I’ve recently been reading City of Girls by Liz Gilbert. The book focuses heavily on female sexuality in the 1940s, and sadly, so many statements expressed in the novel continue to be uttered today. Needless to say, I’ve been pondering a few of those messages and wondering what I would prefer to share with my daughter instead. Mind you, I have no daughter, so I’ve decided to treat anyone stumbling upon this as my hypothetical one. You’re welcome!
1) Sex is everything… and nothing.
Sharing yourself with another human has the potential to be an intensely vulnerable, intimate, and beautiful thing. But it can also be awkward and it can feel transactional. Basically, it’s whatever you perceive it to be and there really isn’t a right or wrong. My own bias is that it should be accompanied with some meaning, but that doesn’t have to translate to marriage or lifelong love. Respect, care, and trust are the things that are imperative to have if you’d like to have a connection, I think, and love is a bonus.
2) Your Attitudes Can Change
You aren’t more enlightened if you abstain and your value as a person doesn’t diminish when you experience it. It’s perfectly fine to go through periods of your life when you aren’t having much of it and then you have spells where you’re more active.
3) You Can Have Fun
We all know the stories. From early childhood, girls’ bodies are policed and fear is instilled in us on a gruesome level. And while it’s true that some girls will bleed during their first time or feel pain, that doesn’t have to be the case. A deep dive on studies reveal that bleeding may not even be present for more than half of women who first have sex. I think these horror stories get passed around so much as a way of making women afraid to enjoy their bodies and sex, which is really sad. Sex is natural, so when and if you decide to experience it, don’t think about all the things that could go wrong. Have fun.
4) You Don’t Lose Anything
Again, this is specifically about first-time sex. We talk so much about “losing virginity” that women who first have sex rush to bathroom mirrors afterwards to examine themselves as if their status as a woman will now be confirmed with completion of the act. In truth, who you were before is the same. Of course, you may feel different emotionally based on who you were with – or you may not. But either way, I don’t believe you’ve “lost” anything. There was probably a time when you never boarded a plane, rode a bike, or threw a ball. When you first did these things, that was it. You were initiated into a new (hopefully fun) experience and as I stated before, it just has as much meaning as you perceive it to have, but it does not have to define you.
5) It’s pretty f**ing weird
People talk about how when you’re with a new partner, it’s awkward. But I really wish people didn’t just focus on the idea of two people fumbling around aimlessly. The thing is – sex itself is super strange. Think about it… we spend our days walking around with our briefcases and funny suits; but when the lights go out – BAM! It’s primal time. Get ready for bodies convulsing on each other. Prepare to hear and feel some pretty strange slapping sounds and feels. It’s almost an effort not to laugh… but maybe we should. It’s weird as hell.
6) It’s Cool to Like What You Like
There’s so much pressure to be sexy, but not trashy. Don’t forget to have some kink, but not too much – vanilla isn’t so bad. Ugh. It’s disorienting. The reality is that people just naturally like different things! Not every person wants to have their breasts caressed. And some women love it. Like what you like and communicate that to your partner.
7) Experience Isn’t Everything
If you have a partner who is more experienced, it’s easy for them (or you) to assume they know best. But this is where the last point comes in handy. We’re all different. A person can have 10 partners and by the time they get to 11, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong if the latest one doesn’t enjoy something that all of the other 10 did. So, speak up! If something isn’t pleasurable, you might as well gently ask the person you’re with to try something else. If the person cares about you, they probably won’t be offended or try to shove their experience in your face and “school” you on liking something they think you should; they might just want to make you happy.
8) You’ll be bad… sorta
When you’re new at anything, it might feel strange and you’ll feel insecure. But that’s temporary and you don’t need to rush through that newbie process because you’re embarrassed. In City of Girls, one character tells another not to wait for love to have sex. She warns her that she’ll be bad the first time and the worst thing she could do is disappoint the person she actually cares about. And I know first-hand that thinking continues today. But it’s silly. Being unsure what to do is okay. You don’t need to strategize and overcomplicate it. Either you’ll be with a person who has more comfort in this area and can help, or you’ll share the experience with someone also new to the game and you’ll at least have someone to be just as awkward with, which itself is comforting. It’s also a great reminder why even if you don’t love the person you are with, that respect, care, and trust can go a long way.
9) Masturbation Is Super Ladylike
I know we’re conditioned to think the opposite, but since we live with our own bodies more than any other human does, there’s no reason not to test drive the equipment. And there are dozens of ways to do that. You can use products to help. You can use beds and pillows if you don’t want full insertion. Or you can really explore around if you are comfortable. It’s really whatever gets you off. Full pun intended.
10. Pressure Isn’t Love… And It’s Not Sexy
Nobody has the right to pressure you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Whether that’s jeopardizing your health by refusing to wear a condom and insisting that you let them into your body without one, or pressuring you to do an act that makes you scared. On a similar note, you also don’t have the right to pressure other people. I can’t pretend to speak fully on pressures that young men face with sex, but I’ve seen that women can definitely be cruel there with them, too. And just like it’s not okay for him to rush you, it’s equally not okay for you to rush him or expect him to always know what to do. You shouldn’t assume that just because he’s a guy, he automatically has more experience and you shouldn’t be shaming his body if it isn’t whatever you imagined it would be based on what your friends said about their experiences (if those were even true). And on that note, you should also keep the interaction somewhat private – not out of shame, but out of respect. Not all of your girlfriends need to know just how big he is, how long he lasted, or if he got emotional at some moment. All of these things contribute to a really messed up society where we just tally people up and compare them to one another instead of caring for them. Sex may not be a big deal, but restoring something a little sacred to it is nice.
11. It’s Normal and It’s Your Call
I guess the biggest thing I’d want to share with a daughter is that she’s fine… if she doesn’t share my views about sex and she isn’t concerned about emotional connection at all, I’ll still love her just the same. It’s her choice. And if she chooses some other “extreme” and waits fully until she marries because that’s important to her, or if she’s asexual and never wants to have sex at all
..that’s also all okay. She’s as “normal” as the next person. And if some of those views evolve over time, that’s allowed. She’s always worthy of love and high regard.
There we have it…A few messages I’d like to instill that I wish I heard more myself. Like my imaginary daughter, my own views with sex have definitely changed over time though and I’m sure with age and continued experiences, they will become more layered again. Really, I’m making this all up as I go…