Do Not Awaken Love Before Its Time (Girls on the Edge Pt I)

 In Book Reviews, Influence, Pop Culture, Spirituality
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Girls on the Edge
Click here to buy "Girls on the Edge" on Amazon!

Click here to buy “Girls on the Edge” on Amazon!

Recently, I reviewed Dr. Leonard Sax’s excellent book Boys Adrift, which explored the causes of the Extended Adolescence phenomenon. This series is dedicated to Dr. Sax’s equally excellent follow-up book for girls: Girls on the Edge.

“Go into yourself and find out how deep is the place from which your life springs,” wrote the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. If your daughter can develop a sense of self that is deeply rooted, then she will grow up to be a resilient and self-confident woman.

With these words, Dr. Sax frames the issue facing girls growing up today. “Girls” refers to females who are not yet adults – roughly females who haven’t graduated from high school yet.

Girls aren’t developing a strong sense of Self; instead, they are being formed by external expectations.

Girls today are regularly treated for depression and anxiety. And while girls today have many more external opportunities than their grandmothers did, girls today often do not cultivate an inner life. As he did with Boys Adrift, Dr. Sax identifies key factors contributing to this loss of identity.

1. Sexual Identity

Beginning with a reflection on Halloween costumes, Sax notes that clothing even for girls as young as 9 years old has become increasingly “skanky” (his word!). The real problem with this, according to Sax, is that girls are becoming sexualized before they become sexual:

Sexuality is about who you are. Sexualization is about how you look… Girls who are dressing in camisoles and hot pants prior to the onset of puberty are not expressing their sexuality. They don’t have, and should not have, a sexual agenda to express… Pretending to be sexual when you don’t feel sexual makes you an object on display for others. It’s not who you really are. It’s not healthy. (emphasis mine)

This model is only 10. Why present kids as though they're adults?

This model is 10 years old. To teach girls they should look like women is confusing and damaging.

What young girls really want is attention, to be noticed. And when attention is sexualized at such a young age, girls learn to conflate attention and relationship with sexual interaction. This confusion has contributed to the rise of oral sex – almost always girl to guy – among teens. For many girls, these experiences begin as early as 12-14.

These days, if women marry, it’s often in mid-20s or later. That means many girls today will have a decade or more of sexual experience before they marry.

More and more, girls are providing sexual services for guys without any relational “strings” attached at all.

From his counseling experience, Sax observes:

Many of these girls seem to believe that sex is a commodity that girls provide to boys… providing a boy with a sexual outlet may give a girl the feeling of being wanted, desired, and somehow in control.

Sax hypothesizes that this divorce of sexuality from sexualization explains the popularity of Twilight and songs like Taylor Swift’s “Love Song”. Both offer up mythic, antiquated gender roles that you’d think would be off-putting to a modern girl.

Why is Twilight so popular? It presents a better love story than girls are currently living (sadly).

This is the only Twilight pic I’ll ever have on my blog

But for girls who regularly engage in sexual activity divorced from relational intimacy, a princess being rescued by a chaste prince can be an attractive fantasy.

The root problem is that girls don’t have space to develop a healthy sexual identity. From a young age, girls are taught that if they want attention, they must display their bodies in ways others deem attractive.

Girls don’t have the space to figure out their own likes and dislikes, to cultivate a fashion sense that truly expresses who they are. Because what matters isn’t what the girl thinks is cute or fun or cool. What matters is what He thinks is cute or fun or sexy or cool. In Sax’s words:

The problem I see is that our culture is pushing girls into adopting a sexual identity—and to becoming sexual agents and sexual objects—too soon.


Girls grow up learning to dress for the Male Gaze,
not for themselves

Girls grown up without a clear sense of self because they’ve been taught to present themselves for Someone Else’s Gaze.

In moving towards a solution, Sax closes with excellent wisdom from the most famous ancient love song:

I charge you, daughters of Jerusalem:
Do not awaken love before its time. — Song of Songs 2:7

NEXT TIME: Dr. Sax takes on the Cyberbubble.

YOUR TURN: What do you think of Dr. Sax’s first factor? How do you see this affecting girls? What solutions do you envision?

For your enjoyment, Dinosaur Comics on the Male Gaze

Series Navigation<< The Hunger Games: We Are the CapitolHow Girls Self-Medicate to Find Identity (Girls on the Edge Pt III) >>
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  • graceisunfair

    I don’t know if I have a good response. It’s a bit overwhelming imagining having a daughter. Every cultural venue seems inundated with the sexualization of women; is the best option just to talk through the images afterwards since avoiding them isn’t really an option?

  • Thanks for your thoughtful engagement.

    1. Sax isn’t writing to the Church. He’s writing about larger culture. Your point is right on for conservative Christians, and for both boys and girls.

    2. I have worked with teens and college kids for a lot of years, and in my experience (also in Sax’s, though he’s a psychiatrist, so his sample data certainly isn’t random; he does also back up his work with good research) the casual hook-up culture was at least as common for girls as committed relationships (or what passes for those in high school).

    Your word of caution is correct, but Sax doesn’t make the conflation in the book.

    3. Sax’s earlier book was directed to boys. In that book he repeatedly qualifies himself (e.g., “I’m not saying girls don’t have problems. Girls do, but this is a book about boys.”). This book is specifically about girls and the unique problems girls face. Boys Adrift addresses boys sexuality, though not to the extent he deals with girls’ sexuality in this book.

    My guess would be because Boys Adrift wasn’t a book about sexuality, but about extended adolescence. And in Sax’s opinion, the problems with boys’ sexuality aren’t as essentially connected to EA as girls’ sexuality/sexualization is connected to their lack of identity.

    4. I agree that the Gaze is a problem for both boys and girls, but it manifests differently, as you noted. Girls tend to be the objects, boys tend to be the actors (gazers?). Certainly The Gaze could be treated as its own book, but Sax couldn’t write a book about girls growing up without addressing it. It’s a big enough problem that even in only addressing only the girls’ perspective, we can still make useful observations and (hopefully) helpful changes.

    I’m curious – do you agree with Sax’s initial premise? Do you think girls these days aren’t developing as strong a sense of self as girls of previous generations did? Or at least that it’s really hard for girls to develop a strong sense of self?

  • Here’s a fascinating article that speaks to “running too quickly in the opposite direction”. Can’t wait to see this docu.'purity_balls

  • thehappymom

    While holding my breath-I dared to read this and the Facebook post–(I will read the other one, too..) and I agree and am feeling the “healthy” fear of ushering my kids into the inevitable Facebook and Cyberworld….I agree with all the warnings, but YIKES..what do we DO aBOUT it!?!?!? Why don’t you teach a WEdnesday night class on that.!?!?!? I fear I don’t even know some of the mistakes we can make or how to combat them with the “issues” and identity with social media being so, so prevalent. I also am interested in diaglogue about the sexuality-I was raised in a typical-conservative Christian home-I wasn’t afraid of sex, but had friends who did have a difficult time acclimating to it in marriage. I would love to have discussions on how to raise healthy, CONFIDENT, joyful young women who do not need attention from their bodies/clothing to find their worth.

  • Hey Tricia!

    I’m working on developing a class of some kind (though since I don’t have kids, it’d be a lot less lecture and a lot more discussion!!). The problem is that sexuality is such a huge topic and the Church has done such a poor job of preparing me – both as a kid raised in the Church and in my formal vocational training. So in many ways, I’m building from scratch, cobbling together whatever resources I can find (like Dr. Sax’s books).

    Anyway… it’s in the pipes. I would love just to get parents of kids who’re all about the same age together and do some discussion about stuff like this. I think we all learn best from each other.

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