The sex talk that young women should get

Sue and Debbie from Puberty Blues.

Sue and Debbie from Puberty Blues.

Without a doubt, one of the best Australian dramas on TV right now (and arguably one of the best ever made, period) is Channel Ten’s Puberty Blues. Based on the 1979 eponymous book by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey, it tells the story of two teenage girls growing up on the beaches of Cronulla where sex, drugs and oppressive gender warfare dominate.

The early sexual experiences of protagonists Sue and Debbie are characterised by pleasureless ‘roots’ administered for the most part by boys with no concern for their consent or mutual pleasure. Which is why it’s been so fist-pumpingly wonderful to watch as season two of Puberty Blues sends Sue on a path of sexual self discovery. Portrayed beautifully by Brenna Harding, Sue’s upbringing has the edge on Debbie’s due to the liberal mindedness of her parents.

After a frank discussion with her mother (Susie Porter) in which Sue confesses that “sex is like homework - you hate doing it, but you have to”, she is given a copy of ‘The Joy of Sex’ and told to find one boy who she can discover what to do with together. “Okay,” her mother Pam says. “Now you’re going to choose one, teach him to listen, and then you tell him where to go.”

Puberty Blues's Sue on orgasms, "Like Rice Crispies exploding on top of a rainbow/"

Puberty Blues's Sue on orgasms, "Like Rice Crispies exploding on top of a rainbow/"

Watching this tender interplay between mother and daughter reinforced to me just how important it is for us all to be as encouraging of sexual desire in girls as we are with boys. The sex drives of the latter have never been in question; they form the subject of storytelling narratives, jokes and even defences against bad or criminal behaviour.

Advertisement

But girls are given short shrift when it comes to hormones and sexual curiosity. Overwhelmingly, the social message that girls hear is that sex for us is meaningless without love. Rather than choosing a boy, teaching him to listen and telling him where to go, we’re told instead from a young age to be wary of who we ‘give it’ to because ‘boys don’t respect girls who don’t respect themselves’.

All of that places girls in the position of passive bystander to sexual activity. Because what’s not to respect about a woman who knows what she wants, who isn’t afraid to ask for it and who understands that the world of pleasure has more for her than simply negotiating the exchange of sex (a secondary activity) for the receipt of love (the primary goal)?

One of the best ways we can encourage young girls to prioritise their sexual pleasure above that of a wishy washy notion of ‘love’ is to once and for all lose the whispered stigma around female masturbation. The biological aspects of sex education are necessary, but they have to go hand in hand with lessons on pleasure - both the mutual exchange of it and its solitary pursuit. I have hopes that this is changing already, but I still hear far too many women eschewing masturbation, claiming either that they get bored or that if they’ve got the horn they’ll just find someone to have sex with.

Such an exchange happened recently on MTV’s Awkward, a TV dramady that follows the misadventures of high school senior Jenna and her friends. In the season 4 premiere, Jenna is caught masturbating by her parents, both of whom handle it with a healthy mix of embarrassment and encouragement. Later, Jenna’s best friend Tamara asks her if she was really caught ‘tiptoeing through the tulips’ and if she has orgasms. “Why else would I do it?” comes Jenna’s response.

I liked this scene because it normalises masturbation for girls while making it clear that there’s no shame in seeking orgasms. But it’s powerful as well because Tamara’s vocal distancing from the act isn’t enough to mask the fact that she feels like she’s missing out on a fundamental aspect of sexuality.

When she later establishes that her boyfriend has had a 100% success rate with orgasming together, she gets agitated by the fact that her own ‘half-orgasms’ have been accepted as good enough. By the episode’s end, she’s figured some things out with the help of her friends (not to mention her electric toothbrush), and the message is clear - masturbation and orgasms good, repression bad.

Sex with another (or multiple) partners is very different to sex alone - the latter isn’t just a whizzbang way to entertain yourself for a few minutes (or hours, depending on your preference). It’s also a perfect celebration of sexual selfishness and exploration without pressure - two things essential to women to not only understand the ebbs and flows of their bodies but to become more attuned to how to stimulate those things with a partner. After all, if you can’t figure out how to get yourself off, how can you expect someone else to?"

Like Tamara, Sue also goes on her journey of sexual self discovery. As her mother instructs, she finds a boy (Woody) and together they explore open, respectful and adventurous sex together free from judgment or shame. After Sue has her first orgasm, she walks home along the beach contemplating the shift of understanding that’s just happened; her face erupts into the most joyful of smiles, and not a dry eye was to be had in any woman across the land. I wept again when she describes the feeling to her mother - like Rice Crispies exploding on top of a rainbow.

Why wouldn’t anyone want to get all up on that, especially if they can do it alone? We’re packing major heat in our pants, ladies. There’s no shame in spending time tinkering with the engine. Besides, from my many years of experience, I can personally guarantee that a well oiled machine doesn’t take much revving to turn over.

