Teenage sexuality

One Direction fans in Sydney.

One Direction fans in Sydney.

In recent weeks, Australians have had no shortage of Serious Things to worry about.

First, there was the extremely worrying matter of Julia Gillard’s bottom. Then came concern over how Matthew Newton’s gross behavioural problems might overshadow his mother on the Logies red carpet. And finally, I’ve been quite personally troubled by the thought that Robb Stark might not have to take his clothes off in this season of Game of Thrones.

Yes, it’s been fairly high on the old Fret-O-Meter lately.

One Direction at the Logies last night.

One Direction at the Logies last night.

And ladies and gentlemen, with the arrival of that boy band – the one with the curiously Christian moniker – the time has come to be worried once more.

Advertisement

Specifically, we need to start worrying about hysterical, squealing teenage girls and their unpadlocked, unrestrained libidos.

The arrival of One Direction certainly took Australia by storm – mostly because nobody outside of the 12-17 year old teen girl bracket and a handful of their mothers had ever heard of them. But more interesting than the so-called ‘hysteria’ was the rampant hormonal explosion that occurred simultaneously. The sexual energy that heralded One Direction’s arrival was not only palpable, it was on full display in the homemade signs held aloft by teenage fans outside the Sunrise studios last Thursday morning. Banners bearing slogans such as, ‘Point your erection in my direction’ and ‘Send your one thing Down Under’ were spotted outside the Martin Place broadcast, and captured on TV for a scandalised nation to see.

Channel Seven was forced to apologise for allowing such rampantly offensive behaviour to roam wild in the Serengeti that is the breakfast broadcast. Meanwhile, Julie Gale, founder of the irritatingly text-moderne named Kids Free 2B Kids, declared the signs ‘highly inappropriate and reflective of the sexualised world kids are part of’. In a move sure to please fellow Hand Wringing agents in Pearl Clutching Town, Channel Nine warned attendees of last night’s Logies (in which One Direction delivered a special performance) that similar displays of vulgarity would be confiscated, which left almost no one to walk the red carpet.

Despite Gale’s intimation that this behaviour has been thrust upon adolescent girls by recent corrupting forces (as if The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, NKOTB, The Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, Justin Bieber, etc etc etc were all simply myths enshrined in legend), the truth is a touch less complicated than that: adolescent girls are interested in sex. They always have been, and they always will be, and no amount of blame placed on a modern made up phenomenon will change that.

It’s a truth that’s rarely acknowledged at all, let alone universally. Indeed, while the official story is that One Direction hail from England, it seems equally plausible at this point that they were willed into the universe by the collective longing of a million young teenage girls. If it makes people uncomfortable to think of them brandishing signs saying, ‘1D get naked!’ and ‘I’ll give you One Erection’, then it makes them fairly apoplectic to think that said girls might actually be expressing these desires off the back of their own sexual daydreams.

Considering we accept the general hypothesis that girls physically mature faster than boys, it seems curious that we deny them the same agency when it comes to their sexual maturity. The nascent sexual desires of boys are so readily accepted as part of life that we barely blink at the mention of them. We know they’re fascinated by it, turned on by it and would in fact do anything to GET it – so accepting are we that we consider it a scientific fact of life: it is normal and healthy for teenage boys to be driven by their hormones, and any worries about them being indiscriminately promiscuous should be eased by the reminder that it’s just boys being boys and no harm can come of it particularly as they can’t get pregnant.

But instead of encouraging a similar sexual expression in girls (who experience the exact same explosion of hormones during their teen years), we demonise it. We watch with eagle eyes for the first hint of their sexual curiosity; wearing revealing clothing, flirting with strangers, touching themselves, admitting on a handmade sign that they know what an erection is, and would like to see one please. Then, through a sustained process of fear mongering, shame and good, old fashioned folklore, we wrest it from their control and tell them they can have it back when they’ve proved they know how to behave. The irony of course is that we deny sexual autonomy to girls for their own protection, and then expect them to turn around and be the sexual gatekeepers for everyone else’s.

At best, this trains girls to adhere to a system that constructs women as passive bystanders to sex, whose very goodness is measured in direct correlation with how well they observe the rules of moral conduct and chastity. But at worst, it encourages the idea that their burgeoning desires are unnatural and gross, and that to indulge them through something like masturbation is weird and possibly deviant. We teach them that in order to be good, they have to be disconnected from anything even remotely connected to the Dark Place known as their vaginas. I’m sorry, is this 1950? Because I just spat out my root beer float.

The fact is, denying girls the right to be every bit as consumed by sex as boys are allowed to be is counterintuitive. A handful of girls waving titillating signs outside Martin Place isn’t representative of an orgiastic trend sweeping the nation, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. But it is a sign that no matter how much we try and shield girls from sex, they’re going to find ways to explore it and it doesn’t always mean they want to actually do it.

