During my sophomore year at Texas A&M, I went on a Christian retreat with my bible study group in hopes of becoming closer to God. In a session, a young woman announced she would share a secret and asked us not to tell others. It was a sin she used to struggle with — masturbation!
Similarly, when my mom was a teen, she excitedly came home from school after watching a video about adolescent development. She exclaimed, “Mom! Today in class I learned that I can go swimming and take showers when I’m on my period!” My grandma glared at her and told her she could only talk about that in private. Mom was immediately embarrassed. This was her first encounter with sexual shame.
It’s more acceptable in our culture for men to be sexual than women. We slut-shame and too often women don’t feel comfortable talking about sexual subjects like masturbation.
As a society, we need to empower women in their sexuality instead of shaming them.
Nurse practitioner Jane Epstein specializes in adolescent medicine and has learned first-hand about the negative repercussions of making girls feel ashamed of their bodies. Epstein challenges us to think why we expect teenage boys, but not girls, to know their bodies sexually. She argues that it is crucial to talk to girls more frequently and more casually about sex. At a TED event in Albuquerque she said, “Masturbation for girls is not only normal, it’s probably necessary. Masturbation is how you learn about your body and how to have an orgasm …it’s helpful if you know how to have sex with yourself before you have sex with another person.”
The story of teenage girls having sex before knowing about the act of sex is too common. Many girls don’t know how to communicate with their partner or that sex should be pleasurable for them too. Women need more practical knowledge about what to expect when they are intimate with someone.
“If girls do not have the opportunity to talk about sex with knowledgeable and safe adults, they may feel embarrassed to talk about sex with a potential sexual partner,” Marie-Anne Suizzo, UT educational psychology professor said.
Girls may feel less empowered to start important conversations about safe sex or what sex means to her in a relationship.
If we do a better job talking to adolescents about sex, we can prepare them to handle situations where they feel pressured to have sex. Teens should feel comfortable choosing when they are ready to engage in sex with someone else. We need to normalize female sexuality by empowering women with the right language to talk about their wants and needs. If every woman chooses to honor herself and finds another person they can talk with openly about sex, our small changes will lead to healthier relationships, healthier bodies and less shame for women.
The next time a woman uses the M word, check your thoughts. Are they judgmental? Do you feel embarrassed? Giving some introspection into why you think the way you do will help you understand your beliefs about sexual shame and where they stem from. Use the M word with a friend this week and actively practice loving women, loving yourself and loving your beautiful body.
Alarcon is a UTeach Liberal Arts senior from Austin.