Sex Lessons from Mom and Dad

Even when girls and boys get the same negative message about sex, girls seem to come out worse. 

Many young people only get silence from their parents on the subject. But silence communicates: Sex is unmentionable, shameful. 

Parents often worry that raising the subject will lead kids to have sex. Actually, when parents talk, their children are less likely to become sexually active, and more likely to behave responsibly. 

“Don’t touch yourself there.” Another message linking sex and filthiness. 

The advice doesn’t always work as hoped. Sex therapist Lonnie Barbach tells of one little girl who, “put that extraordinarily dirty place directly under the faucet of the tub in order to wash it more thoroughly and was pleasantly surprised to find that the water created a most intense sensation which culminated in orgasm.” 

Other little girls aren’t so lucky. 

Here’s the downside to the parental rebuke. Touching yourself is exactly what sex therapists advise when women have trouble achieving orgasm. Because they often don’t understand how their bodies work. 

In fact, while parents may scold both boys and girls, the reproach seems to have a more negative impact on girls. Boys who don’t touch themselves, and who don’t have sex, will have wet dreams because their bodies need regular ejaculations to create fresh sperm. This clues boys in to how their bodies work. 

Girls don’t always figure out how the clitoris works. It’s an organ that’s small and hidden, and girls’ bodies don’t force orgasms. Women can go their entire lives, having many babies, without ever experiencing one. 

Nearly all men masturbate, but only half of women do. Perhaps this is why. 

But parents give boys more positive messages about sex, too. “Never waste a boner,” a male student volunteered when I asked what sorts of parental advice they’d heard. 

Girls probably won’t hear anything remotely similar. 

We’ve all heard how boys are told to sew their wild oats before marriage, while girls are encouraged to abstain. Some dads have even taken their daughters to “purity balls” and vowed “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.” A little extreme. And the notion of “covering” a daughter seems a little creepy. But it reflects the larger society’s concern with girls’ “sexual cleanliness.” 

Girls and boys get different messages on sexuality from parents. And even when they don’t, girls’ sexuality can be more damaged. 

Georgia Platts 

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DO Women Like Sex Less Than Men?

Responses to my post asking why women like sex less than men included:

  • Says who?
  • I think it’s the opposite – I think women like it more
  • I don’t think anyone can know who likes sex better

Or as one reader put it, “The overwhelming majority of men and women get their attitudes and desires for sex primarily through the natural, healthy desire to have sex… Women are equal to men and thus capable of every form of behavior that men engage in.”

To which I respond: no and yes (in that order).

Women are certainly capable of enjoying sex immensely. In some societies women are highly orgasmic and inclined to engage in sex with great frequency, as with Tahitians and American Indians before contact with Europeans.

But highly orgasmic women in America? Not so much – at least not by comparison.

Of course women are capable of having great sex. But the extent to which they actually do depends on factors other than just what nature brings them. Repression plays a role, and so do sexual objectification and male dominance (all will be explored later).

Do women like sex less? Consider this research on sexuality in America:

On the orgasm front three-quarters of men say they “always” have an orgasm, but just 30% of women do. One quarter of women don’t usually have orgasms. In the casual sex of hook-ups the rate is lower, especially for women. Sociologist Michael Kimmel (Guyland) surveyed college students on their most recent hookup. Only 44% of the men reported having an orgasm, and only 19% of the women did.

The more orgasmic a person is, the more they report enjoying sex. Not surprisingly, women report liking sex less than men do. A Chicago University study found that men have more interest in sex at all ages. And an ABC News Primetime Live survey found that 83% of men “enjoy sex a great deal,” while only 59% of women do. That same study found that while 70% of men think about sex every day, only 34% of women do.  

Women also experience more sexual dysfunction than men. A report from the Archives of Internal Medicine showed more than one quarter of young women feeling weak sexual desire. While research at the University of Chicago found that 32% of women (but only 15 -17% of men) have low libidos. Not surprisingly, 40% of men say they would like to have more sex than they do now, but only 28% of women feel the same way.

For more evidence of gender difference in sexual interest, see my post: Sex Research: It Doesn’t Fit Me, It Must Be Wrong

I wonder if men ever sit around confiding to friends that sex ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve listened to these kinds of conversations with many groups of women, yet it’s hard to imagine men doing the same thing.

The difference in the male and female experience is due mostly to cultural forces. The difference in the female experience between modern Americans and ancient Tahitians is entirely due to culture.

Yet many people think our society has no negative effects on women’s sexuality.

Maybe that’s why we don’t do anything to create change.

Georgia Platts