Girls these days may know the ABCs of STDs, every birth control brand under the sun and how to expertly roll a condom onto a cucumber, but they "don't know how to say 'no'" to sex. That's according to coverage of a new survey of Australian girls' feelings about their first time, which also warns that the result of failing to say no is regret. Ah, but beware the headline that trumpets, "Study says [insert sexy or scary something]."
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. pairs its coverage with a photograph of a girl holding her head in her hands, experiencing what appears to be soul-searing shame. Better still, the Age goes with a stock photo of a dude holding out his cellphone camera to take an awkward aerial snapshot of himself making out with an unsuspecting gal-pal. The caption reads: "This is a situation where girls may need to resist having sex." Thanks for the clarification.
The survey at issue covered a wee group of 68 girls between the ages of 14 and 19 and revealed that many girls experience peer pressure, especially from "their male partner," and some lack the tools to negotiate "about having sex at the time that they feel ready for it," lead researcher Dr. Rachel Skinner told the ABC. Some girls buy into that unfortunate teenage proverb: Lose your virginity, keep your boyfriend. It's no surprise that these scenarios generally result in regret.
That's not to suggest, though, that young women are incapable of closing their legs or putting their hand in an unwanted suitor's face. The truth is far less alarming than the headlines would suggest: Girls who have sex before they feel ready -- and that's often at an earlier age -- are more likely to regret it. (Isn't that Lesson No. 1 of freshman year?) The survey also nailed down some common reasons for rushing into sex: "idealistic perceptions about sex and relationships, peer pressure, coercion from sexual partners and being drunk." Clearly, it's a little more complicated than just saying no to sex.
Thanks to my recent conversation with Jessica Valenti, author of "The Purity Myth," I have to point out that, when it comes to young women and sex, there is an excess of shame to go around (not even a warehouse full of Magnums could contain it all). So, it's tough to distinguish between girls' personal disappointment and social shame. Boys are also pressured into sex, which earns them the trophy of manhood, and surely some of them "win" it before they're really ready -- but we rarely hear about their regret or shame. Would a girl feel quite as disappointed by her early sexual experience if it was seen as a triumph instead of a moral failure?