Following the May “In Celebration of Mothers” Luncheon keynoted by Peggy Orenstein,
Center for Domestic Peace hosted an informal evening event in Mill Valley with Peggy and
275 community members for an intergenerational dialogue about girls and sex. Interviewed
by Marin Academy senior, Olivia Fisher-Smith, Peggy covered many topics from her latest book regarding the new and complicated landscape for girls around the thorny subject of sex and intimacy. Also participating in the open question and answer session was Natasha Singh, sexual literacy educator, youth advocate, and C4DP board co-chair, along with Charis Denison, a youth advocate and expert in human development, ethics, and social justice & community involvement.
What came to light at this gathering, as Peggy covered extensively in her book, is that the
experience of intimacy and sex for young women today still places them in a vulnerable state
– even with the great strides of the women’s movement and progress in the workforce. From
social media to internet pornography, the landscape is very different today. The internet has
replaced sex education for many, with pornography impacting the way boys see girls and girls see themselves. Our culture places an emphasis on fear before pleasure, stressing pregnancy, STDs, and HIV as important issues around intimacy, never mentioning the joy, beauty, and freedom of what sexuality and intimacy can be for two young people.
Many girls today are confused, believing they are empowered in so many ways outside the
bedroom, but the power dynamic in relationships is not in their favor. Many are doing things they don’t want to do and don’t feel they have a voice to say that it doesn’t feel good. Many girls look for social acceptance and self-worth in others, taking the abuse to “keep the boy” or misinterpreting the abuse as care and affection. And boys are victims of what they see in the media, in video games, and the way our culture systematically portrays women.
So why do we care? Because this is where domestic violence finds its roots. This is where young girls begin to accept the notion that they are less worthy than their partners. This is where power over, not power with, begins to take hold. Nationally 1 in 3 teens report dating abuse, and in a 2015 survey of youth in Marin, 38% of respondents noted they or a friend had directly experienced dating abuse.
So what can we do?
1. We can begin with self-reflection of our own experience, and educate others about
how we want to be treated.
2. We can be uncomfortable and make the time anyway to talk to our middle school children
and teens about how they feel, what their experience is like, and what is important to them.
3. We can go to our schools and demand that sex education and teen clinics are a safe and
integral part of the school’s offerings.
4. We can form mother’s groups to gather and discuss our children’s sexuality, safety, and our own experiences of sexuality and intimacy.
5. We can ask our young men and women to join C4DP’s Marin Against Youth Abuse and
become an advocate in their own schools and life. They will learn all about the issue,
become empowered themselves, and become a resource for our community.
6. Join C4DP for one of our workshops, described to the right of this article, to receive
specialized training from the two experts who participated in our program on June 7.
“Our daughters deserve sexual encounters that are consensual, respectful, reciprocal, safe and pleasurable. They deserve to be able to express their wishes, needs and limits with a partner and be heard.” Peggy Orenstein