Peggy Orenstein has written very well for many years about the issues confronting young women in American culture. An excerpt from her new book, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, was published in the Sunday New York Times today that directly addresses the question “When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?” While much has been written and discussed about the impact of pornography on how young men learn about and practice sex, not so much has been said about the same subject as it applies to young women.
A passage that stood out for me:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than half of high schools and only a fifth of middle schools teach all 16 components the agency recommends as essential to sex education. Only 23 states mandate sex ed at all; 13 require it to be medically accurate.
Even the most comprehensive classes generally stick with a woman’s internal parts: uteruses, fallopian tubes, ovaries. Those classic diagrams of a woman’s reproductive system, the ones shaped like the head of a steer, blur into a gray Y between the legs, as if the vulva and the labia, let alone the clitoris, don’t exist. And whereas males’ puberty is often characterized in terms of erections, ejaculation and the emergence of a near-unstoppable sex drive, females’ is defined by periods. And the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. When do we explain the miraculous nuances of their anatomy? When do we address exploration, self-knowledge?
No wonder that according to the largest survey on American sexual behavior conducted in decades, published in 2010 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers at Indiana University found only about a third of girls between 14 and 17 reported masturbating regularly and fewer than half have even tried once. When I asked about the subject, girls would tell me, “I have a boyfriend to do that,” though, in addition to placing their pleasure in someone else’s hands, few had ever climaxed with a partner.
Boys, meanwhile, used masturbating on their own as a reason girls should perform oral sex, which was typically not reciprocated. As one of a group of college sophomores informed me, “Guys will say, ‘A hand job is a man job, a blow job is yo’ job.’ ” The other women nodded their heads in agreement.
I love that Orenstein is calling attention to the discrepancy between the sex education that schools offer kids and what porn teaches them. And I love that enlightened sex educators like Carol Queen, who co-founded the women’s sex-toy emporium Good Vibrations in San Francisco, take it as their mission to teach people not just about sex but about pleasure. Her newly published The Sex and Pleasure Book, co-written with Shar Rednour, is a valuable resource for anyone’s sexual health bookshelf alongside Erika Moen’s web comic (collected into two book-length volumes so far) Oh Joy, Sex Toy.