Advertisement

Sex Roles

, Volume 62, Issue 5–6, pp 294–306 | Cite as

Feminist Ideals for a Healthy Female Adolescent Sexuality: A Critique

  • Sharon LambEmail author
Feminist Forum

Abstract

This paper explores the ideals of healthy sexuality for teenage girls in the U.S. proposed by feminist theorists and researchers. Current ideals emphasize desire, pleasure, and subjectivity, and appear to be a response to three historically problematic areas for women and girls: objectification; abuse and victimization; and stereotypes of female passivity. There are, however, several problems with using these qualities as markers of healthy sexuality. This essay discusses these problems, including the rigid dichotomizing of subject and object, the idea that desire, pleasure, and subjectivity may have different historical meanings for girls from diverse backgrounds; and that using pleasure as a gauge for whether sex is “good” has moral implications that may undermine other important goals of feminism.

Keywords

Adolescence Sexuality Health Desire Subjectivity Pleasure 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Dana Becker, Nicola Gavey, Jeanne Marecek, Jeffrie Murphy, the editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments.

References

  1. Aapola, S., Gonick, M., & Harris, A. (2005). Young femininity: girlhood, power, and social change. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, L. (2007a). Doing ‘it’ differently: relinquishing the disease and pregnancy prevention focus in sexuality education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28, 575–588.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, L. (2007b). ‘Pleasurable pedagogy’: young people’s ideas about teaching ‘pleasure’ in sexuality education. 21st Century Society, 2, 249–264.Google Scholar
  4. Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. In Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays. NY: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  5. American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html
  6. Attwood, F. (2007). Sluts and riot grrrls: female identity and sexual agency. Journal of Gender Studies, 16, 233–247.Google Scholar
  7. Bailey, C. (1997). Making waves and drawing lines: the politics of defining the vicissitudes of feminism. Hypatia, 12, 17–28.Google Scholar
  8. Bartky, S. L. (1990). Femininity and domination: Studies in the phenomenology of oppression. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Baumgardner, J., & Richards, A. (2003). The number one question about feminism. Feminist Studies, 29, 448–452.Google Scholar
  10. Baxandall, R., & Gordon, L. (2000). Introduction. In R. Baxandall & L. Gordon (Eds.), Dear sisters: Dispatches from the women’s liberation movement (pp. 1–18). NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  11. Bay-Cheng, L. (2003). The trouble of teen sex: the construction of adolescent sexuality through school-based sexuality education. Sex Education, 3, 61–74.Google Scholar
  12. Becker, D. (2005). The myth of empowerment. NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Brown, L. M. (2003). Girlfighting: Betrayal and rejection among girls. NY: NYU.Google Scholar
  14. Brownmiller, S. (1975). The mass psychology of rape. In R. Baxandall & L. Gordon (Eds.), Dear sisters: Dispatches from the women’s liberation movement (pp. 196–197). NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  15. Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676–713.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Carmody, M. (2005). Ethical erotics: reconceptualizing anti-rape education. Sexualities, 8, 465–480.Google Scholar
  17. Carpenter, L. (1998). From girls into women: scripts for sexuality and romance in Seventeen Magazine, 1974–1994. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 158–168.Google Scholar
  18. Chalker, R. (1994). Updating the model of female sexuality. SIECUS Report, 22, 1–6.Google Scholar
  19. Chidgey, R. (2008, March). The Fword: Contemporary UK Feminism (blog). Retrieved from http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2008/03/labours
  20. Classen, C., Palesh, O., & Aggarwal, R. (2005). Sexual revictimization: a review of the empirical literature. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 6, 103–129.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Consciousness and the politics of empowerment. Revised 10th anniversary edition. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Daniluk, J. C. (1993). The meaning and experience of adolescent sexuality. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 17, 53–70.Google Scholar
  23. Debold, E. (1996). Knowing bodies: Gender identity, cognitive development, and embodiment in early childhood and early adolescence. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation,) Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  24. Debold, E., Wilson, M., & Malave, I. (1993). Mother daughter revolution: From good girls to great women. NY: Random House.Google Scholar
  25. Duits, L., & van Zoonen, L. (2007). Who’s afraid of female agency?: a rejoinder to Gill. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 14, 161–170.Google Scholar
  26. Duffy, M., & Gotcher, J. M. (1996). Crucial advice on how to get the guy: the rhetorical vision of power and secuction in the teen magazine YM. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 20, 32–48.Google Scholar
