Why we cannot shame young women's sexuality

This is the first blog I have written in a while, I really should be writing more as I have so much to share from all of the learning’s from the young women I have been working with, all of the societal observations, pondering’s, questions and tips. I pledge to write regularly from now on.

This blog is about why we cannot and must not shame young women’s developing sexuality and this is a crucial and fundamental part of The Blossom Guide’s vision, mission and something I must share.

We are living in a truly unique time things are completely different for young women coming of age now, due to changes in technology, the phenomenon of hyper-sexualisation and changes in societal attitudes and beliefs. It can be really challenging for parents, teachers, youth workers or other adults in a young woman’s life to really understand what’s going on and what the thoughts, feelings, pressures or insecurities the young woman in their life may be experiencing. There is no more challenging topic than sexuality, from the 1950’s till now talking about the ‘birds and bees’ has always caused a cringe in Australian society. I feel lucky that I love talking about it and that I have the privilege to create a space for young women to talk about it.  Now this is not about sexual intercourse or the act itself as we cover sexual health fantastically in this country, no this is something deeper something much more interesting to me and that is what actually is sexuality and why is it so important?

When I wrote The Blossom Guide content at age 27 from a social science viewpoint exploring women’s empowerment and modern issues, particularly hyper-sexualisation, I was startled to discover I didn’t fully understand what sexuality was, how it is natural, a part of me and something that will be developing my whole life and perhaps something I should be aware of! I reflected back on my education, peers, experiences and the messages fed to me and realised not once was I given a holistic view of sexuality not even from Cosmopolitan the Magazine, which I then considered to be the sexuality bible. I discovered that essentially sexuality was

·         Capacity for sexual feelings

·         Sexual preference

·         Sexual activity

·         Day to day behaviours- Such as the way you choose to present yourself or the behaviours you engage in

I read a whole array of books on sexuality including a book called ‘Me Sexy’ that focused on indigenous sexuality and the perspectives and attitudes before western colonialism and sexual awkwardness came along, some hang ups we still have today.

So back to the girls, I really wasn’t sure how they were going to take this content, would it be embarrassing, irrelevant or too much? To my surprise from the get go young women have absolutely lapped up this content and want much more! In the Blossom Guide Session- Positive Female Sexuality the main learning outcomes are

·         Understanding the notions of sexuality and sensuality

·         How to critique the messages being conveyed to you

·         How to use your values to navigate this space

·         Self-Confidence

In between these topics we explore everything from Fifty Shades of Grey to Lingerie Companies, Kim Kardashians Sex Tape and Netflix shows like Riverdale and Vampire Diaries. More importantly we talk about sensuality and how you must value yours before engaging in your sexuality, something again I personally had no idea about at age 27!

So, what do I mean about not shaming young women’s sexuality, obviously parents or teachers do not want to shame young people, but unfortunately it is much more complex than that and here is why.  Australia very much is still a conservative country we find it hard to discuss sexuality or what young people need (Safe Schools debacle!) yet we have huge hyper sexual undertones, we consume a lot of Porn (one of the top countries in the world) and have some pretty sexist attitudes in a variety of arenas, in case you missed it our Prime Minister Scott Morrison just made a terrible joke about Pamela Anderson, something you would expect from a 1970’s BBQ. What this means is our young women are somewhere in between they don’t know what really is going on, yet get a lot of very strong messaging with things from the conservative basket like “Guys want to have sex more than girl’s” and some from the hyper sexual basket like “Having bigger breasts makes you more sexually attractive”. Mix this up with Social Media and a very sexualised Pop Culture and you are headed towards a young woman who will be behaving and holding attitudes that weren’t hers to begin with. Its so easy to think this is terrible and young women are doomed, yet here is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Developing as a young woman through the teen years can be the best years, you have space to experiment, breathe, ponder who you are and the freedom to explore many areas of life. I was talking to a teacher the other month who warmly reflected on her ‘Goth’ stage during high school, an image that seemed miles away from who she was now but obviously a very core part to her development. This is also an age you start to notice yourself, notice others, have sexual feelings or get sexual attention. I can remember summers with my cousin posing provocatively on our blow up ‘lilo’s’ down the lake we felt so good and giggled uninhibited in the sunshine, these snaps were taken on our disposable Kodak cameras and no one would ever see the photos but us! Something purely innocent, yet if done in today’s context through ‘Sexting’ or ‘Snap Chat’ could be considered something terrible. We too looked to Pop Idols and mimicked them something done through the ages, yet with today’s starlets pushing the boundaries more than ever one simple and strong message is being sold to our girls ‘sex sells’ and be who you want to be, but being sexy is paramount. Kylie Jenner (the youngest Kardashian) who has over 100 million Instagram followers, a fan base of mostly 15-year old’s and resembles a real-life Barbie Doll due to plastic surgery also has a make up empire with lip sticks that read ‘x rated’, ‘barely legal’, ‘virginity’, ‘hot and bothered’. Plus, stars like Rihanna or Gigi or Bella Hadid can wear sheer dresses exposing their breasts or thongs on the red carpet. This may feel great and expressive to them but I don’t think Year 12 girls at Perth’s MLC could attend their formal in this attire.

