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Sexual harassment in grade school - part of the problem?

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) did a study in 1993, and again in 2001, of bullying and sexual harassment in US public schools. You can read the summary of the 2001 report, and download the report itself, [url]here[/url]. The statistics are grim. Some of what they consider non-physical sexual harassment I find a little questionable, but even if one only looks at [i]physical[/i] sexual harassment, around half of students have been victims.

Note that I said "grim" rather than "shocking". I'm not shocked by the numbers at all. In middle school (for those not familiar with the US school system, a typical middle school is roughly ages 11-14), I spent a lot of time in gym trying to defend the "cute" girls (of which I was not one, because of my looks and dress) from a small number of boys who would chase after them and try to grope and/or corner and scare them. In certain hallways, it was quite common for boys to pull up girls' skirts or slap them on the butt as they walked by.

The school's eventual response to this, once they noticed a problem, was to make rules requiring girls' skirts and shorts to be a certain minimum length. Which did nothing, of course, except reinforce the idea that it's okay to blame the victim, and let the adults feel good about themselves so that they didn't have to go through the inconvenience of cracking down on the harassers.

I wonder how many girls develop vaginismus, and other problems, at least partly in response to this sort of treatment - either being a victim, or witnessing it firsthand and fearing being a victim?

The bit of good news from the study is that the 2001 numbers are down a bit from the 1993 numbers. So at least there have been baby steps in the right direction.[/i][/url]

Re: sexual harassment in school and vag.

Thank you Spike for the interesting though grim data.
Personally I have no problem believing there could be a link between being bullied and harassed at school and vaginismus for some girls, especially those young ones who know nothing about sex, and are told or shown very graphic things or touched sexually when they don't even know how to decipher those kind of gestures, or if noone around them is there to help them make sense of it, or to put the boys in their place.

Also, young people take things so at heart, it's all "a big deal" to them, so I guess some adults may see those things as pretty trivial, you know "boys being boys" etc.. but they are not at all. So maybe parents should be targeted too, not just the kids..

I guess many girls will even forget about such incidents or remove them in their unconscious minds etc. but then they grow up and vaginismus shows up and they wonder why, but instead of having a chance to go back to those years, find a meaning and maybe even get active about that, here comes a husband or doctor and tells them they are dysfunctional..

so then the cycle continues on..
unchanged. Unchallenged.

Well, since data showed some improvement, hopefully someone after all IS helping changing things.. You are too, by increasing awareness..

So thanks again for sharing that.

I'll go add 'school bullism and harassment' as one of the causes of vag. in the list.


Oh I know for sure that this kind of thing contributed to my vaginismus. I used to get so sick of boys in middle school and high school harrassing me, slapping my bum, groping me, asking me to have sex with them all the time.

The thing is, it is so common it has become the "norm". So you don't complain, you don't slap them back (but across the face), you just put up with it to fit in. I know if some guy did that to me now then I would probably hit him back but when you're a teenager you don't want to be singled out as some kind of prude, do you?

I think schools need to do more about that to be honest. I'm sure there are many girls who love the attention but there will also be many girls like me who hate/hated it. I just don't understand why boys think they have the right to do that? It makes no sense to me...

Love Gayle xxx

[quote="Gayle"]The thing is, it is so common it has become the "norm". So you don't complain, you don't slap them back (but across the face), you just put up with it to fit in. I know if some guy did that to me now then I would probably hit him back but when you're a teenager you don't want to be singled out as some kind of prude, do you?[/quote]

When I was a teenager (or a preteen, since this was middle school), I just didn't care if people thought I was a prude - the ironic thing about that was that I had more liberal views on sexuality than most of them. What did bother me was that there was one girl in particular that I'd try to help out, because she got harassed so much, and other kids would tell me not to. "You should mind your own business." "It's just flirting." "She likes it, why do you think she dresses like that?" That drove me crazy.

I'm guessing that boys think they have the right to do it because nobody's made it clear to them that it's unacceptable. Kids tend to learn what they are taught. And that's a problem for both girls and boys...

A lot of girls that I knew didn't want to risk getting in trouble for hitting the boy(s). They had been taught that it wasn't ever okay to hit anyone, and they took it to heart. My attitude was that if a guy ever grabbed me, he was going to get hit. And the guys were largely not dumb enough to try - why go after me when there were plenty of (cuter) girls who wouldn't fight back? There was one time when a guy in gym grabbed me around the waist from behind and lifted me up, and I kicked him in the kneecap. He dropped me and I walked off. As it turned out, he likely didn't mean any harm, he was an okay guy who was just horsing around, but I didn't feel much remorse, because he was the one who grabbed me from behind in an environment where girls were getting assaulted all the time.

I think that there should be more self-defense training for girls, to overcome the way that they are socialized to not be violent even in self-defense. And schools need to get serious about stopping sexual harassment/assault on their grounds, not come up with useless, victim-blaming "solutions". It really annoys me that schools will do more to crack down on students who are consensually kissing by their lockers than students who are doing something non-consensual.

i personally feel like i was more harassed by girl than i was guys.

i am still new to this whole idea of vaginismus. ive always had these feelings but never knew there was a name for it. i never knew there were others who were experiencing the same things i was.

that said, my boyfriend is very supportive of me. my girl friends, on the other hand, are vicious. they openly talk about their sex lives (which i have no problem with.. to each his own), and then poke and prode at me to tell them why i havent had sex with my boyfriend of two years yet. they make me feel stupid and inferior because of this, and they call me prude and other things of that nature.

ive been way to scared to tell them the real reason why i havent been able to have sex yet. i usually just lie and tell them that i dont feel comfortable talking about those things, or that i want to wait for marriage.

