Lost Girl: Sex and the Need to Please

Posted by on Sep 20, 2012 in Identity

Lost Girl: Sex and the Need to Please

“She’s been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own.”  Tori Amos, “Girl”

Sarah curls up in the chair, sunlight glinting off the top of her bent head. She can’t look at me.

“Did you want to do it?” I ask.


“Then why did you?”

“I thought I had to. We had already started, and I knew that’s what he expected. I didn’t want him to be mad.” She picks at a loose thread on her jeans. I ask Sarah if she can imagine being in a sexual situation and allowing her own feelings to direct her decisions. What if she can notice her discomfort and say that she wants to stop? She looks right at me now, eyes unblinking. Clearly, she thinks I’m crazy.

“Why not?”

“But he’d be disappointed.”

“Maybe. Let’s say he is disappointed. If he gets mad and blows you off, is he really someone you want to be with? And what if there were a guy who cared more about you than about getting off?” Again, she’s blank,– can’t understand this language I’m speaking.

I have met with countless girls and young women, sometimes even older women, who believe it is their sexual duty to please the guy. Their need to please overpowers all other aspects of a sexual encounter. The idea of checking in with themselves and of allowing their own feelings to matter has never occurred to them. When I ask these girls and women how they get through unwanted sexual experiences, they shrug and say they just disconnect,– go through the motions without really being present.

You may be thinking that most people like Sarah have a history of abuse in childhood. And while this can be the case and would be an important discussion, I’d like to focus on the first words out of Sarah’s mouth when I ask her why she did something she didn’t want to do: “I thought I had to… I knew that’s what he expected…”

My question is: How has Sarah learned that meeting others’ expectations is more important than paying attention to what she needs and feels? How has she become a person who tries to read those around her and to deliver what she thinks is wanted no matter what the cost to her self? As a professional, I care very much about the answer to this question. As a mom of two little girls, I feel a personal sense of urgency about it.

I believe we have many daily opportunities to teach young children to notice and honor what they feel and need. In the same way that we help them to notice when they are hungry or full, when they feel sick, when they are tired and need to rest, we can teach them to notice when and how they want to be touched. We can invite them to express discomfort and to set boundaries with us: “Are you in the mood for a hug?” If the answer is no, we can accept it without taking it personally or pressuring further. The message I want my children to hear over and over is this: “You never have to do something with your body that you don’t want to do in order to make me feel good (or loved, or wanted, or secure, or happy). You do not need to please me and lose yourself in the process.” Where else will our children learn to ask for space,– where else will they learn to say no to unwanted touch,– if not at home?

With the teenagers in our lives, we need to talk. How do they make sexual decisions? At what point in an encounter do they feel as though they lose a connection with themselves? What do they imagine will happen if they are honest in the moment? What is the cost of keeping quiet?

After a long silence in the session, Sarah tells me that she felt like she “owed” the guy an orgasm. Because she didn’t want to have intercourse, she gave him oral sex. Hiding her discomfort from him, she tried to act like it was no big deal. But the moment she was alone in her car, she was filled with panic and disgust. She went home and cut herself.

To Sarah and others who struggle to find a voice: Do not let your shame isolate you. Confide in an adult you can trust; if not a parent, then a teacher, a school counselor, a youth leader, a neighbor, a grandparent… You need help reconnecting to yourself.

(A note to boys and men: I’ve chosen to focus on girls and women in this post, but I am aware that many of you have had similar experiences. Sexual pressure on boys and men in our culture is tremendous,– particularly from the idea that you are supposed to want and like any sexual encounter that’s available to you. If you find yourself relating, you are not alone. Talk to someone.)











About Lynn Davies

I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with a Master of Science in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University in Maryland. I have been in private practice for over fourteen years and have experience working with adults and adolescents, addressing a variety of issues: anxiety, depression, relationship problems, past or current trauma, eating disorders, self-mutilation, bereavement, parenting concerns, boundaries, and self-care.

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