The answer isn’t to keep talking about how uncomfortable it makes everyone (because frankly, if there’s anything that makes me uncomfortable, it’s seeing grown men making moral judgments on what girls are or are not doing with their lady caves) – it’s about giving them the right tools to explore that sexuality in a healthy way, and trusting them to make the right decisions. They’re not delicate dolls, so stop treating them that way.

Besides, one of those Directioners’ signs declared, ‘Have my baby!’ I’m no scientist, but I think she’s doing gestational biology wrong. All things considered, I’d say we’re not supplying our girls with ENOUGH sex-ed.

41 comments

  • Clementine seems to think it's all fun and games for young boys when it comes to sex. What she fails to understand is the hypersexualisation of boys and men in general means that boys aren't believed when they are raped and that they should happy when they are taken advantage of by predatory women.

    This mindset is never more obvious when we look at differences in sentencing between male and female sex offenders. Males are fitted with tracking devices and have groups of people protesting outside of their houses once they have serviced their time, whereas females, if they serve time at all, are looked upon with pity.

    This hypersexualisation of boys also removes free choice for them. It pushes the idea that something must be wrong with them if they don't want to have sex with every single person who is interested in them or that they must be gay if they reject the attentions of a girl.

    It's bad enough that we treat boys this way, do we really want to start pressuring girls this way too?

    Commenter
    Direct
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 9:46AM
    • erm, you have some issues there...

      Commenter
      Liv
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 12:02PM
    • Well yes, that's his point. The way he was viewed as an adolescent has given him some issues. Well done.

      Commenter
      JEQP
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 5:05PM
    • Hey, hey Liv! That's not cool. What's with the cheap shoot-down? Engage with Direct if you don't agree. I think Direct has made some good points about the over-sexualisation of culture and how it also impacts on males. I don't agree with how the argument is played out, but it doesn't mean it should be dismissed is such a nasty way. I also don't think Clem means to say that it is actually all "fun and games for young boys", but rather that this is the cultural message. However, she does slip a little Op Ed rhetoric in this article, which could lead one to think she might, so I kinda get where Direct is coming from, even though I read it differently.

      Commenter
      miranda
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 8:57PM
  • Not questioning anything you've written but as the father of three girls my job is to protect them until they are old enough to look after themselves. I'm also not that old that I've forgotten that a man's lower extremities do not have a brain and have no conscience. Somehow the thought of 14yo girls throwing themselves at pimply youths leaves me cold.

    Commenter
    Basil
    Location
    Hobart
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 9:47AM
    • I think that was the point of the story. Sex education. Our teenagers need to be taught that sex is not a bad thing and that there is a time and a place.

      Commenter
      Me
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 10:13AM
    • There's a difference between expressing sexuality and throwing yourself at the first available guy. Clem has a valid point. I hope you let your daughters mature at their own pace while encouraging them to be independent women.

      Commenter
      Once a girl
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 10:26AM
  • You're kidding, right? Shield girls from sex?
    It's a mighty struggle to keep a primary school child away from sexual references EVERYWHERE. Surely they can wait to be open about their sexuality until they're at least officially in their teens (and I speak as the mother of a 6th class kid).
    And what's wrong with imparting the notion of discretion to all the young things? There's a difference between understanding and enjoying in private, and the same thing in public. Unless you prefer to celebrate Britney Spears without her underwear as a role model for your 12 and 13 year old daughters, of course.

    Commenter
    Barbara
    Date and time
    April 16, 2012, 9:53AM
    • '(because frankly, if there's anything that makes me uncomfortable, it's seeing grown men making moral judgments on what girls are or are not doing with their lady caves)'

      In this country it seems to be women that concern themselves with sexualisation of girls to a far greater extent than do men, though the opposite is true in most other countries I can think of. And 'lady caves'? Really?

      Commenter
      Craig
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 16, 2012, 9:54AM
      • Yes. It is important that young people (male and female) are allowed to explore their sexuality and develop their sexual identity. It is also important they learn socially appropriate ways to express it. Imagine, for a moment, that the sexes in the above examples were reversed and it was teenage boys waving banners at a girl band. It would not be acceptable for those boys to display signs saying "I'll give you One!" or "Show us your tits" - both consistent with the content of the signs carried by members of the young female crowd ("I'll give you One Erection" and "1D get naked!"). I argue that it they are equally inappropriate.

        I agree that moral outrage over teenage sexual exploration helps no-one. It is crucial that young people be allowed, in fact encouraged, to explore and develop their sexuality. But it is equally important that they learn appropriate ways to do so regardless of their sex. Perhaps, in this instance, some gentle guidance for these young women would be more appropriate than outrage over their behaviour or indignation over the media's response.

        Commenter
        TimE-H
        Date and time
        April 16, 2012, 9:57AM

        More comments

        Comments are now closed