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Society Affects Women's Adolescent Sexual Views

By Joshua W. Shenk

Current societal views of adolescent sexuality cause confusions and even "psychic trauma" in women, Education School Research Associate Jill Taylor told a group of more than 25 people at Lamont Library last night.

Taylor's discussion, entitled "Developing Sexuality in Adolescent Girls," was the first event of Women's Expo '90, a week-long series of events organized by the Radcliffe Union of Students.

"Female adolescent sexuality differs between what dominant culture says it should be and what it really is," said Taylor, a lecturer at Suffolk University who received her Ed.D. from the Ed school last year.

"Culture has a hard time dealing with women's voices that speak of feminine desire and pleasure--especially adolescent girls," Taylor said. She said society forces women to internalize these desires. Such internalization causes society's "familiar double standard," in which expression of sexuality by men is encouraged but causes women to quickly be labeled "sluts" or "whores."

According to Taylor, adolescents either conform to pressures to avoid sex or "make their sexual activity invisible." She said that adolescent mothers are in a particularly precarious position since they can do neither.

Taylor presented and refuted two leading theories of adolescent sexuality. The first, the most conservative view, avoids discussion of sex altogether, holding that pre-marital sex is violence, and that "if you don't talk about sex, it won't happen," Taylor said.

The second, she said, "is the Nancy Reagan 'Just Say No' approach" that all sex is victimization of women.

"It reminds one of the Victorian view that men are lustful and uncontrollable and that women uphold what is right and good," Taylor said.

Ignoring female desires in these approaches to adolescent sexuality is problematic, Taylor said, because it prevents healthy discourse and repression of sexual information among women. "There's a resistance to knowing what they know because what they know is condemned," Taylor said.

Taylor's research team, led by Professor of Education Carol Gilligan, began following a group of forty male and female adolescents two years ago, when the students were in the eighth grade. The researchers will continue to study the group "as long as funding lasts," Taylor said.

Kimberly A. Goyette '92, a member of the Women's Expo Committee, said that Taylor was an appropriate speaker to begin the second annual Expo week, aimed at raising students' consciousness on women's issues.

"Sexuality is common to everybody," Goyette said. "Everybody can relate to it."

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