  27. Durkin, S. J., & Paxton, S. J. (2002). Predictors of vulnerability to reduced body image satisfaction and psychological well-being in response to exposure to idealized female media images in adolescent girls. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 53, 995–1005.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Edut, O. (2003). Body outlaws: Rewriting the rules of beauty and body image. Berkeley: Seal.Google Scholar
  29. Fine, M. (1988). Sexuality, schooling, and adolescent females: the missing discourse of desire. Harvard Education Review, 58, 29–53.Google Scholar
  30. Fine, M. (2005). X. Desire: the morning (and 15 years) after. Feminism & Psychology, 15, 54–50.Google Scholar
  31. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. (2006). Sexuality education and desire: still missing after all these years. Harvard Educational Review, 76, 297–338.Google Scholar
  32. Foucault, M. (1996). Ethics of pleasure. In S. Lotriner (Ed.), Foucault live: (Interviews, 1961–1984) (pp. 371–381). NY: Semiotext(E).Google Scholar
  33. Fredrickson, B. F., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: toward understanding women’s lived experience and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206.Google Scholar
  34. Fredrickson, B. L., Roberts, T., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 269–284.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Garner, A., & Sterk, H. M. (1998). Narrative analysis of sexual etiquette in teen magazines. Journal of Communication, 48, 59–79.Google Scholar
  36. Gavey, N. (2005). Just sex?: The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Gill, R. C. (2003). From sexual objectification to sexual subjectification: the resexualisation of women’s bodies in the media. Feminist Media Studies, 3, 99–106.Google Scholar
  38. Gill, R. C. (2006). Gender and the Media. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  39. Gill, R. C. (2007). Critical respect: the difficulties and dilemmas of agency and ‘choice’ for feminism: a reply to Duits and van Zoonen. European Journal of Women’s Studies Journal, 14, 69–80.Google Scholar
  40. Girls Incorporated. (2006). The supergirl dilemma: girls grapple with the mounting pressure of expectations. NY: Girls Incorporated.Google Scholar
  41. Griffin, S. (1977). Rape: The all-American crime. In D. Chappell, R. Geis & G. Geis (Eds.), Forcible rape: The crime, the victim, and the offender (pp. 47–66). NY: Columbia University Press. Original work published 1971.Google Scholar
  42. Griffin, C. (1985). Typical girls: Young women from school to the job market. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  43. Griffiths, V. (1995). Adolescent girls and their friends: A feminist ethnography. Aldershot: Avebury.Google Scholar
  44. Guttmacher Institute. (2009). A new day: The Obama administration and U.S. sexual and reproductive public policy. Retrieved from http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2009/03/04/index.html
  45. Harris, A., Aapola, S., & Gonick, M. (2000). Doing it differently: young women managing heterosexuality in Australia, Finland and Canada. Journal of Youth Studies, 3, 373–388.Google Scholar
  46. Harrison, L., Hillier, L., & Walsh, J. (1996). Teaching for a positive sexuality: Sounds good, but what about fear, embarrassment, risk and the ‘forbidden’ discourse of desire? In L. Lasky & C. Beavis (Eds.), Schooling and sexualities: Teaching for a positive sexuality (pp. 69–82). Geelong: Deakin University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Hawkins, N., Richards, P., Granley, H. M., & Stein, D. M. (2004). The impact of exposure to the thin-ideal media image on women. Eating Disorders, 12, 35–50.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Henry, A. (2004). Not my mother’s sister: Generational conflict and third-wave feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  50. Holland, J., Ramazanoglu, C., Sharpe, S., & Thomson, R. (1998). The male in the head: Young people, heterosexuality, and power. London: Tufnell.Google Scholar
  51. Hollway, W. (1995). Feminist discourses and women’s heterosexual desire. In S. Wilkinson & C. Kitzinger (Eds.), Feminist discourse: Psychological perspectives (pp. 86–105). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Horne, S., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2005). Female sexual subjectivity and well-being: comparing late adolescents with different sexual experiences. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 2, 25–40.Google Scholar
  53. Horne, S., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2006). The female sexual subjectivity inventory: development and validation of an instrument for late adolescents and emerging adults. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 125–138.Google Scholar
  54. Impett, E. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. L. (2006). To be seen and not heard: femininity ideology and adolescent girls’ sexual health. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21, 628–646.Google Scholar
  55. Jackson, S., & Scott, S. (2004). Sexual antimonies in late modernity. Sexualities, 7, 233–247.Google Scholar
