We shouldn't make the mistake of trying to protect our children's innocence by maintaining their ignorance, writes Kasey Edwards. Photo: Stocksy
"All my friends give boys blowjobs," a Year 11 girl from a private girls' high school tells me.
When I ask if the boys reciprocate she stares at me blankly, then adds, "Oh no, that would be gross."
According to my young friend, oral sex is something girls are expected to do for boys. Why?
"Because if you don't want to have sex with the guy than that's what you do instead," was her reply.
When her mother told her that girls aren't required to provide oral sex to boys if they don't want to, my friend was relieved. Providing oral sexual services to boys is so normalised in this girl's peer group that it hadn't occurred to her that it was a choice.
It's not that teenage girls are engaging in sexual activities that worries me, because, let's be honest, we did too when we were that age. It's that they feel compelled to do something that they don't particularly want to do, and that they don't even expect to receive any pleasure themselves from the process.
And why would they? When have they ever discussed sex in terms of their own pleasure?
Porn, often the first sex-ed lesson kids receive, is almost devoid of genuine female pleasure. Women "perform" sex to please men.
Many school-based sex education programs cover little more than how not to get pregnant, and while the mother of my year 11 friend was prepared to talk to her daughter about blowjobs and sexual pleasure, many parents are not.
Peggy Orenstein, author of the new book Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape says that she was shocked to discover that sex was a precursor rather than a product of intimacy.
"I didn't know about these issues of nonreciprocal oral sex, and I think what actually scared [the girls], to be honest, was that I kept asking them about their own pleasure, and I think it freaked them out," Orenstein said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Orenstein says that parents need to speak more openly and honestly about sex with their kids; and they need to broach topics such as mutual pleasure, emotional intimacy, and reciprocity, rather than just focusing on the dangers of sex.
These conversations are almost certainly going to take place in Awkwardville, and I can see why parents might want to avoid them altogether.
But we owe it to our kids to get over it. The consequence of our silence is too great.
If we don't help our girls understand that sex should be fun for them and, if it's not, then they're under no obligation to do it, we risk them learning to see themselves as little more than blow-up dolls with a pulse.
Parental conversations about reciprocal pleasure and consent need to be had with boys, too. A school nurse, who teaches sex education in high schools, told me that some boys are genuinely shocked when she tells them that girls in real life (rather than in porn) don't actually like it when men says, "Suck my cock, bitch".
Rather than blocking out a date in your diary to have the chat about the birds and the bees, Orenstein says that positive sexual messages should be discussed when situations arise.
"[W]hen you start integrating them into normal life…when you have an opportunity — and it's not just in this special box of 'the talk' — it does become easier, it really does," she said.
And age shouldn't be a barrier, so long as its appropriate, and guided by your own child's curiosity. We shouldn't make the mistake of trying to protect our children's innocence by maintaining their ignorance.
My husband and I have effectively been having sex talks with our daughters since before they could speak — before things become embarrassing and shameful.
We label all body parts with their correct names, and refer to a vagina with the same neutrality as we do an elbow. How can a girl feel comfortable about having a vagina if her parents are too embarrassed to name it?
When my daughter, who was four at the time, pointed to her clitoris and asked me what it was, I told her, and then I added, "It feels good when you touch it, doesn't it?"
We also lay the foundation for respectful relationships and what our girls should expect and accept. When my six year old asked me if she should marry a boy in her class I asked if he was always kind to her. I told her that she should only consider marrying someone who's consistently kind.
Hopefully, all these small, day-to-day exchanges will help my girls learn that their bodies are their own and don't exist for someone else's pleasure or exploitation — and their bodies are a source for their pleasure first, and someone else's second.
Kasey Edwards is a writer and best-selling author. www.kaseyedwards.com.