My point is young women are currently stuck between a ‘rock and hard place’ with parents saying “Don’t go out in that” and Pop Stars saying “Go out in nothing”. We need to support young women to critique their choices and understand themselves rather than shutting them down which may encourage them to choose the latter. This is also a very sensitive time when you vulnerably express yourself or engage in a behaviour that can be wrong for you, being come down hard on can be a huge blow to self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience.

I delivered a talk to 200 year 10’s last month that included ‘Sexting’. A young woman came up to me afterwards and said how much she had loved the talk because she had never heard sexting and sexuality discussed in that way. Basically, I had said that wanting to express yourself sexually is natural and not to feel ashamed about, it’s the choices we make we need to be aware of. She told me she had been involved in a sexting incident in Year 7 she had sent an image to a boy that had gone viral, she explained when she was taken to the school office both her parents and teachers talked about how bad it was and how disappointed they were. She said no one asked her why she had done it and if they had she would be answered because she wanted to, because it was exciting and because it made her heart race. No, she didn’t get to share what was really going on and what is going on for many other young women.

Rather than telling young women what is right or wrong or what they can or cannot do we need to sit in the space with them, provide support and try to understand. Yes, share your values or own experiences, this is am ongoing conversation that you too will learn so much from. Let’s not be horrified or fearful of young women’s sexuality they are not a weapon or an inherent risk. Let’s make them feel safe and empowered enough to trust themselves and even enjoy themselves!

Written by Jayde Robinson-Clancy

Founder of The Blossom Guide- A Young Woman’s Guide to Empowerment

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Shaming Other Women

The incident of Play Boy Model Dani Mathers sharing a nude photo of an unconsenting nude woman in a change room in LA spiked The Blossom Guide’s radar back in June. Not only was a nude shared to an un relentless network, but Dani also mocked and made fun of the state of the woman’s physique. The look on Dani’s face in the candid caption is similar to that of a token ‘mean’ girl in a D grade horror movie and clearly this young woman who had achieved success by having the ideal sexualised woman’s body was not happy with what she saw. This represented something much bigger than Dani, it reflected the general disgust women can have for other women for no other reason than the way they look. Again, this issue is timeless, and is not new to 2016, think the girl who comes from a low socio economic back ground and turns up to school unkempt with a ragged hand me down uniform or the socially awkward girl who tries too hard to be on trend at a party and is mocked and teased by the group. Yet, in this modern day the shaming and judging of other women has never been so prevalent, accessible and encouraged. Pick up any woman’s mag in Australia and you will find pictures of over-weight or average women the ‘ultimate female failure’ with the associated story of how their life is a mess, their partner left them for the hot young baby sitter and now they have no place. Or the group chat messages that constantly feature screen shots of other women’s bodies, bikini pics, dress sense, poses and associated commentary. Or the new mother who has ‘let herself go’ due to her chipped nails, regrowth and Trackie pants, gross.

Now, where sexuality is concerned this is where it can get quiet dark and even harmful to all women. Women collectively walk a fine line and personal responsibility of how they react and respond to other women’s image and behaviour. For example, a close friend of mine once revealed she could not watch The Victoria Secret Fashion Show with her partner in the room as it made her feel physically sick; the dichotomy of being too ‘ugly’ is being too ‘sexy’ this is another historical and modern day problem. The shaming of sexually overt women is just as or even more common than the shaming of less desirable women. I’m sure Playmate Dani Mathers has received her fair share of social shaming for choosing to pose naked for a living. Kimmy K’s naked selfies or most recently Chrissy Teigen’s ‘Vagina Dress’ sparked absolute uproar primarily from other women, I too had a reaction I had to unpack. Or popular ‘real’ bloggers such as Constance Hall who satirically posed in her bikini at the beach commenting on Rebecca Judd’s sexiness only a couple of weeks after twins and her own a couple years after birth. Is this healthy? Does it help women to be able to laugh that their bodies are not the same as Rebecca Judd’s? Or could we have healthier conversations on women’s identities without the constant personal comparison and mockery?

In a time based on the freedom of social expression could we even begin to not focus on the sexual overtness or lack thereof as the primary characteristic of a woman. Could Dani have put her phone away at the gym, and not glared in a female counter parts direction harmlessly getting changed after a personal workout with absolute contempt. We all have a responsibility to unpack the feelings, reaction and judgements within ourselves, which is very difficult in a society saturated with criticism and ideals.

