Teen girls struggle with the sense that they should look and act sexy for others. That they should please and perform for others, not expect to be pleased themselves. And it starts as early as toddlerhood when they’re praised for looking feminine.

If you haven’t read it yet, I absolutely recommend Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls and Sex.  It’s a window into the sexual expectations young women face in high school and college and how they navigate them, for better or for worse.

book cover for Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

When I went to Peggy’s book signing, she talked about her inspiration, her own teen daughter.  She shared that before researching this book, she would have had several conversations with her daughter, made sure to warn her about STIs, sexual assault, and drinking, and considered her job done.

After writing the book, Peggy recognizes that our teen daughters need much more support from us.  Rather than a list of what NOT to do, they need to know what TO DO.

Sharing with our daughters what to do in their sexual experiences is a real paradigm shift for parents, and a tall order!  Here are a few suggestions.

Help your daughter define and guard her boundaries 

Teach your daughter that even though our society allows us the freedom to flaunt our bodies, it’s often not a great thing to do. Neither friendships nor romantic relationships work when based solely on appearances. Those who expect her to flaunt sexiness for their approval will not be her best allies. Turning yourself into a sex object is not the way to earn acceptance or love.

Remind her that her comfort matters.  Will she be cold in an outfit?  Will she be comfortable in those heels?  If she does elaborate hair and makeup, will she be constantly worrying about how it looks, distracting her from whatever she’s doing?

If she’s thinking that she can take it – walking in those heels, shivering in that dress – that might signal she feels that she needs to perform sexiness for others rather than focus on her own enjoyment in a situation. 

I did all those things for sure!  How I wish someone had helped me think it through:  Is that really the way I want to live?  Which is more important, others’ pleasure when looking at me, or my own comfort, which is pleasant in itself?

Teach your daughter how to stand in her power, especially when it comes to a sexual relationship 

If she can’t stand up for herself there, then really, she can’t stand up for herself.  Let’s be that clear with her. And let’s help her first practice standing in her power in friendships and family relationships long before she’s thinking about how to stand up for herself a sexual relationship.

Warn her about the common assumption in our culture that a powerful girl or woman will be submissive in the bedroom. But that’s just our patriarchal heritage blaring through. If sex is going to be about her pleasure too, then let’s be feminists in the bedroom.

Explain that expecting her own sexual satisfaction is how she’ll find a healthy relationship

Buying sexual interest at the cost of her comfort is a terrible start.  A relationship where one person’s needs are more important than the other’s is not what she’s looking for.  It’s simply not fulfilling.

Show how women are portrayed as sex objects by the media

Talk about the advertising that’s all around us.  Tell her pornography is almost always a male fantasy, rarely illustrating scenarios that women enjoy. Be clear about why the women in ads, tv, movies and videos are doing what they’re doing: it’s simply a job they’re getting paid for.

Is this easy to do? Heck no!

It’s not one conversation, but a thousand little ones, and you can start having those little conversations any time.  She’s not too young for you to plant some of these ideas.

If you’re feeling stuck, email me at anya@talkingaboutsex.com and tell me about it.  I’ll be happy to help!

Anya Manes is an educator and parent coach, supporting parents with having open conversations about sex and relationships. She now works one-on-one with coaching clients, runs trainings, workshops, and webinars, and publishes her blog at

To watch Anya’s interview with Nancy Gruver on talking with kids about media messages, join her site’s video library membership. There are over 80 webinars and videos, all on helping you talk with your kids about sex and relationships. Check it out!

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  1. This is a Good Book to read, Girls and Sex!
    This is interesting especially, on this present generation nowadays, Women at any age feel that they need to please their partner, but how bout them to please by their partner. I guess, we should think of it as vise versa.
    Thanks for sharing this article.