14 comments

  • I'm glad there's more talk of this now - many women generally don't explore their bodies enough or allow themselves to relax enought to enjoy the full benefits of sex.

    If the 60's saw young people opening up sexually, that same genration has certainly seemed to have made the past few decades tighter than a tupperware container. I can only hope we grow out of it and communicate more on the topic again. It's healthy and it's of benefit to women and men. Everyone deserves some decent sex.

    Commenter
    Joe
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 02, 2014, 9:42AM
    • I remember as a teen in 1995 there being an article about masturbation in an issue of Girlfriend (remember that one 90s girls?). When my mother saw it she flew into a very Catholic rage and declared that magazine verboten in our house. My dad told her to stop being an idiot because I needed to know about these things so I could own my sexuality rather than turning over to some horny boy who doesn't know what he's doing. Thanks dad <3

      Commenter
      Sir Lolsworthy
      Date and time
      May 02, 2014, 10:51AM
      • great article,
        hoping to be as open to my child.
        virginity is a gift to yourself.

        Commenter
        hugh
        Location
        syd
        Date and time
        May 02, 2014, 11:02AM
        • A refreshing perspective and oh so true. I have never thought of encouraging my daughters to enjoy their sexuality and discuss their desire freely with their future partners. I think I'll incorporate that into 'What's happening to me?" talk in a few years time. It's a humanly pleasure if done respectfully and it shouldn't be a chore for the female. The article has opened my eyes and gave me another perspective, thank you :)

          Commenter
          Sue
          Location
          NSW
          Date and time
          May 02, 2014, 11:39AM
          • I loved that scene in Puberty Blues and then the next when Sue tells her mum about the her first orgasm. I wish I had a mum like that.

            My sex education from adults and the media consisted of (a) if you get pregnant I'm not looking after it (b) be careful what you wear otherwise boys might get the wrong idea (c) or that all women achieved orgasm through penetration all the time. When I started having sex I thought that through penetration I would have these amazing orgasms like they did on TV but nope. So I then started faking because I thought there was something wrong me or was too shy to ask and boys didn't ask either because they were just as clueless as I was! Dolly/Cleo - as open as you thought you were completely useless.

            Commenter
            Ripley
            Location
            Hunting Aliens
            Date and time
            May 02, 2014, 11:49AM
            • Must admit to a little surprise reading this article! So there are obviously parents out there by the boatload that don't have the skills or a healthy simple and frank way to ensure their children of either sex have a healthy approach to sexual understanding and navigation of themselves for one and secondly with a partner. The scourge of sexual repression and guilt related mental anguish which I thought was a thing of the past, (with great relief for society), apparently is not. Oh well live and learn.
              P.S. and be safe, even with yourself!

              Commenter
              eyeswideopen
              Location
              earth
              Date and time
              May 02, 2014, 11:50AM
              • My (male) mates and I (also male) at uni joke about the fact that we have procrastination masturbation and it's the most natural thing to talk about. I've never had this conversation with a female colleague, however. I hate the idea of my female friends feeling awkward or embarrassed to talk about it and it shouldn't take 10 vodka red bulls to make it a conversation topic. The more we talk about it in the media the more acceptable it will become. All glory to the female orgasm.

                Commenter
                Shane
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                May 02, 2014, 12:03PM
                • I could not agree more with this. I was a sexually liberated teenager (and now adult) for one reason - my mother told me sex was no big deal, and that it was pleasurable. It flew in the face of messages my female friends got at the same age about being sluts and being used. Sexual permission for teenage females was so low that several friends I had who went into sexual experiences out of desire and curiosity left them ashamed and occasionally claimed co-coercion to escape "blame" for wanting or having sex. Teenage girls do need to be taught that they are viable sexual beings, and not victim of handsy boys who will destroy their purity.

                  Commenter
                  missminute
                  Date and time
                  May 02, 2014, 12:11PM
                  • Thanks for the reminder Clementine! I know how important
                    it was for me to discover all the ' buttons and knobs ' to my
                    sexual pleasure and was fortunate to find a boy (still a good
                    friend after 30 + years) who was a good listener and learner.
                    I need to let my 12 yo daughter in on the secret....

                    Commenter
                    Tarli
                    Date and time
                    May 02, 2014, 12:16PM
                    • I have love love loved this storyline about Sue - and agree that the acting by Brenna Harding is beautiful. It's especially poignant when contrasted with the girls' other experiences. I only hope that I can have the same kind of relationship with my children as Sue has with her mum. I also love the dad - between both parents they have that "healthy mix of embarrassment and encouragement" going on :o)

                      Commenter
                      joc
                      Date and time
                      May 02, 2014, 12:48PM

                      More comments

                      Comments are now closed