I Forgot About Joy: What the Girls & Sex Book Made Me Realize

This article, written by 

“I’m not going to tell you to go right now and buy a copy of Peggy Orenstein’s “Girls & Sex.” I’m going to tell you to buy two copies: One for yourself, and one for the teenager in your life. Because kids — boys and girls, gay and straight — need to understand not just what a new generation of girls is doing in its intimate life. They need to know what those girls are not doing. Like when they’re not saying no to stuff they’re not into, because it’s easier than arguing about it. Like when they’re not asking themselves what feels good — for them. And it’s high time, in a cultural moment fraught with sexual panic about hookups and sexting and questions of consent, to shift the conversation — and to fight for young women’s right to orgasm.”

“Her newest book is an exploration of the lives of high school and college-aged girls today, shown through their various forays into purity balls and walks of shame, into hooking up and coming out. It is not, refreshingly, a condemnation of millennials and their successors — or a hand-wringing call to alarmism. Yes, it discusses frankly the often performative aspects of female adolescent sexuality and doesn’t ignore the realities of sexual assault, but “Girls & Sex” refuses to be judgmental or doom and gloom. Instead, it offers something else — a demand for education, enlightenment, and ultimately, the radical notion of equal satisfaction.” Read More on Salon

I need this book now.

It’s hard to talk about sexuality, as a mother or a woman, never mind read about the increase in girls getting STD’s and having casual oral sex, most often with boys they may or may not even like.

I’ve done so little to prepare myself or my daughter. Honestly, I thought I had more time, lots more time actually. That was until I read the above article and heard Peggy Orenstein on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday.

Both are terrifying.

It’s not that I’ve avoided talking about sex entirely.

I’ve talked about privacy, periods and getting pregnant.

I’ve talked about safety, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual orientation and STD’s.

What I’ve neglected to talk about is pleasure, self-expression and embodied empowerment.

And orgasm. I’ve never said that one out loud to my kid.

Why is it harder to say orgasm than assault?

Why is it easier to teach my daughter to say “no” than to know her sexual self?

I’ve organized self-defense classes and taught her to elbow, kick and scream. She knows how to use pepper spray too. I’ve talked about rape and sexual violence and perpetrators.

Safety has been the emphasis and I’ve talked a little feminism and comfort.

I’ve always said it ‘s o.k. not to hug, kiss and smile hello or goodbye. I’ve said boundaries and personal space trump making others feel good when it comes to “giving” affection. Even if they are relatives and will treat her like she’s snarky, sullen or standoffish if she refuses physical greetings.

I’ve armed her, warned her and alerted her.

For danger.

For rejection.

For advances.


And even the flack girls and introverts get when they aren’t social, smiley and bubbly enough.

But I’ve neglected joy, bliss and entitlement.

I’ve not talked about sex as positive, joyful, enjoyable and something to look forward to.

I’ve not said sexuality is your sacred birthright even though I believe it is. 

I’ve not said the words sex and satisfied or desire and divinity in the same sentences.

Sex is as primal as eating, sleeping, drinking and breathing but I’ve failed to discuss it as normal or common.

For learning about arts, sciences and from experts I’ve arranged classes, camps and got scrappy with resources – just so she can experiment. When it comes to sexuality, I’ve done so little except focus on what is not o.k. 

I’ve taught her to block, defend and kick.

How to avoid, stay safe and thwart attempts by others to take from her.

I’ve not even talked about what to seek, allow, enjoy or receive.

I’ve not said what to hope for, expect and insist upon.

What to create even or initiate – for herself and with others.

It feels a little daring to even talk like this right now. Why? Is it radical? feminist? progressive or permissive even or am I a prude?
It’s not as if I don’t know she’s being bombarded by messaging and assaulted with non-stop adverting with a narrow images about sexuality? Don’t I want to take steps to counter that?

I do but I’m not sure how.

I don’t know what healthy and empowered sexuality is for teens.

It’s not something I experienced myself. I barely know what it is as an adult.

I need this book as well to expand my vocabulary and thinking and approach to parenting.

I don’t just want my daughter not to get assaulted. I want that, of course, but I want more for her.

I want her to expect love, joy, pleasure and safety. I want her to insist on respect and reciprocity in all of her relationships – sexual or otherwise. Alone and with others. From life and from sex.

I want her to inhabit her bones, her breath and herself when she says yes not just when she says no.

Don’t we all deserve this?

How do we make sexual satisfaction, sensuality and pleasure the fence we swing for first and safety and consent only bases we must use to build on.