  56. Kant, I. (1785). Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals, (tr. Mary J. Gregor). New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998.Google Scholar
  57. Kegan, R. (1997). Neither safe sex nor abstinence may work — now what?: Toward a third norm for youthful sexuality. In D. Cicchetti & S. C. Toth (Eds.), Rochester symposium on developmental psychopathology, Volume VII: Adolescence: Opportunities and challenges. Rochester: Univ. of Rochester Press.Google Scholar
  58. Kellner, D. (1995). Media culture: Cultural studies, identity and politics between the modern and the postmodern. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Kelly, E. (2005). A new generation of feminism? Reflections on the 3rd Wave. New Political Science, 2, 233–43.Google Scholar
  60. Kiely, E. (2005). Where is the discourse of desire? Deconstructing the Irish Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) resource materials. Irish Educational Studies, 24, 253–266.Google Scholar
  61. Kim, J. L., & Ward, L. M. (2004). Pleasure reading: associations between young women’s sexual attitudes and their reading of contemporary women’s magazines. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 48–58.Google Scholar
  62. Kimmel, M. S. (2005). The gender of desire: Essays on male sexuality. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  63. Kindlon, D., & Thompson, M. (2000). Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys. NY: Ballantine.Google Scholar
  64. Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers 2007: Research finding on programs to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Washington, D.C.: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.Google Scholar
  65. Lamb, S. (1999). Constructing the victim: Popular images and lasting labels. In S. Lamb (Ed.), New versions of victims: Feminists struggle with the concept (pp. 108–138). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Lamb, S. (2002). The secret lives of girls: What good girls really do — sex play, aggression, and their guilt. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  67. Lamb, S. (2006). Sex, therapy, and kids: Addressing their concerns through talk and play. NY: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  68. Lamb, S. (2009). Towards a sexual ethics curriculum: Bringing philosophy and society to bear on individual development. Paper revised and resubmitted to Harvard Educational Review.Google Scholar
  69. Lamb, S., & Brown, L. M. (2006). Packaging girlhood: Rescuing our daughters from marketers’ schemes. New York: St. Martin’s.Google Scholar
  70. Lees, S. (1986). Losing out: Sexuality and adolescent girls. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  71. Levin, D., & Kilbourne, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. NY: Ballantine.Google Scholar
  72. Levy, A. (2005). Female chauvinist pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture. New York: Free.Google Scholar
  73. Lindsey, K., Newman, H., & Taylor, F. (1973). Rape: The all American crime. In R. Baxandall & L. Gordon (Eds.), Dear sisters: Dispatches from the women’s liberation movement (pp. 195–196). NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  74. Little rapes. (1977). In R. Baxandall & L. Gordon (Eds.), Dear sisters: Dispatches from the women’s liberation movement (pp. 192–194). NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  75. Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Freedom: Crossing.Google Scholar
  76. Lucas, A. R., Beard, C. M., O’Fallon, C. M., & Kurland, L. T. (1991). 50-year trends in the incidence of anorexia nervosa in Rochester, Minn.: a population-based study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 917–922.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Marshall, E. (2007). Schooling Ophelia: hysteria, memory, and adolescent femininity. Gender and Education, 19, 707–728.Google Scholar
  78. Martin, K. (1996). Puberty, sexuality, and the self: girls and boys at adolescence. NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  79. Matthew, R. (2005, December 30). Craze of Teenage Boys for Viagra. Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/?Craze-of-Teenage-Boys-for-Viagra&id=120227
  80. McKinley, N. M., & Hyde, J. S. (1996). The objectified body consciousness scale. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 181–215.Google Scholar
  81. McRobbie, A. (2007). Top girls: young women and the post-feminist contract. Cultural Studies, 21, 718–737.Google Scholar
  82. Minkowitz, D. (1995). Giving it up: Orgasm, fear, and femaleness. In R. E. Walker (Ed.), To be real: Telling the truth and changing the face of feminism. NY: Anchor.Google Scholar
  83. Mohanty, C. T. (1991). Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. In C. T. Mohanty, A. Russo & L. Torres (Eds.), Third world women and the politics of feminism (pp. 51–80). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  84. Muelhlenhard, C., & Peterson, Z. D. (2005). Wanting and not wanting sex: the missing discourse of ambivalence. Feminism & Psychology, 15, 15–20.Google Scholar
  85. Nussbaum, M. (1995). Objectification. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 24, 249–291.Google Scholar
