Let’s have a discussion, a true and honest one on the topic of sex and girls. One that mama always seemed to avoid having. One that can help alter and shape the experiences of young Latinas everywhere and their encounters within the realm of sexual relations. Girls younger and younger are becoming more sexually active within our communities. The stigmatization surrounding the “sex talk” is so thick that in many cases, for mothers it takes a lot more effort than they feel its worth. Yet in a world where the Latina body and its expression falls under so much scrutiny, there are more reasons than ever before to break down these barriers and to be open to a topic that has long been discussed by everyone but the subject, US and our experiences with sex…
Sex vs. History
Of course like many aspects of our culture, views of sex and tradition are tied almost indefinitely to the past, more specifically colonialism in Latin America. Views on sex are strictly tied to religious beliefs, implemented by European countries. Catholicism and Christianity (the two reigning belief systems in Latin America) view sex as a means for procreation, not recreation. As a result of this, mothers also seem to be internalizing this view as well, perhaps partly because they were also raised with the same values, but mainly because this is what their faith teaches as right. In today’s society though this is far from the case; in fact, the attitude towards sex has been gradually evolving more towards means of pleasure rather than babies, especially among young women ranging from high school through college. In order to be able to better prepare girls to be responsible in thought and empowered in action, mothers must be willing open to conversation and concerns about it.
Instead of pushing sex towards the realm of marriage there needs to be recognition that for many young girls, this is not the case. Unfortunately the views on pleasure in sex have also become very outdated. Previously, sex was an act seen as a way of pleasing a man; the woman’s pleasure was never a standing factor. As time moves forward, as the shift from procreation to recreation has taken place so has focus on the individual. Sex is about two now instead of one. A man is expected to please a woman just as much as a woman is expected to please a man. The patriarchal undertones of sex are slowly beginning to wither away.
Sex and the Media
Since the beginning of the silent film era sex and Latinas have been almost immediately linked together. This assumption of the early 1900’s has only become more normalized since then, giving us extreme sex icons like Sofia Vergara and Eva Mendes to constitute the features of a “true” Latina. Who are young girls to look up to, if not these celebrities? Shows and movies (both Hispanic and American) constantly perpetuate this idea of the highly sexual woman; young girls are bound to conform to the idea that they are supposed to be sexually active, with these people as they’re role models. Latinas are always dressed promiscuously, short skirts/dresses, tons of cleavage and legs, and loads of makeup. These are the markers that we have come to be known by in the public eye and entertainment’s mind. What should be expected of the young when this is the only image that they have to relate to? Having this talk with girls at an early age can give them a foundation to compare things to, as opposed to taking these images as the truth. Again, being more honest about this will give girls more agency and control over the decisions they make as women with their bodies as they head into developing years.
*Que Pasando Ahora?
In order to put this in reality’s perspective, I took a small survey of 20 young girls, ages ranging from around 15 to 22. I asked how many of them had ever had a sex talk with their mothers at all, and came across some very interesting and somewhat disturbing results. Twelve out of the 20 girls answered no, while only 8 of the girls said yes, and what’s more? Sixteen out of the 20 had already been sexually active (including oral and intercourse). These numbers stand for more than half in each of these categories, which says that weather girls are having the conversation or not, the activity is still carrying on.
It could only benefit us and future generations to have open conversations and create safe, comfortable relationships between daughters and their mothers. If mothers become the prime source of clearing of questions and concerns, the mistakes that a lot of young Latinas find themselves in may be at the very least lessened if not eradicated. Teen pregnancy is a growing epidemic here in the United States. If girls were taught different ways of protecting themselves at home, it would foster wiser decision making tactics on the parts junior high and high school students. The good that can come from this shift in attitude is endless. Yes, it is true that many schools have and do offer sex education classes for young people between these age groups, but the impression that it has on the kids, especially girls, could never be more influential than a relationship at home.
The Shortcomings of Sex Ed.
Sex education is a development that in a lot of ways works within a very public and political sphere. It is a curriculum made by the school, which must be approved by someone of a higher seating than the principal of the establishment. This means that the sentiment they feel about sex education will usually reflect what is being favored at the moment and like many other education programs, are definitely subject to change. The focus varies across the board according the area of the school is in. In my high school, on Long Island, there was no sex ed. class, just a mere 2 days dedicated to STD’s and the proper way to put on a condom. It was a strictly hetero-normative course and there was no talk about birth control or other ways in which a girl could learn to protect herself.
While in a close friend of mine’s school, in the Bronx they were giving out free NYC condoms just as Hunter’s establishment does at many times throughout the year. The classes she attended had quizzes on how to properly apply a condom. Could this have helped me? As a woman and as Latina, of course it would have. Students always learn better when they are given the opportunities to take what they’ve learned and demonstrate it. She was given the opportunity to see what a birth control regiment actually looks like, and told the benefits and in some cases the downfalls of them. If all schools aren’t on the same page as far as, what their perceptions on sex are (abstinence, tolerance, acceptance etc.), how can we as a community trust that they are preparing young girls appropriately? The fact of the matter is that girls are becoming active at younger and younger ages, and to deny the phenomenon does nothing but put girls, especially young Latinas at a disadvantage.
A New Proposal?
Perhaps it is time to turn to a new conclusion in the present day and age about the sexual experience and expression of the Latina. She is more than what the media has made of her, and definitely more than what the church has expected of her. By opening up the floor for these kinds of dialogue to take place, it does more than educate, it enlightens and gives power and stability to those who are become a part of it. Do not wait until our young girls have made a mistake that could’ve been avoided. Give young Latinas a voice that society takes from them, and let them show through action that we are indeed more than a pregnancy statistic. We are women,madres y hijas, and together, we can make the statement that has been denied from us for so long: this is my body, and I am capable of making decisions for myself.
*what’s going on now?