Sexily sexing for sexiness. Do I have your attention?

22 12 2011

We all know that’s it’s my favorite time of year–Solstice sex talk week. Every teen girls group I run, no matter the focus, at least one week is devoted to this topic. Self-esteem, communication, body image, basket weaving, I don’t care. I’ll find a way to work it in.

It’s important. I hear more and more about the Obama administration ushering in an era in which pre-schoolers are putting condoms on anatomically correct dolls, but I feel like my girls are less informed with each passing year.

This isn’t true for all of them. Some are at least savvy in some matters. Just recently I was walking to the office with one of the twelve year olds I work with who started informing me of the girls she has crushes on. After a minute, she looked at me and asked, “Do you know what bi means?”

Um, yeah. I was watching My So-Called Life before you were born. I remember Danielle rolling her eyes and telling her mom “it means bisexual.” Not to mention I’m fifteen years older than you, come on.

My teens, though, they’re confused. They’re not sure what they think or who to believe. We’re battling the media, you know. It’s not always giving them the best information.

14 y/o: “Can’t the baby claw its way out of you?”
SJ: “Not outside of Twilight.

15 y/o: “Oh, I know this one girl…”
SJ: “Do you know this girl, or is this another ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant’ story?”
15 y/o: “It’s ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.'”

14 y/o: “But one girl on Maury said she didn’t have sex with the guy the DNA test said was the father, she just…”
SJ: “Maury is not an acceptable source. For anything. Ever. Except for funny ‘not the father’ dances.”

I’m glad they at least feel comfortable asking questions.

“If a boy masturbates and then shakes your hand, can you get pregnant?”
Wow. Why would that even happen? No you won’t get pregnant, but maybe invest in some Purel if that’s really a concern. Bonus points for use of correct language, though.

SJ: “You can get STDs from oral sex, but you can’t get pregnant.”
15 y/o: “Even if you swallow?”
And now I’m nauseated.

There’s always the one who thinks she really knows what she’s talking about. Rather often, that’s the one with the greatest number of “facts.”

“Well, there’s always the risk of STIs. And those can turn into STDs!”
You’re a little misinformed. But I think your heart is in the right place.

“Two guys together is nasty to girls, and two girls together is nasty to guys.” Now you’re just grossly misinformed. Not to mention the fact that we’re respectful and non-judgmental in this space. (But seriously, have you heard of the internet? Silly.)

15 y/o: “The fetus is what the baby grows in.”
SJ: “Well that’s actually the uterus. The fetus is what we call the baby when it’s developing, before it’s born.”
15 y/o: “No, but like, it grows in the fetus.”
OK, you’re saying it a little differently, but still no.

“If you go off the pill, and then have sex with a bunch of different guys, you can get pregnant with like, four different guys’ babies at once.”
That’s it, you’re staying after for a remedial session.

Some girls are just uncomfortable, and need a little baptism by fire.

SJ: “Some people only consider it sex if it’s penis in vagina.”
13 y/o: “Ew!”
SJ: “What, vagina?”
13 y/o: “Ew!”
14 y/o: “Or penis?”
13 y/o: “Ew!”
15 y/o: “We all have a vagina in here.”
13 y/o: “Ew!”
SJ: “OK this is silly. Penis vagina penis vagina penis vagina.” (To the tune of “La Cucaracha.”)

And sometimes, they’re just hilarious.

“Pfft. Her booty isn’t a virgin.”
Did you steal that from a book of proverbs?

“I don’t want to have sex ever! Well, I mean, I guess before I die. I don’t want to be a nun. I heard you can die if you don’t have sex.”
Yeah, I don’t know either.

“I would like to see you all wait until you’re 21.”
My group coleader. Isn’t that cute? She’s new at this.

SJ: “Is it ok for someone to have sex because they want to have a baby?”
Group: “No!”
SJ: “OK, at your age, I agree. But what if the person is older, and they’re married or in a relationship, and they want to have kids?”
13 y/o: “I just don’t feel like that’s a good choice in this economy.”

Occasionally, there are moments of awesome.

13 y/o: “Is it good if you tell a guy you’re not ready, and he’s ok with it, and he still wants to date you?”
SJ: “Yeah, I think that’s great.”
13 y/o: “Oh yeah, that’s my man!”
14 y/o: “Can we clap for Liz’s man?”

