual desires without shame, she will expect the boy to take the lead. This can prompt a boy to think that he has permission to go way further than he actually does.

Couple that with the societal (“Man Box”) message that he is supposed to be dominant and that he’s a “faggot” if he’s not, and you’ve got a recipe for sexual aggression. Current studies show that as many as one in three high school girls has been sexually assaulted by a dating partner. None of us wants this for our daughters, nor do we want our sons to learn about this sexual dilemma through a rape charge.

 

6. Lastly, all this fear, feeding on itself and growing, leads us to over-manage and under-value female sexuality. We perpetuate the shaming and subject our girls and our boys to the same programming that has been passed from generation to generation—and once again, the cycle continues.

The impact that these fears have on a girl’s development—sexual, psychological, physical, and emotional—is extremely detrimental and there is a strong likelihood that she will carry this disconnection from a core part of her being well into adulthood. We simply cannot underestimate how important it is that we ensure that she has every opportunity to become a well-informed, shame-free, sexual being.

 

This is an edited extract of '9 ways we are screwing up our girls and how we can stop', by Anea Bogue. To learn more about Anea please visit www.AneaBogue.com.

13 comments

  • "The average mum is terrified that her daughter’s sexual activity will deem her a “slut,” and the average dad knows that she could be objectified by boys and men, just as he was programmed to do".

    I highly doubt the average mother would consider her daughter a 'slut' for having sex. The idea of a 'slut' comes from men - specifically patriarchal religious ideologies - not women.

    Commenter
    Kathy
    Date and time
    July 01, 2014, 9:04AM
    • @Kathy : You think? My daughter is at an all girl's school and the girls are ruthless in damning each other with the term.... usually with incredible cruelty and little foundation.

      It's peurile and derogatory, but in no way is it the solely the domain of men. In fact, I think it's far from that.

      Commenter
      Oz
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 1:23PM
    • I didnt say girls didnt use it. I said it comes from men. Its internalsed mysoginy, understandable from girls trying to survive in an oppressive system not of their own making.

      Commenter
      kathy
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 2:44PM
  • Really good article, thanks for bringing up many vital points about this topic.

    Commenter
    LJanes
    Date and time
    July 01, 2014, 9:18AM
    • The social climate that you've just described, where women are widely considered either 'sluts' or 'prudes' depending on which choice they make, where boys are expected to be sexually dominant or aggressive, where we think boys are so stupid that they don't know the difference between yes and no and go around 'accidentally' raping girls, where warped religious beliefs and porn (two sides of the same coin, ie. virgin/whore) have a strong influence on sexuality, where STI's are at much higher rates amongst young people, where pregnancy is a simple biological reality for girls when it comes to sex indicates that it's not simple, parental 'fear' that's the problem. It's the social reality that girls have to negotiate their sexuality in. I'm not sure if it's possible for a girl to be truly sexually free in such a climate and I think in some circumstances fear for our daughters is perfectly valid.

      Commenter
      Leah
      Date and time
      July 01, 2014, 9:22AM
      • Great article....and pertinent to me as a single father of a 15yr old girl.

        The challenges to doing something about this are partly that we are living in an increasingly more prudish and judgemental society. The attitudes to sexuality, particularly in Victoria, seem to be shrouded in fear and conservatism that I don't recall either of my sister's having to deal with in the 70s and 80s.

        Part of this maybe a natural consequence of the way we deal with multiculturalism. We do seem to pander to the conservative rather than the liberal attitudes of each culture for fear of offence, and that is especially prevelant in the northern suburb I live in.

        Frustratingly, this has to be a whole of community issue. As a parent, I can do my utmost to give my daughter the right measure of freedom and support, but I can't stop her peers from passing their sometimes exceptionally cruel judgement..... and it's her peers as well as her parent that shape how she's going to grow into adulthood.

        Commenter
        Oz
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 01, 2014, 10:12AM
        • I pity all those parents who act in such disgraceful ways when it comes to their children having sex. Those parents are 100% responsible for the explosion of mental health issues that we are now facing in our society.

          Your children are not your property. They are human beings who will make their own choices, the sooner you realize this the better it will be for everyone involved

          Commenter
          Peter Scott
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          July 01, 2014, 11:46AM
          • 'nor do we want our sons to learn about this sexual dilemma through a rape charge' - a rape charge is not the problem - committing the rape in the first place should be the concern.

            Commenter
            melb
            Location
            melb
            Date and time
            July 01, 2014, 12:09PM
            • I don't fear my daughter having consensual sex. I fear her feeling pressured to have sex.
              I also think back to when I was a teenager and hope that she doesn't put up with the sexual harassment that I encountered. At school I had my breasts groped twice out of the blue plus my skirt lifted up by other boys and a male teacher on different occasions. Patted on the bottom by another male teacher during swimming lessons, wearing my modest one piece and lots of other occasions where men would stare and make me feel uncomfortable.( I was always modestly dressed and only interested in academia too, in case there are any victim blamers reading this thinking I was giving out some sort of message.)
              I hope things have changed.

              Commenter
              Lou
              Date and time
              July 01, 2014, 12:20PM
              • At age 15 my parents discovered I was having sex. The result was that my father beat myself and my sister (for helping to cover for me) with such ferocity that the police were involved and an AVO taken out. My mother stood by and did nothing. In the end, my father and I did not speak for about 9 months. It nearly destroyed our relationship, and took years for us to come back to each other.

                To this day, I struggle to understand where that rage came from, especially since my father is actually quite a progressive guy and certainly didn't view virginity as a "precious gift" or expect us to abstain from sex until marriage (I think he would have found that idea quite appalling). He viewed his anger as being about my lie, rather than about my having had sex... but I in turn would view my lie as having been quite justified given his eventual response to the truth.

                Either way, I note there was no issue a few years later when my brother was found to be having sex... generally there was just a bit of "wink-wink nudge-nudge wear a condom she'll be right".

                Commenter
                Red Pony
                Date and time
                July 01, 2014, 12:53PM

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