A few months ago, before the Quack Heard ‘Round The World, I tuned in to an episode of Duck Dynasty for the first time. Several people who know funny had told me the show was hilarious and I was curious enough to select it while channel surfing one night. I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t the laugh-a-minute good time I was hoping for. One plot centered around a broken office coffee maker and a lot of bearded guys going to a coffee shop before getting a replacement. The other plot focused on a father (and I’m sorry I don’t know which man it was because I didn’t catch any names) deciding that his daughter’s prom dress was too sexy. He took her shopping himself to find something more appropriate for her. Hijinks, including a drunk-appearing uncle breaking a mannequin, ensued. The Walton Mountain wrap up had the drunk uncle admonishing over-protective dad to accept that his little girl is growing up.
(That all gets a little creepier knowing Phil Robertson’s views on men marrying 15 and 16 year old girls but we’ll let that go.)
Lately, I’ve been seeing a commercial for some colon-busting atrocity from Taco Bell that involves a teen boy running down the street with a man identified as “her father” in hot pursuit. The implication is that the running kid was eating Taco Bell (either the worst euphemism for sex ever or a fairly gross non-sex activity) with a girl while her parents were out and when they got home, the boy was in trouble with “her father”.
Why am I talking about these two media moments? Because they perpetuate an archetype of boys as horny bastards out to lay every girl they see and girls as objects of desire who need to be shielded from those nasty boys at all costs.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I was 13 or so, I got interested in boys. REALLY interested. Crushes ruled the day. My diary was a litany of boys I hoped would notice me, phone calls with girlfriends were all about boys, I loved books about girls who actually ended up going out with the boys who liked them and hoped to live that out in my own life as soon as possible. Sadly, the boys found me less than appealing because I was annoying but it would be years before I put that together and chilled out around boys. But my boy-craziness was typical of the girls in my orbit in middle and high school. We were hitting sexual maturity, as most humans do around that age, and we were becoming sexual creatures. A normal development. A desirable development even, since the sex drive is all tied in to the drive to procreate and perpetuate the species.
All of that is to say that girls get just as hot and horny in the teen years as boys do. That may be a deeply weird thing for parents to contemplate but it’s true. It’s not like boys are thinking about sex and girls are thinking about unicorns and their English homework. Boys and girls are thinking about sex and the degree probably varies more by individual than by gender.
So, why do we hold on to the old, tired jokes about fathers protecting girls from the greasy mitts of lascivious boys? It’s so stupid. It perpetuates the notion of girl as sexual object without bodily autonomy. It puts authority figures between a girl and her own desires, telling her what she may and may not do sexually. It implies that, for girls, sex is bad. It also objectifies boys, saying that they’re wanton lust machines who can’t control their urges. It tells boys that girls aren’t allowed to be willing participants in the sex act therefore sex acts are always a matter for coercion and subterfuge. It encourages manipulative sexual behavior and impulsive and unsafe sex acts. It puts parents in control of teen sex but not in the good way, in the way that is sneaky and shameful.
Look, none of us relish the idea of kids having sex too young. We don’t want them to risk crisis pregnancies, STIs, heartbreak, public ridicule from peers or any of the other hazards implicit in teen sex. We have the benefit of hindsight on the real effects of sexual behavior and we want to protect out kids from all of that. But…we also have to admit that all of our kids are going to want to have sex and it’s better for them in the long run to set them up for it to be a healthy act between two consenting individuals.
Sex, sexual morality, and relationship education is one of those things that’s a decision that all parents will have to make. I can’t tell you the best way to do it because I don’t know you and your kids. I can suggest, however, that buying into the old stereotypes of unequal sexual motives between boys and girls is dumb. Both genders are better served by treating them, and their sexuality, with honesty and respect, not threats and shame.