You know we clapped. Also, Liz’s man is in fact fourteen.

For all of the laughs, and the moments of wanting to slap myself or others in the face (YOU CAN GET PREGNANT YOUR FIRST TIME AND BIRTH CONTROL PILLS ARE EFFECTIVE WHEN TAKEN CORRECTLY) I love these sessions. Somewhere along the lines, we’re really failing our kids in terms of sex ed. It’s a very concrete way we can shape kids lives, and help them to make good, informed decisions.

Or at least teach them to say “vagina” without cringing.





Under pressure

28 11 2011

One of my favorite parts of running girls group, aside from the sound of children’s laughter, seeing the participants grow and mature, the availability of snacks and impromptu dance parties, is watching the girls form friendships with one another.

It’s often assumed that the girls we work with are out running the streets. Their parents don’t care what they do, there’s no curfew, they drink and smoke with their grandmas.

Of course, this often isn’t the case. I wish some of the parents of girls I work with would lighten up. I understand their fears. Teen pregnancy is rampant where we live and work, and the neighborhood is dangerous. Shootings, gang violence, and drug deals are a part of everyday life. The idea of letting your child out of your sight is frightening, to say the least.

But at some point, you have to. Otherwise you end up dealing with what I see every day–these girls know that no matter what, they’re not going to be allowed to go out. So when they have the opportunity, they seize it. Stay out all night, do all the things they aren’t allowed. They don’t really have anything to lose.

So it’s nice to get them together with some other girls who are dealing with similar issues. No reason to be embarrassed about having an ACS case or a social worker, because everyone here does. Your mom doesn’t trust you? Mine doesn’t either! Your dad is constantly worrying about you getting pregnant? Ugh, I know. But they let the boys do whatever they want!

It’s easy for them to find common ground. We see the bonds start to form, the exchange of information, the mentions of seeing each other over the weekend or after school. It’s usually a little easier on the parents to let this happen. You want to hang out with someone you met in Miss SJ’s group? I guess it’s better than some trouble maker from the building.

It’s something I love to see. But it’s also something I’m very wary of.

Eating disorders can be very difficult to treat. They often don’t make sense to outsiders–just have a sandwich, what’s the issue? It sounds like it might be helpful for people suffering from eating disorders to have others to talk to, who know what they’re going through, who let them know they’re not alone. Group work, anyone?

But groups are actually rather dangerous for the treatment of eating disorders. I know some particularly skilled workers are able to make it work, but the fact is that whatever support participants get in those groups is generally counteracted by what they learn from other group members. New tricks, ways to hide what they’re doing, and the like.

That negative influence and sharing secrets is also a concern in our group. When we were first planning our group, we talked about the common problems we saw amongst the girls we worked with. One that came up frequently was shoplifting. Hey, stuff is awesome, but it’s also expensive!

I was nervous about focusing on shoplifting for precisely this reason. I didn’t want to girls to learn from each other in this way. I was afraid that those already into it would get better at it, and those who hadn’t considered it might give it a try.

Shoplifting came up anyway. And my oh my, we all learned a few things. Someone threw out the names of a couple of stores that have rather lax security, and another went on in great detail about how to hide things in one’s bra. One girl had to be cut off before she was able to complete her speech on the importance of developed thigh muscles in smuggling stolen goods out of electronic stores. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to remind them that this was girls’ group, not thievery class, and get us back on track.

In a previous group, a young girl, Callie, who had just lost her virginity became close with another girl, Anna, who had a long history of sexually acting out. Callie asked Anna about performing oral sex on her boyfriend. Callie had tried this, and simply could not see the appeal. Anna told her that “it’s just something you do, even though you don’t really want to.” As glad as we were that Callie and Anna could relate to one another and talk, but this wasn’t advice we were going to endorse. It was fortunate that Callie confided this to her worker, who was able to discuss this with her, and bring it up to the group in a general way that didn’t violate confidentiality. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

Rebecca and Madison, two girls on my caseload who are also both in my group, recently became friends. Rebecca is the classic “problem child,” while Madison was disappointed to hear that she couldn’t go to school on Thanksgiving day. (Seriously, she needs to lighten up.) They seemed like an odd pair, but I was tentatively hopeful that Madison would positively influence Rebecca.

