A few days ago, I took my ex-boyfriend’s 12-year old daughter into New York City to go shopping. I knew it would be a fun trip to see the City through the eyes of a playful, excited pre-adolescent. What I didn’t expect was the level and depth of emotions I experienced in the days to follow.
Why would spending the day happily trying on clothes at stores like Forever 21 and walking through the dazzling digital screen forest of Time Square while a budding girl holds your hand and squeals over and over again, “This is THE Broadway????” have me full-bodied weeping a couple of days later?
As I enjoyed her sweet innocence and wide-eyed enthusiasm, I also started to ask myself, “Where is the point when you tell a young girl becoming a woman how to keep herself safe, how to honor her body and her boundaries, and how to stay connected to her intuition?”
Because the waters she will soon be swimming in as she gets older are rife with the sharp teeth of competition and jealousy from other girls and the deep monster of losing oneself by trying to fit in and be loved. While she is still splashing and playing in the surf right now, soon she will more than likely be swept off her feet by the crashing waves of sexual pressure and a way too high probability of sexual assault.
How to teach her to love her body, claim her agency for her own pleasure and sexual satisfaction, make good boundaries, and to know that she will more than likely be asked, or forced, to be sexual when she doesn’t want to be?
Because I work with way too many adult women who are struggling with these same things, myself included.
This blog is the first of two parts:
Part 1: A letter to young daughters (and to the young girl within you) and Part 2: A letter to fathers raising daughters (and all men who love women)
More and more women are coming out of the sexual shame closet to share their stories of abuse, and we are finally talking and learning we are not alone. We are seeing how normalized and rampant sexual predation has become. And I pray the tide is turning, that the #metoo movement will empower women to not just speak out about past trauma, but also ensure that all genders will grow up in a different sexual environment than we did.
Whether you have felt or continue to feel overwhelmed by the amount of news and Facebook commenting on the intense, long-term sexual abuse by actor Bill Cosby, filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, gymnastic coach Larry Nassar, and the Catholic Church (and we know these are just the tip of the iceberg…); or were traumatized (or re-traumatized) by the hearings on Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, you are not alone. I’ve spoken to so many women who are reeling from the memories of their own sexual abuse, furious about how women are being treated or terrified of how to keep their daughters (or themselves) safe. Or all of the above.
And for men trying to understand why women are so angry: read this important blog
Here is the letter that I wrote to all daughters, and to all women who are now learning to love and heal themselves from a culture that does not do nearly enough to protect women or educate men and women about consent.
I love your innocence, the way you love, the way you play. When I look at you I see a girl turning into a young woman. I wish I could say the world is a safe place for you. But the truth is, it is not always safe. By the virtue of you being in a woman’s body, there are some very important things you need to know as you mature. I don’t share these things to make you afraid, but to make you aware. I share these things to empower you to take care of your body, to claim your pleasure, and to make good boundaries. I share these things in hopes that you will always listen to and trust your intuition, that you will not unconsciously value other people’s opinions or needs before your own, and that you will grow up to be a sovereign, grounded, aware, and vibrant warrior goddess.
Here are a few guidelines that can help you navigate growing up:
1. Explore and claim your pleasure
Your body is sacred and a beautiful, and it can bring you so much pleasure! It is wonderful to smell fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, to taste a strawberry, or to feel the soft fuzziness of your dog’s fur against your cheek. Your skin loves being touched and it is the best to hug! Each of us also has extra sensitive parts that can make us feel amazingly good. There is nothing to be ashamed about your pleasure. This is one of the best gifts of being human. It’s important to get to know your body and explore, and to know that you deserve to feel good in your body. As your body starts to mature and new hormones flush into your system it might feel awkward as so many things change. But remember this is your body getting you ready for a lifetime of yumminess and sexual pleasure. Becoming a woman is not just about being able to have babies, becoming a woman is about having a body that is ripe for sexual experimentation and exploration with yourself or with someone you like and who respects you. Yay!
2. Honor your boundaries
You get to decide when or how slow or how fast you engage with sex with someone else. Some young women wait until they are older to start being sexual, and some start earlier. The most important thing is for you to feel ready and present. Never let anyone pressure you or shame you into being sexual. Just because your friends are being sexual, or your boyfriend or girlfriend wants you to be sexual doesn’t mean you have to. You get to set your boundaries and take as small or as big steps as you want.
It is so important that you learn about consent, both receiving and giving. Consent means that both you and your partner agree on the sexual activity. And just because you want to kiss doesn’t mean you automatically have to do anything else. You take your time. It is fine to say “no” at any time, or to change your mind. Communicate with your partner.
Also, you cannot give or receive consent when you have been drinking or taking drugs. So please take good care of yourself if you are someplace at a party where there is alcohol or other substances, so you are always safe and have enough awareness to give consent. https://www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships/what-consent/
3. Trust your intuition
If something doesn’t feel right to you, stop. Adults, kids that are older than you, or your peers may pressure you to be sexual or do things you don’t want to do. No one, not a doctor or a teacher or an older person has any right to touch you without your permission. If something doesn’t feel right say so and excuse yourself. Then don’t be afraid to tell your parents or a close friend. As girls, we are often taught to be kind and nice and not to speak up for ourselves. Your intuition and your voice are really important tools to help you stay safe and surrounded by people who respect your body and your boundaries.
What letter would you write to your younger self, or to your daughter, or to your son? How can we all bond together to educate the coming generations around healthy, consensual sexuality and pleasure, and to heal those of us that have experienced sexual abuse? Share your thoughts below.
Parents (and all people re-parenting themselves, which I believe is all of us) please read this article on teaching consent:
Here’s to a world that is safe for everyone.