Three Things I Wish I Could Tell My Teenage Self, Part 1
First published at Tigress Mag for Girls
Image by Mai Ly Degnan
1. Learn about sex from feminists.
I published a poem called “Friends with Benefits,” and it tells the story of the boy from whom I learned how to give a blowjob. As the story goes, I didn’t let him put his hands, or anything else, down my pants because I didn’t shave my pubic hair. From listening to men and boys talk about the bodies of women they’d been with, I’d learned that they didn’t like girls or women with pubic hair. Hatred of my pubic hair was just one of the many things I picked up from listening to men and boys talk about sex. Their dislikes ran the gamut: too thin, too tall, too fat, too prude, too needy, too hairy, too slutty, too quiet, too smelly, too talkative.
It was like learning from porno movies, and later in life I began to realize those boys I overheard had learned about sex from porno movies and magazines—and other men, usually older men, like their brothers, fathers, or uncles (who also learned from porno movies). The standard conversations men engage in with one another about sex are comparison and/or conquest based, with the addition of the occasional horror story; for example, comparing one girl’s body with another girl’s body—during which most men become specific about size, shape, smell, etc. Conquest based conversations are about power and nothing more: alpha male pissing contests that use the subjugation and humiliation of women as their marks. In my “Friends with Benefits” example, I was afraid of becoming a horror story.
Elizabeth Olsen said, “I think it’s weird that teenage girls know more about giving blowjobs than they do about masturbation. It makes me sick to my stomach that so many young girls think sex is just about a guy finishing.” Learning about sex from men and boys teaches girls that their pleasure is not important. In fact, most information and media about sex makes no mention of female pleasure, and some forms of female pleasure can only get an X rating. Likewise, where men are encouraged to talk about sex as a form of bonding, girls are discouraged from talking about not only sex with one another, but anything regarding their reproductive systems or sexual organs, like periods or the female orgasm.
Somewhere in my teenage mind, I was acutely aware of what the boys’ stories were doing to me, but I was also very afraid of being one of the too prudes or too fats. Unfortunately, when men engage in conquest or comparison conversations about their sexual experiences, their partners will inevitably end up in such a role because it is the only way for a man in such a situation to sit atop the hierarchy of socialized masculinity. That last part I didn’t figure out until I engaged in a plethora of undergraduate feminist study.
It wasn’t until I was introduced to feminists like bell hooks, Naomi Wolf, Helene Cixous, Patricia Hill-Collins, Angela Davis, Kathleen Barry, Wendy Brown, Andrea Dworkin, Liz Kelly, Catherine Mackinnon, Adrienne Rich, Susan Sturgis, and Carole Vance that I began to unravel the knots that restricted my sexuality and sexual pleasure. It is important that girls learn about sex through feminists so they can make the best choices about their bodies and sexual pleasure. While one might not agree with everything presented by feminist studies of sex and sexuality, what is read could open up discussions and curiosities among girls about sex and sexuality, as well as help them access information that comes from a more analytical and nuanced perspective. Learning about sex from boys and men hurt me in innumerable ways, and feminists helped me heal those wounds. I’d like to see young girls today never get hurt in the first place.