Of course, Madison came to me saying that Rebecca was pressuring her to go to parties with twenty year old guys (excellent place for thirteen year old girls) and was threatening to defriend her on Facebook. (I’m fairly certain that this is the equivalent of erasing a teenager from life, much like the McFly children disappearing from photographs in Back to the Future.)

When the kids come to us with these issues, or we see them in group, we can address them. But how? Peer pressure is not going anywhere.

Our best friend seems to be positive peer pressure.

I always get annoyed when people clap for a pilot landing a plane. It was literally the least he could do. What’s the alternative? Yay, thanks for not killing us all! It’s the pilot’s job. I don’t get a round of applause when I successfully lead a family in a scaling exercise.

But it’d be nice.

So we clap in group. We clap for a girl saying no to sex she didn’t want, we clap for a girl telling her mom how she really feels, we clap for walking away from shoplifting. Girls take turns telling each other the improvements they’ve noticed.

Praise is powerful. Your peers and group leaders giving you a standing ovation? It can help.

Groupwork is amazing. It’s incredibly important for these girls, and they’re able to learn a great deal. There are drawbacks, of course, as there are drawbacks to everything in work and life. But looking out for those negative influences, and jumping all over the positives, can make it worthwhile.

They might even clap for you.





I rule.

17 10 2011

If there’s one thing social workers love, it’s cake empowerment. We talk about it all the time. Every one of those staff meetings I so adore come back to questioning how we can further empower our clients. Self-determination! Let them formulate their own goals! Include their input in the planning process! Have them choose their own seats!

Am I allowed to decide when I get a haircut, or should that be left up to the clients to vote on?

Teen group follows the same principles. Yes, they’re kids, but they still have ideas and goals that should be included in our work. That is to say, what they want to get out of group is just as important as me wanting them all to improve their self esteem, be able to talk to their caregivers without screaming, and write a list of the pros and cons of every major form of birth control in under seven minutes.

This starts from the very first session. Particularly when working with teens, what’s most important?

Rules.

As fun as we like group to be, we need rules. Have you ever had a roomful of thirteen to sixteen year old girls? You’ll want to impose some order, if your goal isn’t to leap screaming from a second floor window.

Now, telling them what they are and aren’t allowed to do is not particularly empowering. It comes from the group leaders, not the group, and it’s negative and sounds like school.

So we start by having them talk about what they want in group.

“Friends.” I like that. Nice.
“To talk to people who know what I’m going through.” Excellent. I’m so on board.
“Sex.” What the hell?! “I said snacks.” Oh thank God.  Yes, those will totally be provided.
“Can we go on trips?” Well, we can try. Money is a little tight. Does Target count as a trip?
“Oh, I want to go to the mall. Like, if we’re good.” Yeah, I think this is getting away from us.

Let’s talk about what we don’t want in group.

“No boys.” All right, I think we’ve done it. Also, refreshing sentiment.
“No cursing.” Is that realistic? “No cursing at each other.” I hope we can all do that.
“No gossipy bitches.” I think we’re going to have to reframe that. Confidentiality?

Speaking of which, nothing polishes those reframing skills like a group of teenagers. I am the spin master. (I’m being told that this means I’m not welcome on the O’Reilly Factor, which is good because I’d embarrass that guy horribly.) There’s nothing I can’t turn.

“Miss, if this girl does not stop talking shit, I’m gonna slap her.”
“So you’re feeling frustrated with the way she’s addressing you, but you’re recognizing your own limits, and trying to keep things from escalating? I appreciate that.”
“…oh. Well. You’re welcome.”

This is an important skill, for many reasons. Especially when working with people in large groups, especially when those people are teenager, there are rules that you ned to lay down in order to get some work done. And it really helps if you can make people feel that those rules came from them.

