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Sexual Stereotypes Stop Females From Feeling Pleasure

TeensI think my female friends might resent my having a penis.

Society seems to give me a lot more leeway because of it. Guys get to enjoy having sex. But for girls, the message is a little different.

Society tells girls they can't enjoy sex as much as guys do.

Take orgasms.

"Women fake orgasms all the time on TV. It's like a big joke," says Sophia Salman, 17. "I was watching Sex in the 90'son MTV, and one of the clips was of the show Seinfeld. Elaine was faking, because the guy was taking too long and she had to buy shoes."

It's like the media are telling women they're not going to get any real pleasure out of sex, so it's better to just pretend and laugh about it later.

When it comes to masturbation, the message is even more negative.

"Women don't talk about masturbation as much as men do," says Valerie Termine, 17, from New Jersey. "With men, it's common conversation. But I've never talked about it with my female friends. I was afraid if I told a girl, she'd say "Oh my God! What a slut!' "

"I actually heard a boy tell his girlfriend that he was disgusted and couldn't think about her the same way again after she admitted she had masturbated," says Marisa Mangione, 19, who lives in Delaware. "I guarantee you, this same boy does it at least twice a week."

Same goes for oral sex. For guys, it's OK. For girls, it's not.

"In the media, it's always a woman giving a guy oral sex," says Kara, a 17-year-old from Minneapolis. "No one talks about guys going down on a girl. It's much more acceptable for a guy to ask for it."

Another reason women have trouble enjoying sex is that they're the ones who end up pregnant. Guys, on the other hand, are given permission to have fun, without worrying so much about consequences.

"People see pregnancy, not disease, as being the main consequence of unsafe sex," says Chitra Kalyanaraman, 17, from New Jersey.

Negative messages start circulating when kids are real young, says Beverly Whipple, a Rutgers University professor and expert on sexual pleasure.

"Boys are allowed to touch their genitals when they're urinating," explains Whipple. "This helps them feel comfortable about touching their bodies. Girls are given the message from a very young age, "Don't touch down there. It's dirty."

There's a lot more at stake here than orgasms.

If girls feel they aren't entitled to enjoy sex, then they are less likely to say "no" to sex or to use contraception if they say, "yes," experts say. That's because they see sex as someone else's decision. They do it to please their boyfriends - or to make their boyfriends love them, rather than because they want to have sex.

"Girls need to be given the message that they can be in control," Whipple explains. "It's really important for them to be empowered to say when something does or doesn't feel good."

They also need to hear positive messages, like, "You're worthwhile. You have a lot to offer. You have a right to pleasure," says Whipple.

Another problem is that people, especially teens, are so focused on sexual intercourse (where "the goal" is for the guy to have an orgasm) they forget there are other ways to experience pleasure.

"Sexuality doesn't have to be goal-oriented, with one thing leading to another," explains Whipple. "It can be pleasure-oriented so that sometimes just touching can be a satisfying experience."

Some guys say they also feel like they're groping in the dark when it comes to pleasing their girlfriends.

"It's more difficult to sexually please a female," says Greg, 17, from Pennsylvania. "Guys are afraid they don"t know how to please their partner and so they're reluctant to try."

Whipple offers a simple solution. Talk.

"The four letter word for intercourse is T-A-L-K," she says. "You have to talk about things like safer sex. You should talk about pleasure, too."

Talking about sex before doing it can help both guys and girls feel more satisfied and more valued, she adds. Not only that, but honest conversations can help you make better decisions about your sexuality, including whether you want to have sex, other types of touching or nothing at all.

And here's the real payoff. Communication makes for better relationships. And maybe that's the best pleasure of all.

Ankur Dalal is a teen writer for SEX, ETC., a national newsletter and Web site, published by The Network for Family Life Education, School of Social Work, Rutgers University.

What do you think? Are young women told not to ask what they want from their partners? Go to our message boards to respond.

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