Sex and Self-esteem

Cover of It's wrong but you get used to itI believe we have a long way to go before sex is seen as normal, healthy and deeply pleasurable – and something you always have a right to say no to. So Alexandra Topping’s harrowing article in today’s Guardian saddens but doesn’t surprise me. This article about sexual violence against girls and young women associated with UK gangs, is a depressing but essential read.

If you haven’t already seen it the paragraphs quoted below capture the essence of it:

The report – entitled It’s Wrong But You Get Used To It – found that girls as young as 11 are being systematically groomed, exploited and raped …

Sue Berelowitz, the deputy children’s commissioner, said rape was widespread and happened “on a daily basis” in the worst-hit areas.

“As soon as a girl has had sex, coerced or otherwise, it is completely open season on her. She has abrogated all right to refuse to have sex with someone for all time. They will and do have sex with her any time, any place and anywhere,” she said.

In the talks I give to schools about my Control Freak books I pull no punches when it comes to explaining that my character, 17 year old Holly, very happily loses her virginity as part of the story. Holly, I tell giggling 13 year-olds, has waited until she meets the ‘right’ person before she makes love with them. This doesn’t mean she’s old-fashioned and prudish or that this is the boy she thinks she’s going to marry, but that she’s met someone she feels seriously attracted to and who she believes respects and cares for her in return. And my character always practises safe sex.

That relationship doesn’t end in a happy ever after, and Holly continues to be a sexual being – but finding herself at risk of rape in a later book, Holly isn’t prepared to be taken for granted. She is confident enough in her ‘ownership’ of her body to say no to a boy she’s already spent the night with – because she recognises that having sex with somebody once doesn’t mean consenting to having sex with them twice. A lesson I really want all young women to take on board.

My firm belief is that while our society continues to portray sex as something bad and dangerous, young people will continue to get mixed messages about their own sexuality. Whilst young girls believe that there is something truly rebellious about losing their virginity and exercising their sexuality, they will continue to throw sex away and allow boys and men to use and abuse them. We need to bring up our girls to realise that sex can be fantastic – but really great sex only happens when participants are fully consenting and enthusiastic. There is room for all types of sexual expression, including bondage. But true followers of BDSM contract carefully and lovingly for what they want to experience. And so they remain in control of their participation and pleasure – at all times.

Maybe it’s time for Fifty Shades of Holly Red … a novel where the female participant clearly dictates the sexual rules.