A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion during a #sheparty (Wednesday afternoons, go to the hashtag on Twitter to participate!) with Angela Toussaint, author of The Momarchy: A Single Mom’s Guide to Guilt-Free Parenting. The topic was teen sexuality, and while I believe Angela and I agree on a lot of the basics, one point of disagreement was the question of teenaged girls being sexual active outside of relationships. Okay or not okay? The spectre of the blow job party came up, as well as the question of girls’ self-esteem.
Now I certainly don’t doubt that in many, maybe most, cases where teenaged girls are having sex outside of a relationship, bad shit happens. Often self-esteem can be harmed, not to mention much bigger problems. However, I’m not sure that as a parent, I would simply discourage my daughter from having “casual” sex as a teenager, because I don’t think that casual sex is the culprit.
The problem, particularly with blow job parties and the like, is assumptions. Like so many sexual topics, assumptions tend to come up based on gender here. It’s a “blow job party,” rather than a “cunnilingus” party, because men are seen as sexual subjects and girls as sexual objects. I don’t think there’s any problem with a teenaged girl deciding that she is interested in performing oral sex on a boy. The problems come up when the boy makes assumptions about the girl based on the kind of sex she’s interested, when the boy assumes that she’s “up for” other sexual activities without asking, when the girl gets a reputation because of our gendered assumptions about girls who give blow jobs, when other boys assume that she’s “up for” sex with them without asking, when teachers write this girl off as “bad” and don’t spend as much time educating her as other students.
In my life, I have had good sex in and out of relationships. I have had bad sex in and out of relationships. I haven’t found a correlation. Of course, many people do. But not everyone finds, as an adult, that relationships are the best structure for them. Not everyone wants to have relationships as a teenager. Many teenagers are not well-adjusted enough yet to be sexually active (I certainly wasn’t!) but I don’t believe that those who are should necessarily look for a relationship before looking for sex. What should teenage girls look for before engaging in sexual activity? What should parents encourage?
- Enthusiastic consent. Girls should look for a partner who wants to do what they want to do, and who respects what they want to do. A partner should always ask before initiating any sexual activity, and girls (and boys!) should know that it’s a good idea to say “stop” if they’re not sure or if a partner tries to go from one activity to another without asking. It’s okay to take some time to think about it, too, if you don’t know whether you want to do something.
- Privacy. It’s hard to find privacy as a teen, but because reputation in high schools is so fucked-up and based on gendered assumptions about people, it’s a good idea for teenagers to make sure those they have sex with are respectful and know not to discuss others’ sexual preferences. No one has the right to talk about your sex life without asking you if it’s okay.
- Communication. This goes hand-in-hand with enthusiastic consent. You don’t have to be in a relationship to communicate. Parents can encourage their children to talk about sex as soon as they start having it, and to question cultural assumptions about sex. If a girl is interested in performing oral sex on a boy, for example, that’s great. If she’s not interested in that, though, but is curious about manual stimulation, that’s fine too. If she’d like to be touched but isn’t ready to touch someone else, there might be someone who’s interested in that. Sex doesn’t have to be a one-for-one exchange, and no one ever needs to be guilty about not wanting to do a particular thing. Parents can teach this at a young age, letting teenagers know that as they become sexually active, they may have to educate their peers, as well.
As I said in my last post, I have had a bit of radio silence and I do apologize for that! The combination of a new job, some personal issues, and a few Sooper Sekrit projects have put me out of blogging commission, but only temporarily. I’ll try to get back to a once-a-week or more schedule here, and I thank you all so much for your patience.
Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about children, about mothering, and about where those topics intersect with feminism. I had some mixed reactions to the recent guest posts on Feministe that addressed the topic of young children in public spaces. I, like a number of feminists, am happily child free. I don’t hate children, in fact I have worked with children of different age groups in a few capacities, but I am child-free by choice. I enjoy interacting with children, and I also like to have adult spaces where I do not have to interact with children.
I agreed with the poster on a number of points. Children are human beings, and feminism does need to recognize the importance of mothers and girls in the movement (as well as fathers and boys). I am a strong believer in the “flip side of choice,” aka the choice to have a child and the need for support of children. I think the “it takes a village” concept is awesome, and I also believe that a form of “community parenting” can be a very good thing.
On the other hand, I don’t like it when I feel like someone is telling me that it is my responsibility to interact with and comfort an upset child in a public space. I do think that if a child is crying and no one volunteers to comfort the child, it’s the mother’s job to take the child outside, calm him or her down, etc. It’s also a mother’s (parent’s) job to teach children appropriate behavior in public. Sure, it would be great if mothers could say “my child is well-behaved and thus should be able to enter all public spaces.” I sympathize with the poster, who expresses concern about mothers being isolated or stigmatized. But the fact is that unfortunately, most mothers do claim that their child won’t cry or scream in public, and usually somebody does (ruining it for the rest of them). I can imagine how frustrating it is for parents of quiet children when someone brings in a noisy, disruptive child and the animosity gets focused on the parents of the quiet child instead. But I don’t have a handy solution.
The fact is that society shouldn’t stigmatize mothers, nor should it stigmatize those of us who are child-free. I am so tired of having the heterosexual relationship model foisted on me, so tired of having happy families and cute kids shoved in my face, so tired of medical professionals insisting that I will want a kid one day, so please take our fertility literature. Just as I’m sure mothers like the poster on Feministe are tired of being ridiculed for their choices. I hate to say it, but… can’t we all just get along?
For day twenty-one of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “When Pregnancy Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Pregnant” by Tioloma Jayasinghe. This essay was something of a revelation when I first read it, because like most (white, middle class) people I tended to have a knee-jerk reaction when I heard about “crack babies” and pregnant women drinking or doing drugs. How dare the mother? How sad for the child. Jayasinghe does a good job of pointing out the problems with this reaction, which include ignorance of the roots of the problem in racism and poverty, studies that show hard drugs actually aren’t proven to harm babies, and the lack of available treatment options for mothers who do want help with a drug problem. This is an issue that is in fact just as important to the pro-choice movement as the right to a legal and affordable abortion, but much less talked-about.