The stigma surrounding female sexuality is pervasive and affects girls and women of all ages. We are sexual beings, yet even in our most intimate relationships, we often don’t know how to express ourselves. The examples we see around us teach us to objectify ourselves, rather than celebrate our sexuality. We often find ourselves reacting to being sexualized, rather than expressing our own desires.
That’s why, for the past 15 years, I’ve been working with young women in the Beautiful Project. In our work to cultivate confidence, we aspire to inspire a real expression of sexuality that is empowering, not demeaning—despite the many influences that teach us otherwise.
It all started when I was 23. At the time, I was living in New York City, working as a high school teacher and getting catcalled on the street on a daily basis. It was nauseating, but it was far worse for my students, adolescent girls who had to deal with the same indignities. They admitted that there was a part of them that liked the attention, even though it was coming from men who were seemingly drunk on objectification.
Since I ran a girls’ group at my school (established at the request of my students), it was relatively easy for me to facilitate discussions about body image and competition. But when the conversation turned to sexuality, I was unsure of myself.
Though I was clearly in a different stage of life than my students, I heard my own insecurities reflected in their voices. As I listened to my girls share their fears and voice their curiosities, we shed light on a taboo subject, allowing each girl to explore the idea of sexual expression.
By speaking honestly, we create a culture that embraces female sexuality without demeaning it, a culture that honors the most basic human desires and the beauty of women’s bodies.
Our girls deserve nothing less.
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