SJ:      “Who has a suggestion for a rule?”
Teen:  “No interruptions.”
SJ:       “Yes! I love that. Let’s talk about why.”
Teen:   “You’ll miss what other people are saying?”
SJ:        “Absolutely.”
Teen:    “People will feel disrespected?”
SJ:        “Yeah, definitely. And I think something that goes along with that, wanting to be respectful, know what others are saying, is getting here on time. And being here every week. So we’re not missing things. What else can be an interruption?”
Teen:    “…what?”
SJ:        “Who has a cell phone? Let’s turn them off now. Great rule.”
Teen:   “I said all that?”

I have to, with that last one. A teenager will not suggest a no cell phone rule. They don’t understand that texting while someone shares the details of her latest suicide attempt just isn’t the best way to show you care.

So we’re all set for group, it seems. What happens in group, stays in group. (Unless you’re talking about harming yourself or someone else.) Call if you can’t make it to group. (You think your grandma worries? She’s got nothing on me.) Push yourself to share. (Not too much. Unless you need to get a good cry in, in which case go for it.) No cell phones. (Except for SJ’s, because there’s no clock in the room. And how else am I supposed to live-Tweet?)

With rules like these, clearly laid out in magic marker, how could anything go wrong?

I’ll keep you posted.





Teenagers From Mars

26 09 2011

I’m very fortunate to have started off my real-live, social work career with family work. For one thing, if you can keep a counseling session with eight family members, ages six to fourty-two, mildly productive and with zero fatalities, you can do anything. For another, you get a little bit of everything. It’s a chance to figure out what kind of work you enjoy, and especially, what populations you work best with.

I adore little kids. They’re hilarious and sweet. They’re cute and get excited when you come visit them in school. A leg-crushing hug from a kindergartener is a pretty sweet way to start off your morning.

But the under ten set, adorable though they may be, are really lacking in their conversational skills. If you’ve got six hours to spare, ask a seven year old what she did in school that day. You will get a real time play by play, and learn all about who her best friend is and what flavor lollipops the bodega had run out of. And do they ever ask how your day was? Being able to effectively counsel kids this age is a real skill. It’s not something I consider myself an expert at.

This is despite my love of play-doh and coloring. Those are things I prefer to do one my own. Little kids always mix up the play-doh colors and break crayons. It’s like, really? Do you have any respect?

I’m sorry, this is getting away from me.

My favorite population, it’s no secret, is a commonly despised demographic–teen girls.

I started working with this group somewhat reluctantly. To be entirely honest, I hid under my desk before I was dragged out in time for group. The walls in that office looked like Lucille Bluth’s uterus by the time they got me out. (If you don’t get that reference, I’m sorry, you have some serious work to do.)

I was a lowly intern when a coworker approached me to ask if I would help out with teen girls group. It was one of those suggestions or requests that you don’t really feel you can say no to. Like when your mom asks if you’d like to set the table, or pull up weeds in the garden. Whether or not you think it would be fun doesn’t really seem to be the point.

I wound up being honest. I told her that teen girls scared the shit out of me and that I thought they were mean. I was relieved with the answer I got.

“Oh my God, I know. I was so scared to do this group at first. But it’s been great. They’re actually really sweet. But I’m still really self-conscious about what I wear on group days.”

I came to the realization that, because I was so afraid, I should probably do this. I couldn’t just ignore this age group forever. So I agreed.

It was one of the best things I ever did. Right up there with spending a semester of my junior year in Galway, and watching Avatar: The Last Air Bender.

Teenage girls love to talk about how they don’t get along with other girls. They relate to boys better. Girls are crazy, and bitchy, and it’s not worth it to be friends with them. Unfortunately, some women don’t grow out of this, and carry this attitude into their 20s. They don’t seem to notice that it’s an attitude tinged with misogyny–being “one of the boys” makes one superior, because things that are feminine (being emotional, sensitive, whatever) make one weak. They don’t consider that saying something negative about “women” is saying something negative about themselves.

For girls who hate other girls so much, they certainly seem to have a good time in group. My co-leader and I could hardly get a word in at times. And the exchanging of email addresses, phone numbers, and whatever they’re doing with AIM these days was a constant flurry.

Not to mention how welcome they made me feel in their lives. Like I said, a leg-crushing hug is great. But it’s also pretty nice to hear, “Hi, Miss SJ!” screamed from across the street on your way back to the office in the afternoon. Followed by, “What do you mean, ‘who is that,’ bitch that’s my counselor!”

