Now, Let’s Talk about Sex. Uncomfortable Already?
Throughout my personal BodyLove journey, a handful of books have had a major impact on my worldview and view of myself, books to which I owe my continuing transformation. Recently, I found another to add to that list: Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein.
I have always felt that teaching girls and women to love and respect their bodies is imperative to feeling authentic and empowered in our lives. I know how views of women’s bodies and a sexualized culture contribute to our struggles with loving our bodies and, thus, ourselves. So I was shocked when, after reading this book, I realized I had never really seen how powerfully our culture affects our sexuality and how we navigate intimacy in our lives. I mean, of course it does! But, I had never deeply considered or understood the extent to which the things girls and women are taught about our bodies and sex are of the utmost importance to women’s equality.
I never really thought or talked about sex in regards to BodyLove because it’s a really uncomfortable subject. There are so many opinions, experiences, and wounds bound up in this topic. It’s funny- as a culture we see sex EVERYWHERE, yet we are basically silent when it comes to discussing it with our partners and our children. Without deep awareness of what both girls and boys are taught about the female body and the expected power dynamic between partners during sexual encounters, I would have certainly- however unintentionally- perpetuated those beliefs. In an interview about her book, Peggy Orenstein says this about the conversation, or lack thereof, with girls about sex and sexuality:
“We’re still really schizophrenic and uncomfortable about female sexuality, and female power. On one hand, the culture is absolutely saturated with sexuality, littered with female objectified body parts: porn is everywhere; sexualized images of women are everywhere. And we’re so anxious about that we’re unwilling to have honest discussions with girls about sexuality.”
If you have a son or daughter, or children of any age in your life, I urge you- no, BEG you to read this book! If you don’t have the time, just check out these quick interviews with Peggy Orenstein on the topic: HERE and HERE.
My biggest takeaway from the book and how it relates to BodyLove?
When it comes to the portrayal of women’s bodies and women’s sexuality, mostly we are represented as and taught to be the “givers” of pleasure. The subliminal message is that our bodies are not necessarily for our own pleasure, but to satisfy the “looker.” Women are very rarely taught or encouraged to seek pleasure for themselves – be it in bed, in the boardroom, or in life. So part of loving and respecting my body means that I deserve the gift of receiving its pleasure, whether eating my favorite kind of cake, or experiencing that joy during intimacy. This is a necessary part of reclaiming our intrinsic right to feel joy and pleasure, to take pride in who we are and what we want, and to take up the space we deserve in our relationships and our lives. As Peggy Orenstein says in Girls and Sex when discussing the confusing terrain of what is considered “empowering” to girls,
“If the script handed down by our hypersexualized culture expanded the vision of ‘sexy’ to include a broad range of physical size and ability, skin shade, gender identity, sexual preference, age; if it taught girls that how their bodies feel to them is more important than how they look to others; if it reminded them that neither value nor ‘empowerment’ are contingent on the size of their boobs, belly, or ass; if it emphasized that they are entitled to ethical, reciprocal, mutually pleasurable sexual encounters; then maybe, maybe I’d embrace it.”
Ah, now doesn’t that sound like a beautiful model of what every girl should be taught about her body and sexuality?! Most of the ideas and perspectives offered in this book are still percolating in me, and I am sure that I will still be processing how this affects me, my work, and children for some time to come. I am grateful to have the opportunity, however uncomfortable it is at times, to think about and grapple with these issues, and to be a part of this changing conversation.