The Blossom Guide takes this responsibility very seriously and facilitates discussion around pop culture icons, attitudes, normative behaviours and social expectations as opposed to focusing on or criticising individuals. The Blossom Guide hopes and is working towards a future generation of girls who will be empowered not to fall victim to constant comparison and the shaming of other women.

Written by Jayde Robinson-Clancy
- Founder The Blossom Guide

Social Sexuality

Why does The Blossom Guide do what it does? Why a focus on Social Sexuality? What does that even mean? The Blossom Guide believes and evidence tells us that girls and young women’s attitudes towards sexuality and behaviours are significantly influenced by external factors such as Pop Culture, Social Media and Sexualised Images. Bikini snaps flooding Instagram, pouting filters on Snap chat or twerking like Miley on a Saturday night represent much more than ‘girls being girls’ it represents young women naturally responding to the sexually saturated world around them.  We can appreciate adolescent women through the ages have been taught to value or even obsess over their image and bodies. Looking good, being ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ has usually been associated with success for women. However, what we have now is something much different young women are taught that being ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ from the moment you know how to ‘work it’ is paramount. Being sexually overt is expected and celebrated; what we are seeing is a whole new world to navigate for adolescents.

 The Blossom Guide appreciates Respectful Relationship programs and respects Physical Sex Education, yet how can these initiatives have meaningful impact if girls are being sexualised before they even hit puberty. Common themes of consent we have been campaigning for as a Nation for decades can be tricky when teens ideas of sex are now informed by Hard Core Porn. The real challenges young women face in this space is the belief that their sexuality is not something innate and personal, rather something you ‘put on’ and perform in order to be popular and valued. Who cannot remember stating to their parents in response to a rule “Oh but everyone is doing it” well that is how it is for the current ‘Sexting’ crisis we see in Australia. Young people don’t even use the term ‘Sexting’ because sharing nude pics is considered normal "Everyone is doing it". In a recent article a 20-year-old young women was explaining to her Mum nude images won’t be a big deal in 20 years as even the politicians will have a history of nude pics plastered over the internet, as it is 'that normal'. Whether you agree with nudes or not, this is the space we are living in and there is a call for down to earth and frank conversations with young people. The Blossom Guide is at the forefront of creating this space for young women, empowering them and giving them the tools to navigate this landscape for themselves. There is no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ no anti this or anti that, the conversation is simply based on the world and reality we are living in and how young women can identify their own values so that they can make informed choices and feel good about themselves. 

Good Girls and Bad Girls

Good Girls and Bad Girls
Since moving from tribal communities to agriculturally based societies where religion, property and marriage all have played a significant role in people's lives one thing is for sure we have always divided women into 'good girls' and 'bad girls'. Good Girls being the ‘girl next door’ who would be invited to Grans dinner on Sunday night and stay for a sensible game of scrabble afterwards, Bad Girls as Pamela Anderson once perfectly put it are “the one every man wants, but would never marry”, a simplistic split huh?
Even to this day young women struggle to find their balance in between, somewhere where they can express their innate sexuality, be comfortable and true to themselves without conforming to expected norms or ‘going too far’ and being called a 'slut'. 
The Blossom Guides workshops focus on how young women view themselves and others and ask the big question why? Why in 2016 can young women’s self-esteem cling to two socially constructed concepts? 
New research has concluded that teen girls 'sext' because they think it’s fun and sexy rather than because they feel pressured by boys. Times have changed and culturally being a stripper, porn star or hyper- sexual can be seen as cool and attractive you only have to look up Sasha Greys American Apparel campaign or the incredible transformation of Miley from Disney sweetheart to Madonna’s even better protégé. 
The truth is women are many things we are complex there is no black and white or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ just a combination of the two. Who can watch Grease and not get excited by the wicked transformation of the doe-eyed, poodle skirt wearing Sandy to that black of the shoulder top, beyond skin tight black pants combined with red pumps. Women are many things and young women need to understand they don't need to be a certain way to be valued or 'fit in', young women need to accept themselves as they are. An integrated sense of self will lead to much more confident young women and healthier relationships. 

Generation XXX

Young people are watching or looking at explicit images at unprecedented rates. Never before have vast amounts of boys and girls seen hardcore porn at age 12. We have started to see sexualised behaviours played out in Primary Schools and High Schools, yet do not know what the long-term effects will be on relationships and our community.
This issue affects both boys and girls,however impacts both sexes differently. We know young women are generally introduced to porn by a male, girls who then watch porn whilst developing their sexuality believe they have to perform and act in a certain way for their partners to value them. This blocks girls from experiencing sexuality on their own terms and from pleasure. The worst case scenarios are we now have a large amount of young women presenting to GP clinics across the country with sexual injuries.
The Blossom Guide works with Schools, Community Agencies and Wellbeing Services focusing on a preventative approach looking at Porn Literacy.
The Blossom Guide does not have an agenda or certain stance on Pornography, sexuality and sexualised images have been explored from the beginning of time. The Blossom Guide ultimately works with young women to feel good about themselves, their choices, behaviours and instil a confidence so they can be in control of what they experience and witness.

