Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Teenage Girls and Sex

"Teenage Girls and Sex"

Posted by Sara Fleehart, MS, LMFTA.

On September 11, 2008, exactly seven years to the day after the United States experienced one of the greatest tragedies within our borders, Time magazine published an article outlining another possible home-front crisis. This one is not originating on foreign soil, does not involve flight plans and goals for ending American lives, and it is not a hard-hitting day that burns images of suffering and rubble into our minds and memories. It is slower, perhaps more invisible in the daily blur of life. It is a crisis hitting a targeted population: teen girls. In Time magazine’s article "The Truth About Teen Girls" about girls becoming “sex-wise,” younger than in years past, paints a picture of a culture of the OC and Gossip Girl where high-school girls are showing more skin and talking about engaging in more sexual activities than some people even knew existed. Belinda Luscombe, author of the article, states that “we idealize youth and sexiness but recoil if our young want to be sexy.” These mixed messages of “be sexy but, by gosh, don’t be sexy (and absolutely do not have sex or a sex drive)” set-up our teen girls for a lose-lose situation. One question is: how are our teens interpreting these messages?

As Luscombe relates, it may not be in the way that we think they are. After all, teen brains are not adult brains. Research shows this. While they are on their way to having adult brains, they’re not there yet. This can cause some problems when, as Luscombe points out, the media presents being hot and sexy as the only identity worth pursuing. Teenagehood is already a time of confusion about identity. It is, in fact, normal for teens to try out different identities and ask questions about who they really are and who they really want to be. It is not healthy when all other possible identities related to anything other than hotness are taken off the table. With arrests for child pornography on the rise, many parents are worried and wanting to put more effort into protecting their teenage girls. So what can you do on the home front to combat this?

In my experience, providing teen girls with a safe place to talk about sex, expectations, identity, and other related issues serves to re-open doors that may have been closed or at least mostly shut in the wake of the media focus on sexuality as the only acceptable measure of identity. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your teen about these things, as many parents do, try websites that are not aimed at selling things to teens and more about information such as http://www.girlsinc.org/ (recommended in Luscombe’s article). On the website there are links titled strong girls, smart girls, bold girls, etc., painting a much more holistic picture of real girls out there. Search the web for other sites like this one, and show your daughters what you found. Then they can visit the site whenever they have questions that you don’t know how to answer or are uncomfortable answering yourself.

So, the point is not to convince girls that sexuality is not a normal part of life, but to teach them that it has a place in life just like everything else, and that to be a well-rounded person it is important to develop in multiple areas. Focusing on other areas where identity can be formed and shaped (like sports, academics, music, dance, community service, art, etc.) as well as talking with teens about the messages they are seeing/getting from media regarding sex and “being hot” serves to help your teen girl broaden her definition of success and self-acceptance. Bottom line: this is not a crisis we have to submit to. We can help our teens understand the influences around them so that they can make and own healthy choices as often as possible.

Editor's Note: Sara Fleehart, MS, LMFTA is employed by Lifespan Psychological Services and provides therapy and tutoring services to adolescents with a variety of challenges. She completed her undergraduate training in psychology at Gonzaga University and her Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University.