Advertisement

Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Empowerment: Two Feminists Explore the Concept

Abstract

Although all feminists tend to value empowered female sexuality, feminists often disagree, sometimes heatedly so, about the definition of and path to empowered sexuality among adolescent girls. In this theoretical paper, two feminists, who have previously expressed differing perspectives regarding adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment (Lamb 2010a, b; Peterson 2010), discuss their disagreements and attempt to find some common ground in their viewpoints on girls’ sexuality. A critical question related to sexual empowerment is whether empowerment includes a subjective sense of efficacy, desire, and pleasure. In other words, are girls sexually empowered if they feel that they are empowered? The authors identify three themes that make answering this question particularly challenging—age differences, exposure to sexualized media, and the pressure to please a partner. Despite these challenges, the authors identify several points of consensus, including agreeing that adequate sexuality education and media literacy education are vital to optimizing adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html.

  2. Barton, B. (2002). Dancing on the Möbius Strip: Challenging the sex war paradigm. Gender & Society, 16, 585–602. doi:10.1177/089124302236987.

  3. Baumgardner, J., & Richards, A. (2003). The number one question about feminism. Feminist Studies, 29, 448–452.

  4. Butler, J. (1993). Gender is burning: Questions of appropriation and subversion. In S. Thornham (Ed.), Feminist film theory, a reader (pp. 336–352). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  5. Chandra, A., Martinez, G. M., Mosher, W. D., Abma, J. C., & Jones, J. (2005). Fertility, family planning, and reproductive health of U.S. women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 23, Number 25. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_025.pdf.

  6. Cornell, D. (Ed.). (2000). Feminism & pornography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  7. Crawford, M. (2006). Transformations: Women, gender, & psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  8. Debold, E., Wilson, M., & Malave, I. (1993). Mother daughter revolution: From good girls to great women. New York: Random House.

  9. 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. doi:10.1177/1350506807075820.

  10. Durham, M. G. (2008). The Lolita effect: The media sexualization of girls and 5 keys to fixing it. New York: Overlook Press.

  11. Edgar, T., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (1993). Expectations for sexual interaction: A cognitive test of the sequencing of sexual communication behaviors. Health Communication, 5, 239–261. doi:10.1207/s15327027hc0504_1.

  12. Edut, O. (2003). Body outlaws: Rewriting the rules of beauty and body image. Berkeley: Seal Press.

  13. Else-Quest, N. M., & Hyde, J. S. (2009). The missing discourse of development: Commentary on Lerum and Dworkin. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 264–167. doi:10.1080/00224490903079559.

  14. Fine, M. (1988). Sexuality, schooling, and adolescent females: The missing discourse of desire. Harvard Education Review, 58, 29–53.

  15. Fine, M. (2005). X. Desire: The morning (and 15 years) after. Feminism & Psychology, 15, 54–50. doi:10.1177/0959-353505049708.

  16. Fine, M., & McClelland, S. (2006). Sexuality education and desire: Still missing after all these years. Harvard Educational Review, 76, 297–338.

  17. FoxNews. (2009). Miley Cyrus gets raunchy with a pole at the Teen Choice Awards, wins six trophies. Fox News. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com.

  18. Friedrich, W. (2007). Children with sexual behavior problems: Family-based attachment focused therapy. New York: W.W. Norton.

  19. Gagnon, J., & Simon, W. (1973). Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality. Chicago: Aldine.

  20. Gill, R. (2007). Critical respect: dilemmas of choice and agency in feminism (A response to Duits and Van Zoonen). European Journal of Women’s Studies, 14, 69–80. doi:10.1177/1350506807072318.

  21. Gill, R. (2008). Empowerment/sexism: Figuring female sexual agency in contemporary advertising. Feminism & Psychology, 18, 35–60. doi:10.1177/0959353507084950.

  22. Giordano, P., Longmore, M., & Manning, W. (2006). Gender and the meanings of romantic relationships: A focus on boys. American Sociological Review, 71, 260–287. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30038988.

  23. Girls, Inc. (2006). The supergirl dilemma: Girls feel the pressure to be perfect, accomplished, thin, and accommodating. New York: Author.

  24. Goldman, R., Heath, D., & Smith, S. L. (1991). Commodity feminism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 8, 333–351. doi:10.1080/15295039109366801.

  25. hooks, b. (1991, June). Is Paris Burning? Z, 61.

  26. 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. doi:10.1525/srsp.2005.2.3.25.

  27. Impett, E. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2003). Sexual compliance: Gender, motivational, and relationship perspectives. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 87–100. doi:10.1080/00224490309552169.

  28. Impett, E. A., Peplau, L. A., & Gable, S. L. (2005). Approach and avoidance sexual motivation: Implications for personal and interpersonal well-being. Personal Relationships, 12, 465–482. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2005.00126.x.

  29. Kaestle, C. E., Halpern, C. T., Miller, W. C., & Ford, C. A. (2005). Young age at first sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and young adults. American Journal of Epidemiology, 161, 774–780. doi:10.1093/aje/kwi095.

  30. Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers 2007: Research finding on programs to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Washington: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

  31. La Guardia, J. G., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). What adolescents need: A self-determination theory perspective on development within families, school and society. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Academic motivation of adolescents (pp. 193–220). Greenwich: IAP.

  32. Lamb, S. (2002). The secret lives of girls: What good girls really do – sex play, aggression, and their guilt. New York: Free Press.

  33. Lamb, S. (2006). Sex, therapy, and kids: Addressing their concerns through talk and play. New York: W.W. Norton.

  34. Lamb, S. (2010a). Feminist ideals of healthy female adolescent sexuality: A critique. Sex Roles, 62, 294–306. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9698-1.

  35. Lamb, S. (2010b). Porn as a pathway to empowerment? A response to Peterson’s Commentary. Sex Roles, 62, 314–317. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9756-8.

  36. Lamb, S. (2010c). Toward a sexual ethics curriculum: Bringing philosophy and society to bear on individual development. Harvard Educational Review, 80, 81–106.

  37. Lerum, K., & Dworkin, S. (2009). An interdisciplinary commentary on the report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 250–263. doi:10.1080/00224490903079542.

  38. Levin, D., & Kilbourne, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. New York: Ballantine.

  39. Levy, A. (2005). Female chauvinist pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture. New York: Free Press.

  40. Luker, K. (2006). When sex goes to school: Warring views on sex—and sex education—since the sixties. New York: Norton.

  41. Mast, C. (2001). Sex respect: The option of true sexual freedom. Bradley: Respect Incorporated.

  42. Michaels, L. (1978). Saturday night live [Television series]. New York: NBC.

  43. Morrissey, T. E. (2010). Anti-gaga PSA warns parents about dangerous pop culture icons. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/#!5627458/anti+gaga-psa-warns-parents-about-the-dangers-of-pop-culture.

  44. Muehlenhard, C. L., & Peterson, Z. D. (2005). Wanting and not wanting sex: The missing discourse of ambivalence. Feminism and Psychology, 15, 15–20. doi:10.1177/0959353505049698.

  45. National Institutes of Health (1999). Questions and answers about the NIH policy and guidelines on the inclusion of children as participants in research Involving Human Subjects. Retrieved from http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/children/pol_children_qa.htm#q04name

  46. O’Sullivan, L. F., & Gaines, M. E. (1998). Decision-making in college students’ heterosexual dating relationships: Ambivalence about engaging in sexual activity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 347–363. doi:10.1177/0265407598153003.

  47. Obama, B. (2009). Inaugural address. In J. T. Woolley & G. Peters, The American presidency project. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=44.

  48. O'Donnell, L., O'Donnell, C. R., & Stueve, A. (2001). Early sexual initiation and subsequent sex-related risks among urban minority youth: The Reach for Health study. Family Planning Perspectives, 33, 268–275. doi:10.1363/3326801.

  49. Oswalt, S. B., Cameron, K. A., & Koob, J. J. (2005). Sexual regret in college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 663–669. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-7920-y.

  50. Peterson, Z. D. (2010). What is sexual empowerment? A multidimensional and process-oriented approach to adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment. Sex Roles, 62, 307–313. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9725-2.

  51. Peterson, Z. D., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (2007). Conceptualizing the “wantedness” of women's consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences: Implications for how women label their experiences with rape. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 72–88. doi:10.1080/00224490709336794.

  52. Riger, S. (1993). What’s wrong with empowerment? American Journal of Community Psychology, 21, 279–292. doi:10.1007/BF00941504.

  53. Strossen, N. (1993). A feminist critique of “the” feminist critique of pornography. Virginia Law Review, 79, 1099–1190. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1073402.

  54. Tiefer, L. (1995). Sex is not a natural act and other essays. Boulder: Westview.

  55. Tolman, D. L. (2002). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  56. Tolman, D., & Debold, E. (1994). Doing desire: Adolescent girls’ struggles for/with sexuality. Gender & Society, 8, 324–342. doi:10.1177/089124394008003003.

  57. Tolman, D. L., & Szalacha, L. A. (1999). Dimensions of desire: Bridging qualitative and quantitative methods in a study of female adolescent sexuality. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 7–39. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1999.tb00338.x.

  58. Tolman, D. L., Spencer, R., Rosen-Reynoso, M., & Porche, M. V. (2003). Sowing the seeds of violence in heterosexual relationships: Early adolescents narrate compulsory heterosexuality. Journal of Social Issues, 59, 159–178. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.t01-1-00010.

  59. Welles, C. E. (2005). Breaking the silence surrounding female adolescent sexual desire. Women & Therapy, 81, 31–45. doi:10.1300/J015v28n02_03.

  60. Zimmerman, M. A. (1995). Psychological empowerment: Issues and illustrations. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 581–599. doi:10.1007/BF02506983.

Download references

Acknowledgement

The order of authorship is alphabetical. The authors contributed equally to this article.

Author information

Correspondence to Sharon Lamb or Zoë D. Peterson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lamb, S., Peterson, Z.D. Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Empowerment: Two Feminists Explore the Concept. Sex Roles 66, 703–712 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-9995-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Feminism
  • Empowerment
  • Adolescent girls
  • Sexuality