And no one has ever made me laugh harder. (Sorry, Bluth family.) Ok, it’s sad when a 15 year old says, “Miss, I had a LOT of sex” in response to an inquiry about her weekend, but it’s also giggle inducing for everyone. Or when one girl decided that we should sit down and make a list of all of the characteristics of unicorns.

I still can’t discuss the whipped cream fight that broke out with a straight face.

Of course they also made me cry, but not in the way I was expecting–no one called me fat or asked what I was thinking with those boots. (One actually told me she liked my style. Who talks like that?) But teenage girls feel everything so massively. Don’t believe me? Look at one of your fifteen year old cousin’s or niece’s Facebook page. The drama, the highs and lows, the feelings. Broken hearts, mothers who don’t understand, not to mention the trauma that rose above the level of typical teen angst.

Teen girls get a bad rap. It’s pretty unfair. It’s considered rather acceptable to talk about how awful they are, and mean, and petty. They were thoughtful enough to make hot chocolate for their friend who showed up shivering due to lack of snow boots, to coordinate a Mother’s Day party for my pregnant co-leader, and to accompany one another to the doctor when family members couldn’t be bothered.

They’re young, and they’re still learning. In a desperate need to be accepted, they often engage in questionable activities and often fail to control their impulses or tempers.

But I promise you, sincerely (I can do that), the rewards of work with this group outweighs the drawbacks.

They almost always bring snacks.





There are some things even awesome dance moves can’t excuse

5 04 2011

If you keep up on important current (not terribly current, as SocialJerk went Hawaiian and had no WiFi to post this last week) events, you’ll know that there’s a lot to be concerned about in this country. Number one on everyone’s mind, naturally, is this: Chris Brown is at it again.

A young, spoiled celebrity throwing a temper tantrum? Stop the presses, send in the social workers!

To be fair, this one applies. In recent years, we’ve been hearing more and more about domestic violence being a problem in young people’s romantic relationships. It’s not just for married people. And it’s not just physical. Teens are often jealous and possessive in their relationships, but professionals are being directed more and more to look closer, for the early signs of verbal and physical abuse.

It’s a topic that’s important to talk about, especially with teenage girls.

I was told once that I stereotype along gender lines. So let me put it out here right now–chill out I recognize that men can be the victims of domestic violence. I recognize that domestic violence happens in same sex relationships. But what I work with? Is women who have been beaten and otherwise abused by men. I also specialize in group work with teen girls, because 1) I like to laugh and 2) I am a glutton for punishment.

When the story first broke, just over two years ago, that 19 year old Chris Brown had punched and bitten his girlfriend Rihanna, my coworker and I saw it as an opportunity. We had a concrete way to talk about this important issue with our girls. And hey, they loved Rihanna! This should be easy.

We started with the infamous picture.

“I love Chris Brown, he mad sexy. And his music’s good.”
Yes, he’s a fine dancer as well, and I really enjoyed his version of “This Christmas.” It’s possible that Gaddafi is a fine painter and likes kittens, it doesn’t mean we should excuse what he’s done.

“Miss, I wouldn’t be surprised if she made those bruises look worse. Like, to get him in trouble.”
True. It’s everyone 21 year old woman’s dream to have her image plastered all over the internet, bloody and bruised.

“We’re not hearing about what she did. Like what she said, or if she hit him too.”
No, we don’t know if she hit him too. (“Hit him too” often translates to “covered her head to ward off the blows.) But we do know that there are photos of her injuries, while photos of Chris Brown’s are conspicuously absent. And, I’m sorry, but what exactly could she have done to have this coming?

“You don’t want a guy that’s gonna like, beat you, but you don’t want a guy that’s a pussy! You need someone who will push you around a little.”
That’s a quote from a 14 year old girl. Burned in my mind, I can never unhear it. Your only options are a guy that will hit you, or a weak man-child who will let you walk all over him. Choose wisely, everyone.

I’d always thought of abusive relationships as something that creeps up on people. Things start out well, you fall in love, then things get tense, someone gets jealous, then gets controlling, someone gets hit, someone apologizes, and the cycle starts again.

I might have gotten some of this from Lifetime movies starring Candace Cameron. Not the point.

I never thought of them as something that people see as inevitable. Call me naive, but I genuinely thought that my tough, sassy, take-no-BS-from-anyone girls would tell me just what they would do to a guy who laid a hand on them. Even if I didn’t have faith that they’d really leave right then, or hit him back until he begged for mercy. I was surprised that they didn’t even pretend.

They saw domestic violence as a part of life. Something that happens. Chris Brown’s statement after this was all made public played into this as well.

“Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired.”

Not, “I am sorry for what I did.” It transpired. It happened. The world spins, grass grows, SocialJerk is sarcastic. So it goes.

When someone sees a certain future as a certainty, it’s hard to dissuade them from that. It’s such a central part of our jobs, letting people know that they have options, and control over their lives. But it’s so hard to do. Especially in an hour a week, for three months, in group.

Maybe they pick up the idea, at least, that it’s not necessary, that there are relationships that exist without violence, and there are people who think that they deserve this.





Our bodies, Ourselves (Also, our snacks)

3 02 2011

Last night, we packed up the scented candles and snacks (my goodness, my girls love ranch dressing) one last time. It was our final teen girls’ group.

SocialJerk, you said you weren’t going to cry.

OK, I’m back.

We did the things you usually do when terminating (my, that word sounds kind of harsh) with a group. The girls did evaluations. We reminisced. We talked about what went well, what could have gone better. And we asked the girls what they learned.

They had a lot to say. A lot about confidence, and self-esteem, and making friends. But one thing stuck out to me.

“I learned that I can say ‘no.’ Like, that people should listen to it.”

It’s not a groundbreaking idea, I know. And this girl had definitely heard before that she has a right to her boundaries, and that people should respect them.

But still. This was something important, that she credited group in helping her with.

Weeks earlier, we had a rather memorable sex ed chat with the girls, which was spread over two sessions. A lot of the second week was spent talking about the right to say no. Is “no” ever not enough? Can you ever sacrifice that right?

Some of the girls thought that you can. Quite easily.

We asked the question, “If a girl is wearing something sexy, and she’s assaulted, does she have the right to go to the police?”

Why was I so naive to think that this wouldn’t be a debate?

Almost all of the girls thought that a girl dressed “too sexy” was at least partly to blame for her assault. My co-leader and I challenged this assumption. We talked about self-control. Why are we constantly degrading men, acting like they’re dogs who can’t help but hump anything that will hold still for long enough? It seemed like these girls legitimately thought that a man could not be expected to have any restraint if he saw a woman showing too much skin.

I then pointed out how subjective “too sexy” is. Have you ever seen footage from Afghanistan? Saudi Arabia? They would be scandalized by you showing your arms, your ankles, your neck. Does your grandma ever think your clothes are too revealing, when you know they’re exactly what everyone else is wearing? OK, so how could one possibly regulate this?

“Well, maybe the guy AND the girl should go to jail.”

Oh, dear.

One girl (there’s always one) looked at the rest like they were crazy. “I don’t show off my body, but no one has a right to touch you if you don’t want them to.”

Thank God for you!

The other girls came around a bit. And I think they will continue to. I’m glad they were exposed to some different ideas. It’s important to challenge those immediate assumptions, because people really just don’t realize how silly the knee-jerk reaction is. Oprah showed us all when she interviewed Trisha Meili, “the Central Park jogger,” who was raped while out jogging. She asked her what she was doing in the park at that hour, alone?

We’ve all heard it. Most of us have thought it. “It’s terrible what happened, don’t get me wrong. But what was she doing in that area/out at that hour/walking alone/going home with that guy/drinking that much/dressing like that?”

Um, she was probably looking for someone to assault her horribly. I mean, obvi.

We need to teach girls that they have control over their own bodies. That they have rights, and are entitled to their boundaries. That their bodies are not on loan.

A lot of us have been hearing about HR 3, a charming bit of legislation that would make it more difficult for low-income women to have Medicaid pay for their abortions in cases of rape.

Stay classy, Republicans (and one Democrat.)

They want to limit Medicaid funded abortions to cases of “forcible rape.” You attorneys out there will recognize the term “forcible rape” from your second year law class, “Legal Terms That Do Not Exist and In Fact Make No Sense.”