Consent is a condition for sex but it’s not a destination. Consent is a start not an end. This is not something I have always known so it’s hard not to obsess on saying no.

My adverse childhood experiences have limited both my own capacity for pleasure as well as my parenting.

My step-father was 45 when he married my 19-year old mother. My mother had two children already, an alcoholic father and abusive ex. My step-father was older than my grandmother and had four children from a previous marriage. Three of them moved in with us. Two were closer to my mother’s age than to mien. 

My step-father, step-sister and eldest step-brother were abusive for many years and inappropriate all of the time. The last time I saw them was my step-father’s funeral and on that day, he hit on me.

It took me decades to have flashback free sex. I wasn’t sure healthy sex would ever be possible for me. I aimed for tolerable not pleasurable for most of my life.

This is not ideal. It’s personal but I mention it because me, and others like me, are also parents. Our experiences shape our parenting. 

It took me decades to learn that sex is meant to be voluntary, pleasant and mutually beneficial and that not all people check out of their bodies when overwhelmed by the needs, violence or expectations of others.

Clinicians call this checking out dis·so·ci·a·tion but survivors often do it automatically and call it coping, life or what happens in bed.

A girl who is gay suggested losing virginity should be redefined. Instead of it being when a boy penetrates a girl it should be when someone has an orgasm with a partner.

A chosen partner.

Imagine if we all used that definition?

If we did, many adults would still be virgins including many who have not been victims of crime, abuse or boundary violations.

For many of us feeling present and joyful at the same time seems miraculous. We have to practice at learning to inhabit and pay attention to our sensations, selves and our physical sense of being in the world.

We get body work, do yoga or find ways to stay aware, alert and in our skin. It requires work, attention, practice and time.


And while we’re doing that work to heal ourselves, often, we’re also parenting.

How does this impact our children?

Honestly, for most of my life I was trying to get the fuck out of my body and so I focus as little attention as possible on it. 

It seemed dangerous and a nuisance at best. I never considered it a vehicle for joy.

But who will tell our daughters and our sons to expect and insist upon more?

Who will say say is to be enjoyed and explored not endured or performed?

Are we leaving these conversations to pop culture and porn? Are we hoping they figure it out on their own.

They are not, that’s the terrifying stuff that Orenstein talks about.

Sexual intercourse is not on the rise but STD’s as is casual oral sex most often done by girls who rarely receive it.

Is this sexual activity that we want and approve of?

Is it consensual, mutual and equally beneficial?

Can we teach this if we don’t insist on it for ourselves?
Can we insist on this if we have experienced the opposite? What messages do our daughters get when this ad ran just a few months ago and no one lost a job, that I’ve been able to find, as a result. 
It clearly wasn’t an accident.

How do I shift the entire conversation away from only safety and protection while not neglecting these topics too?

What is the conversation about sex after preventing violence has been discussed?

I’ve thought too little of pleasure, exploration and normal sexual feelings. And it’s not just been detrimental to me and my past relationships, but it’s been consequential and problematic for my kid.

I’ve failed hard.

I didn’t tell my daughter about like or love or normal attraction, flirting and courting. I don’t know why I didn’t think I’d have to teach about that.

The first time a boy she didn’t like asked her out, she reacted as though he was a creepy perpetrator.

That was because of what I’d taught her – or failed to teach her – about communicating, feelings and desire.

She ended up hurting a boy who only liked her and treating him like a creepy stalker. He was in sixth grade. So this ignorance, mine, isn’t only benign. I’ve taught her defense but not the rules of engagement.

Openness. Honesty. Communicating the truth when it comes to dates, attraction and who and what you do and don’t want.

Are others forgetting these step and stages as well?

It’s educational parenting and also personal. Both.

When I heal for myself I help the world expand for my child. That’s the upside. 

The downside is knowing that some of the ways I am limited still will limit her world view. Sometimes I parent like my experiences are the norm. And sexual abuse and violence is far too common.

But I have to parent to more than preventing violence.

ow can I change the bar, the expectations and the world and keep her safe and street smart?

I went to a functional medicine nurse practitioner a little over a year ago. She went over my blood work, and said:

“I don’t want you to just be barely above the minimum. I want you to be at optimal.”

She was talking about my Vit. D and iron and magnesium but I thought – I don’t think like that about anything.

I go for not deficient.

What would it be like to go for optimal?

For myself and as a parent?My friend, Heidi, embracing joy.

It’s time for me to raise the bar. For myself. For her. For our conversations about sex. This book is a huge start.



My friend, Heidi, embracing joy, not as a passenger.   

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