Sex, Shame and Seventeen Year Old Girls


by Nali Simukulwa

I have had the privilege of coming of age surrounded, almost exclusively, by girls. Since the age of 11, I’ve attended an all-girls school and subsequently, socialised mainly with other young women. Despite the narrative of ‘bitchiness’, with which we are all too familiar, I’ve found the friendships I’ve forged during my school days to be substantially loving and nourishing. 

As I’ve grown into my lesbian identity, I’ve found an all-woman environment to be incomparably nurturing and the ideal space to navigate a subject as tender as sexuality. I can’t help but feel like through my separation from boys, I’ve been spared a lot of pain and harassment. This isn't to say that it’s been smooth sailing, but I’ve found that amongst girls there has always been a surging undercurrent of love and support.

Teenage years are a time of many ‘firsts’; including first loves, first dates and first times. Through all of the trauma that this entails, I’ve found my girls to be unwavering sources of care, warmth and cracking banter right when it’s most needed. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by so many intelligent and charismatic young women. 

"Whilst many are seemingly up for an open chat about their tendency to have sex with boys solely for his gratification; the mere mention of masturbation, girls in heterosexual couples initiating sex, or even something as basic as body hair is enough to bring a hush to a lively discussion."


Although my peers and I never shy away from healthy debate, I’ve found sexuality and sex to be the only topics that bring an unshakeable air of shame to the discussion, along with a paralysing reluctance to out ourselves as ‘deviant’. 

It alarms me how little claim teenage girls feel towards their own bodies and sexuality. Whilst many are seemingly up for an open chat about their tendency to have sex with boys solely for his gratification; the mere mention of masturbation, girls in heterosexual couples initiating sex, or even something as basic as body hair is enough to bring a hush to a lively discussion whilst everyone exchanges nervous glances in anticipation of who will be the one brave or foolish enough to offer a differing opinion. As a consequence of this stigma, until recently, I have been too fearful to discuss sex frankly with my friends.

In speaking to those around me, I realised the universality of a feeling I’ve often felt. Shame.

"We’re living in a time when so many women are breaking the mould, telling their stories and redefining what it is to be a woman. But there still exists a deep-rooted sense of shame within many women that dissuades them from owning their sexuality in the same way that young men are so often encouraged to do."


I am proud to declare that I am a feminist, but although I aim to be vehement in my advocacy for women’s sexual liberation and my beloved Venus sign chain rarely leaves my neck, I can’t help but be subconsciously afflicted by a visceral sense of shame when talking about my own relationship with sex. I’ve found the feeling of shame to pervade many of my peers’ attitudes towards sex also. 

There is shame around maintaining one’s virginity at an age where it is deemed ‘weird’. There is also  shame around having ‘too much’ sex and being promiscuous. So, teenage girls are left (quite literally) straddling the labels of ‘frigid’ and ‘slut’, never able to meet the impossible demands placed on our still budding sense of sexuality.

There is a real, tangible lack of open and honest discussion about sex directed towards young women. And while this may stem from an urge to protect, it's not working. Teenage girls are having sex, despite the persistent societal attempt to ignore this fact. I understand that the privacy and censorship built around sex serves a valid purpose, but there comes a point when this silence becomes dangerous.

"The sex and relationship education I received was abysmal. I’ve since learned more from YouTube and well-informed strangers in intimate stores than I ever did in school [...] there is a distinct lack of useful and non-biased education. The enjoyable, tender and emotional aspects of sex are quickly forgotten, replaced instead by shock factor."


Too many young women are left with insecurities and fears that could be so easily resolved through candid conversation. It’s strange to me to see topics so intrinsic to our lives - like women’s desire and sexual autonomy - regarded as taboo by so many otherwise empowered young women. We’re living in a time when so many women are breaking the mould, telling their stories and redefining what it is to be a woman. But there still exists a deep-rooted sense of shame within many women that dissuades them from owning their sexuality in the same way that young men are so often encouraged to do, as has been discussed time and time again. 

I partly blame this inherited shame on our education system. The sex and relationship education I received was abysmal. I’ve since learned more from YouTube and well-informed strangers in intimate stores than I ever did in school. Recalling my first sex-ed class in which I was told in relation to leg hair “if you’ve got dark hair, get rid asap”, it comes as no surprise that so many young women have such complex relationships with their bodies. 

When it comes to sex, there is a distinct lack of useful and non-biased education. The enjoyable, tender and emotional aspects of sex are quickly forgotten, replaced instead by the shock factor of graphic images of syphilis-infected genitals and infamous condom tutorials involving little explanation but many neon-coloured dildos. Young people are left to navigate sex and sexuality on their own, schooled only by the often heteronormative and misogynistic values transmitted by society and porn.

"We held vastly different viewpoints on the topic, right down to what could actually be defined as sex. No surprise that I learned some people will insist that sex equates to penis in vagina and nothing further."


In resistance to the shame we are encouraged to feel, I decided to sit down with my friends and talk candidly about sex. Failed by our education system, It was interesting to hear the differing conclusions those around me had about sex.

Although we all attended the same secondary school, we held vastly different viewpoints on the topic, right down to what could actually be defined as sex. No surprise that I learned some people will insist that sex equates to penis in vagina and nothing further. Opinions on the topic of sex can be highly unifying or majorly divisive. 

Some conversations left me feeling liberated, drew me closer to my friends - both literally, as we huddled in boots in search of lubricant and condoms - and spiritually, as our friendships cemented deeper roots as we had been able to trust one another enough to discuss the most vulnerable and intimate of topics. 

"I decided that with a topic as personal as sex, it would be detrimental for me to entertain borderline homophobic rhetoric just for the sake of respecting everybody’s right to an opinion. It is important to learn who you can trust."


However, other conversations left me agitated and feeling jilted. I hadn’t previously realised that my ideas of sex were so central to my identity, so it came as a surprise to me when I quickly became defensive and standoffish when my opinions were disagreed with. I did try to be understanding, but ultimately I decided that with a topic as personal as sex, it would be detrimental for me to entertain borderline homophobic rhetoric just for the sake of respecting everybody’s right to an opinion. 

It is important to learn who you can trust. Not every friend is somebody who should accompany you on your first venture into Ann Summers. Despite the tension that these conversations roused, I am grateful for them. I have the privilege of living in a country which allows and encourages free and open speech (for now). 

Talking about sex is essential, particularly amongst women and girls. The more honest and open we can be with each other, the less power will be held in the silence around sex. The revolution is shifting. It is now about owning your pleasure and the importance of consent as much as it was about demonstrations at the Epsom Derby. I am thrilled to be a part of it all.


This article was written for Aurelia's 'Sex, Openly' event that took place in Liverpool on the 27th of June. Follow us on Instagram for updates on our next one.