  86. Nussbaum, M. C. (2000). Women and human development: The capabilities approach. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Painter, K. (March 15, 2002). Sexual revolution hits junior high. USA Today, Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/life/2002/2002-03-15-sex-and-teens.htm?loc=interstitialskip
  88. Paul, P. (2005). Pornified: How pornography is changing our lives. NY: Times Books.Google Scholar
  89. Phelps, L. (1971). Death in the spectacle. In R. Baxandall & L. Gordon (Eds.), Dear sisters: Dispatches from the women’s liberation movement (pp. 175–179). NY: Basic Books. 2000.Google Scholar
  90. Pleck, J. H. (1981). The myth of masculinity. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  91. Quina, K., Morokoff, P. J., Harlow, L. L., & Zurbriggen, E. L. (2004). Cognitive and attitudinal paths from childhood trauma to adult HIV risk. In L. J. Koenig, A. O’Leary, L. S. Doll & W. Pequegnat (Eds.), From child sexual abuse to adult sexual risk: Trauma revictimization and intervention (pp. 135–157). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  92. Rasmussen, M. L. (2004). Wounded identities, sex and pleasure: “Doing it” at school. Not! Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 25, 445–458.Google Scholar
  93. Rich, A. (1983). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. In A. Snitow, C. Stansell & S. Thompson (Eds.), Powers of desire: The politics of sexuality (pp. 177–205). NY: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  94. Rivadeneyra, R., Ward, L. M., & Gordon, M. (2007). Distorted reflections: media exposure and Latino adolescents’ conceptions of self. Media Psychology, 9, 261–290.Google Scholar
  95. Sarracino, C., & Scott, K. (2008). Porn culture in America. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  96. Sharpley-Whiting, T. D. (2007). Pimps up, ho’s dow: Hip hop’s hold on young black women. NY: NYU.Google Scholar
  97. Smith, S. (2002). A cock of one’s own: Getting a firm grip on feminist sexual power. In M. L. Johnson (Ed.), Jane sexes it up: True confessions of sexual desire (pp. 293–310). NY: Four Walls Eight Windows.Google Scholar
  98. Tanenbaum, L. (2000). Slut: Growing up female with a bad reputation. NY: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  99. Thompson, S. (1990). Putting a big thing into a little hole: teenage girls’ accounts of sexual initiation. Journal of Sex Research, 27, 341–361.Google Scholar
  100. Thompson, S. (1995). Going all the way: Teenage girls’ tales of sex, romance, and pregnancy. New York: Hill and Wang Winter.Google Scholar
  101. Tolman, D. L. (1991). Adolescent girls, women and sexuality: discerning dilemmas of desire. Women & Therapy, 11, 55–69.Google Scholar
  102. Tolman, D. (1992). Voicing the body: A psychological study of adolescent girls’ sexual desire. (Unpublished dissertaion). Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambidge, MA.Google Scholar
  103. Tolman, D. (1996). Adolescent girls’ sexuality: Debunking the myth of the urban girl. In B. J. Leadbeater & N. Way (Eds.), Urban girls: Resisting stereotypes, creating identities (pp. 255–7). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  104. Tolman, D. (1999). Femininity as a barrier to positive sexual health for girls. Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, 54, 133–138.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  105. Tolman, D. L. (2000). Object lessons: romance, violence and female adolescent sexual desire. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 25, 70–79.Google Scholar
  106. Tolman, D. L. (2002). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  107. Tolman, D., & Debold, E. (1994). Doing desire: adolescent girls’ struggle for/with sexuality. Gender & Society, 8, 324–342.Google Scholar
  108. Tolman, D. L., Impett, E. A., Tracy, A. J., & Michael, A. (2006). Looking good, sounding good: feminist ideology and adolescent girls’ mental health. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 85–95.Google Scholar
  109. Walkerdine, V. (1990). Schoolgirl fictions. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  110. Ward, L. M., Merriwether, A., & Caruthers, A. (2006). Breasts are for men: media use, masculinity ideology, and men’s beliefs about women’s bodies. Sex Roles, 55, 703–714.Google Scholar
  111. Weekes, D. (2002). Get your freak on: how black girls sexualise identity. Sex Education in England and Scotland, 2, 251–262.Google Scholar
  112. Welles, C. E. (2005). Breaking the silence surrounding female adolescent sexual desire. Women & Therapy, 81, 31–45.Google Scholar
  113. WHO. (2004). Sexual health—A new focus for WHO. Progress in Reproductive Sexual Health, 67, 1–8.Google Scholar
  114. Wilson, P. (1986). Black culture and sexuality. Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality, 4, 29–47.Google Scholar
  115. Wolf, N. (1993). Fire with fire: The new female power and how it will change the 21st century. NY: Random House.Google Scholar
  116. Wyatt, G. E. (1997). Stolen women: Reclaiming our sexuality, taking back our lives. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  117. Young, I. M. (1980). Throwing like a girl: a phenomenology of feminine body comportment motility and spatiality. Human Studies, 3, 137–156.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Counseling and School Psychology, Graduate College of Education, UMass BostonBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations