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Female Adolescents, Sexual Empowerment and Desire: A Missing Discourse of Gender Inequity


In this commentary, I offer a response to Lamb & Peterson (2011). I base these comments on the feminist scholarship on adolescent girls’ healthy sexuality that Lamb (2010a) critiqued in the first of this series. I address and redress several of her concerns by providing the context and history of my own research and recovering the meanings of desire, pleasure and subjectivity as they appeared in this body of work. I then engage Lamb and Peterson’s points of consensus about the role of sexual empowerment in adolescent girls’ healthy sexuality by 1) positioning sexualization as more than a context; 2) identifying a missing discourse of gender inequity as a central issue in their discussion; and 3) explaining how the use of theory and interpretation in feminist research methods is necessary for and distinct from a surface reading of narratives of lived experience. Finally, I will provide examples of some alternative paths for supporting healthy adolescent women’s sexuality that extend beyond school-based sex education and media literacy into alternative engagements with girls through technology, media activism and participatory practices.

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I want to thank Michelle Fine, Sarah McClelland and Lyn Mikel Brown for their comments on this manuscript, and Amy Baker for assistance with manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Deborah L. Tolman.

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Tolman, D.L. Female Adolescents, Sexual Empowerment and Desire: A Missing Discourse of Gender Inequity. Sex Roles 66, 746–757 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0122-x

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  • Feminism
  • Empowerment
  • Adolescent girls
  • Sexuality
  • Research methods