As girls cross the threshold into adolescence, will they have the tools they need to create the quality of intimacy they deserve? How do we help girls access the power already within them to break the silence, get off the 'script’, and create encounters that work for them, on their own terms? Are we brave enough to educate girls about sex as source of self-knowledge, creativity and power? I work with adolescent girls because that's where I got lost...
You know you're off the path when you don't want to tell your best friend where you were after camp that day or what really happened with that guy from the birthday party. You know you're off the path when you realize you didn't even like any of those guys, you didn't really want to be there, and worst of all, that you were lucky you weren't raped. I say "lucky", because that's the edge I was on.
This is what can happen without meaningful initiation; youth will seek what feels real. Almost all of my early sexual experiences included coercion, pain, peer pressure, and shame. My self-esteem came from feeling desired, and let me tell you, "consent" is a really low bar. I explored my sexuality without ever considering what I wanted or what felt good. Boys defined the terms. There was no "me" in the question, "Does it feel right to me?," and afterwards, there was just confusion and untold stories.
In the vulnerable transformation from childhood into adolescence, I bought was was being sold. I learned, like so many others girls, that sex appeal is essential - more important than learning about my own body, my pleasure, or my happiness. I desperately wished someone could see that I wasn’t behaving how I wanted to behave, that I wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
Now, years later, I am the one I needed most. I teach girls how to use our heart, body and mind together as our greatest tools of perception. We recognize ourselves as active agents in our experience, and learn to trust our instincts. We need to remember to ask, not just "Am I safe?", but also "Who am I, and what do I want or need in this moment?” We need to break the default silence and respond, “If I wasn't afraid, what would I ask for?” It is important to be honest about how we're relating to the moment and be willing to do what is needed to prioritize ourselves.
How do we know when we’re ready for sex? How and when do we give permission? How do we balance responsibility, joy, and the perpetual risk of the unknown? What values, what framework, are we going to use to make our decisions? Are we adults brave enough to provide a map for the ongoing obstacles girls will face as they explore the territory of sexual expression?
Something is terribly wrong when what we look like becomes more important than who we are. Internalized objectification affects girls' mental health, confidence, and academic performance. Girls often make vulnerable and uninformed choices that will impact the rest of their lives because they don’t have a model for what real intimacy looks and feels like, without discomfort or coercion. We can offer a map to safe, mutual, respectful, healthy sexual expression for girls. When we focus with girls on how to access the strength, courage and wisdom already inside of them, we become allies for one another in the process. Those tools help develop an internal compass that can guide girls toward living life with consciousness, with intent, with a sense of connection, and that is powerful.
Article by Emily Frost, founder of Love Your Nature. Copyright 2016.
Inspired? A must read: Girls & Sex, by Peggy Orenstein