When I read this by Alexandra Adornetto, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, or wonder whether I’d woken up in 1950. (I will try to put down some of the more naive comments to her youth, but Tony Abbott has no excuse.)
All of my YA novels have dealt, to greater or lesser degree, with female sexuality, past and present – not least my most recently completed one, which deals with the ramifications of four girls making a deliberate decision to lose their virginity. I have therefore had some cause to reflect on the complexities faced by young women and how they negotiate the tricky area of sexuality and desire. In the process of writing the last novel, I took a quite extensive survey of my female friends and acquaintances on their first times, and was astonished at the sheer variety of experiences women have had – although they probably came down more on the negative side, regardless of who it was with, one night stand or just-married husband. I was also astonished at the number of women whose first sexual experiences (not necessarily sex) were not at their own instigation, but were the result of predatory uncles, family friends, older brothers etc. For us to be having a conversation about female sexuality, this vast and undiscussed underbelly of experience also needs to be taken into account.
But I want to ask: why are we having this debate about virginity? Why the focus on what young women are or aren’t doing? Where is the discussion of young men’s behaviour – which to me would seem the more worrying? Is it because girls are acing boys academically? Is it because Julia Gillard scares the bejesus out of Tony Abbott? Are girls going to be told to stay home and reproduce next? And my goodness, don’t we have more important things to worry about?
This isn’t to say that sex can’t be dangerous territory for young women: Alexandra is on the money when she mentions the damage that can be done by mixing sex and alcohol, and the sexualisation of girls and women – which also reduces females to their bodies – is concerning to many commentators (thanks Cassandra for the link). But it’s not enough to say to girls to just say no: it merely shifts the responsibility for the problem of our porn-obsessed, hypersexualised culture. It would be far better for Alexandra and other young women to challenge the stereotypes they are confronted with: what do they say when boys of their acquaintance call someone slutty-mc-slut-slut? Smile politely? I hope not.
If I had any advice for young women and sex, it would be: do what you do when you want to do it. If your peers equate your reputation with your level sexual activity, virginal or otherwise, go find different peers. Equating a girl’s worth with her hymen is demeaning. Actually, equating sex with penetration is a problem in itself – ask Bill Clinton. What about questions of pleasure and desire? It seems to be a no-go area in discussions of female sexuality.
The only cheering thing about this whole debate is that Tony Abbott, presumably, would appear to approve of young lesbian women. A silver lining, indeed.
And at least it turns out I may have written a topical novel for once.