Episode 1: About Girls, Boys, and the Sex Ed We Need
Featuring Peggy Orenstein
This is the first of our two-episode series with Peggy Orenstein. Peggy is the author of the New York Times best-seller Girls & Sex, as well as Cinderella Ate My Daughter and Waiting for Daisy. In 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) named her one of its 40 Women Who Changed the Media Business in the Past 40 Years. Our conversation was simply too good to fit into one episode!
Peggy first tells us about her personal story and the inspiration behind her research into female sexual empowerment. She then talks about the negative culture in the United States- making a call for change in the toxic was that boys and girls currently experience their sexuality, and citing a reformation of education as the solution. She particularly cites the problem that girls currently feel “entitled to engage but not to enjoy,” referencing participation in sex- but without owning their own entitlement to pleasure.
Inspiration: From the 70’s Sexual Revolution to Motherhood
Sex became more political with the sexual revolution from the 70’s. Progress was made with the free love movement, but the door slammed shut and progress was quickly erased throughout the mid 80’s with the Reagan administration, the AIDs crisis, and in the 90’s with the Bill Clinton sex scandal.
She also cites her experience as a mother as a paramount inspiration for her work.
“Bill Clinton saying ‘I did not have sex with that woman,’ and actively not defining oral sex as any sort of sex at all, did not do anybody any favors.”
The cultural default- focused on men’s pleasure
Peggy frames this a social justice issue and quotes Sara McClelland and her “Intimate Justice” concept. Seeking “intimate justice” urges us to ask ourselves the hard questions about our sexual experiences and standards.
“I don’t want girls’ earlier experiences to be something they have to get over.”
The American Psychological Clitorodoctomy and Vulvamort
In the U.S. culture, language doesn’t exist for us to talk about female pleasure. For example, even women themselves have never been taught how to name their own anatomy.
When babies are born, parents are statistically more likely to name all the body parts if it is a boy. Often times girls’ anatomy simply is refrained from being mentioned- and there is no better way to make something unspeakable than to not give it a name.
Girls then go through puberty with books like Care and Keeping On You: The American Girl Book, that don’t name the clitoris.
In education classes, boys are taught about erections and ejeculation, while girls get taught about periods and unwanted pregnancy.
No surprise! Fewer than half of girls 14 - 17 have ever masturbated!
Then they have a partner experience and as a society we somehow hope they will realize it should be about them and magically know how to please themselves??
On Consent: “‘I was not raped’ is a very low bar to set for a sexual experience...”
What happens after “yes”?
Another inspiration for writing Girls & Sex was to help talk about what actually happens after the “yes.” To talk about how we can help provide an experience that is reciprocal, mutual, enjoyable, to raise the low bar of current standards for female sexual experiences.
Sara McClelland studies sexual satisfaction and how people define the “good enough.”
Her research found that female college students are more likely than men to define their satisfaction by their partner’s pleasure.
“Research often says that women report satisfaction levels equal to men- but that’s because they have different definitions.”
According to a New York times article, the Our Whole Lives sex education curriculum is one of the only programs with evidence that it reduces women’s risk of victimization. Girls did not question their own thinking and they didn’t let the coercion go as far.
More effort and education needs to go focus on teaching boys not to be perpetrators.
The Dutch sexual experience vs. the US sexual experience
This study compared the early sexual experience of 400 randomly chosen girls at two demographically similar colleges, in Holland and in the US. The Dutch girls were much more likely to be prepared for and to enjoy sexual experiences.
The main difference was that parents in the US framed all of the conversation around risk and danger, while the Dutch parents talked about a balance and responsibility and enjoyment.
The unhealthy script our culture writes for boys
Most boys don’t want their partner to have a bad experience, they are simply working off of the the script they have heard about, read about, or seen in the movies. All they know is: “Don’t get a girl pregnant,” “respect women,” and “look experienced.” We really need to broaden the notion of sexuality and to begin to educate them more specifically and more intimately about such huge, incredibly important themes.
On Sex Ed: “Why do we always talk about women as this passive recipient of penises??”