Positive Female Sexuality

For me, nothing epitomises the current context and debate of positive female sexuality in Australia than luxury lingerie boutique Honey Birdette.
For those who don’t know, Honey Birdette instantly rose to have a cult following of female fans since its launch as ‘Australia’s first sensuality boutique’ back in the mid-noughties. Originally packaged as a pin-up/ burlesque inspired store with glamorous cherry-lipped shop assistants, champagne and decadent accessories, where women can carefully select lingerie or accessories for themselves rather than a $20.00 faux lace teddy from the local adult store. The first time I discovered a store I was thrilled I felt as if id walked into Dita Von Teese or Bettie Pages wardrobe, nipple tassels and all. The store overall was a welcomed concept for Australian women and Honey Birdette has always maintained its aim is to empower women in a feminine space. 
Fast forward ten years and Honey Birdette’s sets have kept up with popular culture becoming raunchier, much more diverse and influenced by sexual sub culture's such as Bondage, BDSM or the Japanese art of rope tying. Young women flock to stores to take a selfie in one of their new sets which can sell out in the space of hours. Now, this is where it gets interesting activist groups claim Honey Birdette is nothing more than a sex shop in disguise infiltrating our shopping centres. A recent headline from a well-known activist group boldly stated “While we're counting dead women Honey Birdette is counting their cash”.
Honey Birdette’s advertising has also started pushing the envelope, with a Xmas themed advert showing a tied up Santa and model in a sexy red set, which the Australian Advertising standards board found in breach of the advertisers code of ethics as it suggested “sexual violence”. Or most recently a Bondage themed set ‘Grace’, gracing the front of stores had parents outraged stating their daughters are confused by the images and should not be seeing them. Since Honey Birdette opened its doors many members of the public in different cities have been outraged the store sells female sex toys in shopping centres and the same activist group mentioned above claims Honey Birdette supports the sex industry and male dominated porn pacing’s. 
Now I don’t have all the answers but for me particularly in The Blossom Guide context once again we are left with female sexuality as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘or ‘nice’ or ‘threatening’ to community standards, which we don’t see for boys, this will most definitely leave our girls confused. All Honey Birdette advertising only features women (apart from the tied up Santa) and generally depicts women in a sexually powerful position whether you are into bondage or not I’m much more comfortable seeing women own their sexuality than in a compromised position which you can commonly see displayed by other retailers. The expression of sex and sexuality is ultimately a choice and shouldn’t be relayed to us as distasteful. Many women have responded to the backlash against Honey Birdette with statements such as “Luxe me up Valentine” or “Nice girls do”.
In the ultimate hyper-sexualised context we are living in could Honey Birdette, in fact display positive female sexuality up against total derogatory advertising by other industries such as Alcohol, Sport or Fashion? Or have we still got a long way to go and is Australia ultimately uncomfortable with female sexuality?

Comparison

The Blossom Guide concept is simple Young Australian Women are not feeling good about themselves and their mental health is at an all- time low! Yes, some of these feelings of angst, awkwardness and discomfort during these developmental stages can be seen in our own or mothers and grandmothers times. Who can forget declaring they are not going out because they have nothing to wear, or staring in the mirror for hours trying to perfect their look inspired by their favourite star, which in my case was bold Red Fudge streaks Christina Aguilera ‘Come on Over’ style. Some of these behaviours can be creative and fun and some may say “girls will always be girls", however, what we find today is something much more toxic and detrimental to girl’s lives and that is constant comparison with others. 
Comparison with global superstars Gigi and Kendall, comparing themselves to everyday girls who are ‘hot’ enough to launch a career and become Insta famous, comparison with that girl at school who can afford Mecca make up and contour just right or that girl who has total ‘couple goals’ as she constantly shares the perfect shots with her boyfriend. The pressure is at an all-time high and it is really easy to not feel good about yourself. As a society we want everything and it is not as easy to determine what we have and what we don’t have based on our values and feel good about it. For example your nails aren’t shellacked every day but you’re saving for a kick ass trip to South America next summer or you don’t have a sexy girl gang with the best snap chats but you and your mates hang out and have a meaningful good time. 
Constant comparison makes us loose our innate sense of self and individuality as comparison usually focuses on extrinsic superficial qualities such as the ‘perfect summer bod’. Young women are losing focus on what is really important to them and getting caught up in socially constructed expectations and conformity. Last month Alyssa Azar became the youngest Australian to climb Mount Everest at age 19 a mind blowing achievement yet young women’s news feeds were most likely flooded with who Kylie Jenner is dating.