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The Complex Sexualities of Young Women

Young women today are faced with pressures and mixed messages about sex everywhere they look.

Young women today have it so much better when it comes to sex than we did... right? Now and then, when talking about the population I work with and the work I do with them, I will hear or face women my age (I'll be 39 this spring) or older stating that now that we live in a post-feminist world here in the states, they're shocked to hear that young women are struggling with sex and sexuality....well, just like we were. And some struggle even more.

Let's get that post-feminist mishegoss out of the way first. I remember the first time -- it was near the end of the 80s, which probably should have tipped me off to the fact that clearly, the end of the 80's was indeed nigh -- I ever heard someone use that phrase, as blithely as if they'd just said the earth were round. I wondered how the heck I missed the final end of sexism, patriarchy and gender inequality. Surely, if this were so, I'd have heard the long, whining wail of even just one of the Rush Limbaugh's of the world?

I've found the only conclusions I can ever come to when it comes to those who hold the idea that we're post-feminist are that they must a) be feeling the membership they have on the other team is so valuable yet so tenuous that any sign of fraternization (as it were) with the enemy would bring their exile, b) that many women are simply either tired from the struggles of feminism or who see how tired other women have become and don't want to be that worn out themselves, and/or c) be indulging in some seriously wishful thinking and have outrageously low expectations for equality.

I agree: it feels like we should be further along than we are, and should have to wait less long to get there. It feels like we -- and certainly younger women than we -- should be there already. But we're not. I can understand why it can seem like young women have it easier when it comes to sex and sexuality. Their access to many kinds of birth control and to abortion is certainly better than it has been for women in the past, even though that access has had limits imposed upon it in the last ten years and has, at times, been at serious risk. GLBT youth in the U.S., in so many ways, certainly have a more welcoming environment. Many teens and twentysomethings have information on their bodies and their sexuality available to them which many women not only did not have as easily before, but more of that material available is also being penned by women, for women, and is even truly about women sometimes. Better support services are available for this generation when it comes to rape and abuse than even the generation right before them had. Positive and negative body image are things they hear about. Sex and sexuality are discussed more openly and widely.

But all those benefits can also pose some not-so-beneficials, and some very real challenges. Young women now have some extra bags to carry that we before them may not have had to, or found quite so heavy, and either overflowing or vacant with scarcity everywhere we turned. A majority of young American women today do grow up aware that no means no, and told that they have permission to say no. However, many grow up also experiencing that while no may mean no, they don't always have an easy time saying it or feel the permission to. Too many young women are more frequently, and at earlier ages -- which for some is due to sexual development happening earlier historically than it ever has for women before -- finding themselves in the position of responding to sexual invitations and situations.

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