All rape is forcible. What they’re saying here is, you weren’t really raped. Unless a stranger jumped out of the bushes and assaulted you while you were walking to the library in a safe neighborhood at a reasonable hour, preferably while you were wearing a nun’s habit, it simply doesn’t count. Saying “no” isn’t enough. You are not in charge of your own body.

I don’t delude myself into thinking that my girls are C-Span junkies, hanging on John Boehner’s every word. But they are getting this message. It’s a part of our culture.

And let’s bear in mind, in our work, that this is something we need to challenge. Making sure that women are aware that they have agency over their lives and bodies is crucial to what we’re trying to do. The idea that one of these girls, my girls, could be victimized in the future, or think of how they’ve been victimized in the past, and see it as something they brought on themselves, breaks my heart.

Which is enough to get me preparing for our next group already. I’ll get the ranch dressing.





A New Year, A New Sex Talk

10 01 2011

Well, not new, really. The terminology and the trends might change, but the fundamentals remain the same. (They remain the same, right? There’s not been any big changes I should know about?)

Last summer, my coworker and I gave our teen girls’ group a sex talk. It was a real learning experience for all those involved. The girls learned about how to access services at their local Planned Parenthood, how to avoid STDs, and about the effectiveness of various forms of birth control. I learned that, if 14 year olds don’t know how to do something, they will make it up. And no matter how many times I say “ejaculate,” I always want to giggle.

I’m actually rather comfortable with sex talks. Anatomically correct terminology, and shockingly specific hypothetical questions really don’t faze me. (“So like, if a girl’s having sex, and she hits her head on the ceiling because they’re in the top bunk, and she gets pregnant, would there be anything wrong with the baby? No, it never happened, I was just wondering.”)

What makes me uncomfortable are some of the girls’ attitudes. They are at best old-fashioned, at worst Puritanical, and almost always sexist.

We started with a pretty common activity. We listed the reasons that people have sex, and then broke down which of these reasons the girls thought were good, and which they thought were bad.

Amongst those reasons listed were wanting to have a baby, wanting to feel grown up, trying to keep a boyfriend, feeling pressured, wanting to fit in, being in a relationship, and being in love.

None of those were considered good. And none of them involved the woman enjoying herself. That concept, in fact, was considered radical, and a little inappropriate for discussion.

Hey, ladies, was that journey over on the Mayflower rough? I was waiting for them to tell me that they just, “lie back, and think of the Bronx England.

They fear sex. They think of it as nothing but bad and dirty, and something boys are trying to get out of them so they can brag to their friends. Even when they were asked about why a woman might want to have sex with her husband, or partner she was in love with, their answers were disturbing. “To prove to him she loves him.” “Because you’re supposed to then.” “Christians say it’s OK to have sex if you’re married.”

Well, if Christians say it’s ok…

Some people might think it’s good for these teens to be afraid of sex. If they’re afraid of it, then they won’t do it! Here’s the thing–I’m afraid of clowns. So I don’t go to the circus. Problem solved. But attending the circus is not a normal part of human development and relationships, at least where I’m from, so I’m in the clear.

Not so with sex. It comes up. (Stop snickering.) And scaring the shit out of these kids by telling them that their “junk will fall off*” doesn’t help. Because eventually, they want to find out for themselves. They might get curious, they might feel they’re ready, they might be pressured or coerced. But it happens. And then they find out that, while it might not be the be all end all of human existence, they made it through, junk intact.

I find that with these girls. Their views on sex, and their actions that they admit to in group, just don’t match up. They think it’s bad, but they’re all doing it.

And apparently they, and their teenage boy counterparts, are quite inept. The boys are enjoying themselves, but the girls? I think they do their nails throughout.

This is how they think things are supposed to be. They don’t expect to get anything out of these types of relationships, except maybe a baby or a broken heart.

Suddenly, I feel like I’m writing a country song.

The idea of telling kids that sex is something that should be enjoyable seems a little taboo. We’re supposed to be preaching about the responsibility and the risk.

But maybe if these girls start thinking that there’s actually something in it for them, they’ll be a little more selective, and develop some new standards.

If not, at least some nutty social worker gave them a transit map of the Bronx, with all Planned Parenthoods circled.

*Direct quote