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