Friday, March 21, 2014

Phallic Friday - underage sex & peer pressure

I read a news article through the week, which of course I can't find now, that was discussing underage sex where a judge said that kids didn't realise that what they were doing was wrong (I think it was 13 year olds having sex).

And that may be true, but there's also the case that kids also don't know how to get out of tricky situations, especially about sex. Sometimes there isn't the openness at home to discuss these issues. Sometimes they're not confident enough to know they have the right to say 'no', or to enforce that.

In the age of cyber-sex, where 'sex' is easy because it's remote, I think it must be really unsettling to be a teenager where peer pressure and natural curiosity collide and there's an easy, non-messy way to experiment.

In my twenties and thirties, I worked with teenage girls as a group leader. We were all about empowering girls to be good leaders, giving them skills and confidence. They were aged 11 to 15 years, so they'd just started high school. One girl was a bit of a trouble-maker, but a fun one, so we got along okay. After she started high school, she went a bit weird. She was in a co-ed school, in the 'rougher' part of town.

I forget what happened but I ended up pulling her aside and she spilled all this stuff. The kid was twelve and some older boys were putting the hard word on her to have sex with them, or they'd tell the whole school she was frigid. She was terrified but backed into a corner.

And you know, they don't teach you what to do in these situations! I just had to wing it. And what the hell do you say in this situation? My brain was going a thousand to the dozen trying out all the scenarios and what I could do.

I questioned her a lot about how she felt. Hoping she'd come to a conclusion so I didn't have to tell her what to do - as I strongly suspected she needed to learn to work this out herself.

She hated the guys. They weren't attractive at all. She wasn't ready for sex. She didn't think her friends had been pressured. She wanted to tell them no, but didn't know how.

Phew! I was somewhere along the way to knowing what she wanted. She just needed a way to stop the bullying.

My Dad had always told me bullies were people who had never been stood up to before. I firmly believed this. He would have told me to slug them, but there were more than 1 boy, and by this stage I'd worked out that girls were never as tough as boys, especially boys in gangs (I did learn a few things in my misspent youth, and by moving out of the city!).

So, I looked her in the eye and said, "What would you really like to say to these guys?" She hemmed and hawed and couldn't say anything. So I held her shoulder and said, "You'd like to tell them to 'fuck off', wouldn't you?" She used that language, and I didn't (well, not then and not there), so it startled her.

"Yeah," she said. "But will that work?"

Crap? What was I to say? I went with the truth. "I don't know, but it's worth a try isn't it? Frigid's only a word, and it's better than having to have sex with them all." (and from our Q&A I knew having sex with them all was a bigger fear for her than being called frigid).

So, she went off. I fell in a heap of nerves.

Next week, the girl struts into our meeting like she's the Queen. So much confidence, so much happier, no longer bowed down by pressure. It was great to see... but I didn't know if it was because she'd had sex, or not, and it's not something you want to ask a 12 year old! She struts by and says, "Well, I did it," and grins.

Oh, right. That tells me a lot!

It took ages before I could get her alone and say, "what happened?" My heart was in my throat. I had visions of her parents coming down to kill me when she ended up pregnant or seriously ill. It's such an awful responsibility to give advice.

She grinned. "I told them to 'fuck off' and they've left me alone." She threw her arms around me. "Thank you."

It was such a simple solution. A part of her childhood that she's probably forgotten. But for me, it was excruciating. And such a relief to know that it worked out for her.

And today, when everything is at your fingertips, I wonder if girls have the time to stop and stress out before doing? I wonder if they have someone to talk to, sort out problems with, chat to about these issues?

Growing up is bloody hard and sometimes I think we've made it even more difficult.


  1. Man, I don't know what to say.
    In some ways, I'm very glad my kids are boys. I want to instil in them a pride in their behaviour - in being gentle - in being a good friend.
    I hate bullying. I hate the thought of my boys being bullied. The eldest (6) told me today that two other boys said he couldn't sit with them at lunch time. These three are actually all great mates usually, so I know it's just boys being boys... but still. I told him not to be upset by it, but to remember how it hurt because it would show him how someone else would feel if maybe he'd been the one to say "you can't sit with me"...
    And then I said maybe if it happens again, you should think of something exciting to do or play and I bet those boys will want to do it/play it with you (he's very imaginative my son - he comes up with some great games that I know the other kids want to play).
    So wish this whole parenting thing came with a rule book. I think you did a great thing with that girl all those years ago.

    Lily M

    1. You're right, Lily, parenting is hard. And bullying is so widespread and takes so many forms. I'm glad your son has lots of imagination (but I'm not surprised!) so I'm sure he'll be someone who can deal with these situations, especially with your great advice.

      It's not easy growing up...but I think a parenting rule book woudl make for little boring automatons :)

      Advice is hard to give. Thanks for your support.

      Cate xoxo