In the research for my book, A Girl's Guide To Getting Off, I have emailed, Skyped, Facebooked and talked face to face with dozens and dozens (maybe even hundreds) of women of all ages (from around 13 to over 70) about sex and the sex education they received and I have to say that on some topics I was sad to see that not a lot has changed over the years.
Across all ages I have encountered girls who had no idea what was happening when they got their period, women completely disgusted by the look of their own genitals, women afraid to touch themselves for all manner of reasons and fears, and girls told that what they wear or how they act will make them somehow responsible for their own rapes or sexual assaults.
Today I would like to share with you some of the bad advice they were given.
(All names have been changed)
“I was bleeding. I had no idea what it was. I thought I was dying. I went and told my mother and she slapped me! Slapped me right in the face, gave me a packet of pads and told me to never speak about it again.” - Sue 71
“My mum came to me when I was about twelve and told me I would start bleeding from my private bits soon and that these [pads] would help soak it up. She didn't tell me what it was or why. Just that it would happen and happen a lot. It wasn't til I was about sixteen that a friend explained it to me. Up until then I thought it happened to boys too.” - Liz 50
“It happened at school camp when I was about 14. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I was going to die. My year co-ordinator was so lovely. She gave me pads and told me what was happening. When I got home and told my mum all she said was 'You're a woman now.'” - Carly 18
“Mum told me to never let a boy pay for everything on a date because then he would expect certain things. She didn't tell me I had the right to refuse or that he had no right to demand. Only that the best way to avoid it was to make sure you didn't 'owe' him anything” - Jessie 37
“I have always been told, since I was a kid, if a boy is mean to you it means he likes you. That's led to some pretty fucked up relationships I can tell you. I will never tell my kids that. If someone is mean to you, it's because they are a mean person. End of story.” - Anne 29
“My older brother has never had a curfew. I always have. When I questioned it my dad said it's because girls get raped and boys don't. When I said that maybe that should mean boys shouldn't be allowed out rather than stopping girls he told me I didn't know what I was talking about. Talk about double standards” - Debbie 17
On What You Wear
“My father telling me I wasn't leaving the house in that was almost constant. When my breasts began to get really big he made me cover them in a cardigan, no matter how hot it was. He told me it was because boys get ideas and he wasn't going to have his daughter be the one to give it to them.” - Sara 40
“My mum told me it was a shame I had big boobs because everything I wore made me look like I was asking for sex.” - Anne 29
“My mum always says if you dress like a slut you'll be treated like a slut. I've been treated pretty bad just in jeans and a top so I don't think she's getting the whole picture.” - Kerry 19
On Sexual Assault
“When I was 19 I was raped. I went to the police and they kept asking me what I had been wearing and if I had led him on. It was really horrible. The fact I had a black eye and scratches all over me didn't seem to matter. One of the cops even said if I hadn't made such a fuss maybe [the rapist] wouldn't have hit me so hard.” - Fern 50
“I had big boobs in high school. I got used to the boys trying to touch them and grab them when I walked past. If you complained they called you frigid. I actually didn't think about it til years later how completely wrong it was” - Jessie 37
“When I was in grade seven I complained to my teacher that the boys in my class were trying to feel me up. She told me 'boys will be boys' and to not encourage it by wearing my school skirt so short” - Hayley 17
On Losing Your Virginity
“On my wedding day [I was 22] my mother pulled me aside and told me that now I was a wife I had specific duties. One was to let him touch me with whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. She said it would hurt but I would get used to it.” - Carol 68
“My mum told me to save myself for marriage or I would get a bad reputation. She said it was okay for boys because boys needed the practice to make sure they were good husbands. It never made any sense! Who were they supposed to be practising on and why couldn't I practice to be a good wife? She never answered my questions. She just said not to do it.” - Jennifer 39
“My mum hasn't really said anything to me or my sister about sex. She gets really embarrassed about it. She gave us a book though. That helped us learn a bit more, but I don't know. The girls at school says it hurts.” - Alannah 15
“My mother caught me masturbating in the bath once. She screamed and told me I was dirty and going to hell and that I was to never, ever touch myself there again. Of course I didn't listen. I just made sure I was more careful about where I did it.” - Sara 40
“My mum told me if I touched myself down there it would ruin my vagina (she didn't actually use that word. She just called them 'bits') and that no man would ever want to marry me.” - Anne 29
“My mum has never talked to me about it ever. I wouldn't know how to talk to her about it either.” - Hayley 17
So much confusion. So much wasted self doubt. So much bullshit! All in the name of what? Protection? Fear? All that has done for most of these women is left them feeling unsure, abnormal and completely unaware of their own bodies, their own sexuality, their own pleasure. Not a life I wish for my daughter, nor yours.
I absolutely believe it is imperative that we open the doors to honest and proper sexual education and allow teenagers to explore, learn and develop without any fear of judgement or punishment and without ridiculous scare tactics and untruths about what will happen.
Yes, sex is an activity that comes with responsibility and risk but then so is almost everything we undertake as we grow from children into adults. Let's be true educators. True guides. After all truth is knowledge and knowledge is the key to all greatness and that is what I wish for my daughter and yours.