Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sex is supposed to be fun. Right, Mom...?

We live in a society that constantly bombards us with highly sexualized images, especially of women, on a daily basis.  It's an incredibly disproportionate balance when compared  to how it is still considered taboo for women to speak openly about their sexuality. And yet, it is acceptable to hyper sexualize women of all ages through ads to sell products. I grew up in a pretty conservative Catholic household where talking about sex was like talking about going on a shooting rampage, it never happened (although the latter was far more likely). Not that it's unusual for kids to grow up in a family where it's uncomfortable to talk about BJs with your Dad, but, growing up, I wasn't even allowed to watch the TV show Friends because of the "premarital sex" that was far too prevalent on the show for my virgin eyes. (Remind me to thank my mom for keeping me almost permanently out of TV gossip loop in the 7th grade.)  I am mature and evolved enough now to understand that my parents sheltered me out of love, but that doesn't mean it is a practice I would necessarily encourage. A lot of what I learned about sex as a kid came from watching Beverly Hills 90210 (another show blacklisted from the Fresquez family TV screen) and Madonna videos (majorly blackballed as well). I was a sneaky kid.  Back then, the extent to which my parents would talk about sex was telling my siblings and I that sex before marriage is a sin and that we shouldn't do it. END. OF. STORY.

But there is so much more to the story! SPOILER ALERT: Sex, as it turns out, is not evil or wrong or sinful, but an extraordinary part of our human experience that we should be able to discuss in a non-judgmental, trusting, compassionate environment with the people we love. I'm not encouraging kids and teens to get out there and have at it (there can be, unfortunately, physical and emotional consequences to sex especially at a young age), but if they have questions or concerns, they should be able to speak openly and without judgment to their parents or another adult who will be honest with them.  Perhaps that's why Melissa Tapper Goldman's work, which I featured on my show, resonated with me.  Through her documentary, Subjectified, and Tumblr, 'Do Tell' featured in the Huffington Post, Goldman has identified a problem among young men and women living in America today: "many people, particularly women, don't have the opportunity to speak safely and openly about sex."

Melissa Tapper Goldman

Starting at very young age, members of our communities like parents, teachers, religious leaders and friends repeatedly reinforce the idea that sex is a sinful, dangerous, slutty, dirty, whore-ish act that can lead to awful things like pregnancy, STDs, slut-shaming and emotional trauma. As a result, we have to "protect ourselves" and "save ourselves for marriage." The problem with many of these terms and the overall approach of steering young women toward abstinence is that many are based in fear. And I have to say, it certainly worked on me as a young girl! I was totally freaked out about sex. I was also certain that I would get pregnant the first time and be "slut-shamed" for the rest of my life. And by the way, I really, really hate that word, but it happens to women all the time.

Nothing great can come from fear-mongering because 1.) if it "succeeds," it perpetuates ignorance, and 2.) if it "fails," it still perpetuates ignorance and worse still, shame. Hmmm, maybe we should try a different tactic. How about...honesty? And isn't that all young people want, to be told the truth? We all eventually grow up and make our own decisions anyway so wouldn't it be far more advantageous to make informed decisions, rather than those which are made out of fear, ignorance or embarrassment?  It's difficult enough for young women to get a grip on their sexual identity in a culture that sexually objectifies woman in order to sell an image and then simultaneously labels that woman a whore for being sexual.  It is an archaic and outdated attitude that is not only hypocritical but demeaning and destructive to women.  

The idea of raising a daughter in 2013, to me, is not only surreal but kind of terrifying. Just the thought of having the responsibility to guide her and watch her grow up in a world where outdated, paternalistic attitudes towards women still dominate is enough to make me feel a tad overwhelmed. The good news is that we don't have to accept it.  We can empower ourselves and other women around us by being the friend, parent, sibling, acquaintance who listens and does not judge, does not slut-shame, and does not allow the media's hyper-sexualization of youth to dictate or define the perceptions of vulnerable young boys and girls.

Besides, sex is supposed to be fun. So can everybody just relax already?

Meet the Panel...
Dr. Patti Britton (board certified clinical sexologist)
Dr. Robert Dunlap (board certified clinical sexologist)
Melissa Tapper Goldman (filmmaker & sex advocate) 
Humberto Guida (host of LATV's  Latin Nation, writer, comedian)
Amy Horton (creator of MsSexintheValley on YouTube; Dirty & Thirty contributor)

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