i feel like these girls continuously harass me. they make me feel embarassed and ashamed of myself. they make me think things like "why me" and "why cant i just be normal"

im sorry im kind of babbling, but sharing this information is completely new to me. and honestly, it feels really nice knowing that im not alone and that there is hope for me to overcome this.

aww poor you! its so horrible that your friends treat you like that!

ive spoke about it with a few of my friends, my very close ones, and theyve always been very supportive about it, although they do ask some very random questions.

i dont think you should be ashamed of vag, although its not the kind of thing you could tell many people about because so few people actually seem to understand it. i hope you can find someone that you know to talk to about it with. at least you can come on here and have a big rant about it!

its great that your boyfriends supportive. having someone close to you that understands is a great thing. and anyway, you dont need to have penetration to have fun with him!

thanks kathryn! im so glad i found this place! its nice talking to people who finally understand! Smile

Hi Jenna,

I'm so sorry that your "friends" act like that and make you feel stupid and inferior. Clearly it is them who are stupid if they think that all there is to a relationship is penetrative sex... and if they think you are a prude because you haven't had sex with your boyfriend of two years they are even stupider!

You don't need to tell them the reason why you haven't had intercourse, they have no right to know. If you are happy telling them you want to wait until marriage then do that, or if you prefer just tell them that it is none of their business. You should be able to do, or not do whatever you like without being judged, especially by people who are supposed to be your friends.

Don't be embarassed about vag hun, you are perfectly normal and you shouldn't be ashamed at all. You never asked to have vaginismus, it is a medical condition and everyone in the world has medical issues at some point right?

There is certainly hope of you overcoming vaginismus, in fact there is something like a 99% success rate for people trying to cure it so nothing to worry about there. Can I ask, have you started to look into how to overcome it? Or are you already in the process? I hope you don't mind me asking, I would like to help you out wherever possible so if you have any questions about dilating or anything then please just ask...

You will overcome this, just stay positive and stay strong and remember that whatever people want you to think, sex isn't everything. You are a wonderful person who deserves to be loved regardless of your ability to have penetrative sex.

Love Gayle xxx

wow, thank you so much! that really was like.. the nicest thing anyones ever said to me regarding this topic. im really glad i found this place.. everyone is so nice and supportive!

well, i am in the process of looking into ways of overcoming it. i just recently heard about the whole dilating process, and ive looked at those kits that they sell. but to be honest, even the smallest one looks scary and intimidating to me. i think im going to have a really hard time working my way through this. any advice anyone has would be greatly appreciated!

Ok, well you don't need to buy a kit to start off with, in fact you don't need to buy one at all because there are plenty of other things you can use to dilate but for now it's probably best to forget about that for a while anyway.

It sounds like you just need to take things really slowly and work up to the point where you can look at something and not feel scared or intimidated at the thought of inserting it. A good place to start, and where lots of us started, is to get to know your vagina. Look at diagrams and learn exactly what each part is and what it does. And then maybe try and look at your own vagina in a mirror and relate what you see to what you have learnt. It is quite normal for you to look and see that "you don't have a hole".... of course you do have a hole but it sometimes looks as though you don't or as though it is very small simply because your muscles might be tensing and making the hole LOOK really small... but remember it isn't really that small and your vagina can stretch to the size of a baby's head so it can certainly accomodate a penis!

Maybe after doing that you might want to touch your vagina and get used to that. Get used to doing it without feeling panicked and teach yourself that nothing is going to try and penetrate you unless you want it to. You could even get your boyfriend to do the same thing but make sure he knows not to try and insert his finger into you, just touching is fine for now.

Then when you feel ready you can try to insert something, even if it is just inserted a centimetre, it is still progress and something to be proud of. You might want to try it with a q-tip or a very slim tampon applicator, or your little finger, or your boyfriend's little finger... or you could make your own dilator. Some people like to shave candles down to the right size, or even vegetables but remember to use a condom with these to avoid any chance of infection. You might feel a little weird about using your finger to dilate, I did at first, and something that helps a lot of women to do that is wearing those surgical latex gloves, you know the thin rubbery ones? So you could try that if you feel uneasy about using your fingers.

After that, you have started the dilating process and from then on it is just a case of inserting something slightly bigger (in width) each time you "conquer" a dilator and feel ready to move up to a bigger size. Most women consider a dilator to be "conquered" when they can insert it a few inches in (so it passes the PC muscles) and when they can do it without pain every time they try to do it. Always remember to do everything at your own pace, you have your whole life ahead of you so there is no rush to overcome vaginismus. Also, respect your vagina. I know it sounds silly, but if you respect her, don't pressure her and make sure you always stop if you feel any pain, then your vagina, and your muscles, will learn to trust you and to let your brain decide when they should or shouldn't let something in.

Most women feel a slight burning, or stretching feeling at some point when they go through the dilating process and I guess it is up to you to judge what is "normal" and what is just a bit too painful. If it burns a lot then stop and try again another time. As I said, there's no rush. Just do what you feel is right and move forward at the pace which you feel is right. And certainly don't ever feel pressured by those friends of yours being nosey!

Hope that helps,

Love Gayle xxx

Can someone repost the link to the study? Something squacky appears to have happened with the html tags, and the link is no longer accessible. Cheers!

Sure Brev:

Thank you!

I haven't read it yet since it's 60 pages (!), but I'm definitely going to be interested in the conclusions.

Jenna: about kits, dilators etc...

Hi there Jenna,
just thought I'd let you know that you can find a free Guide to Dilating online here on the vaginismus-awareness-network website that me and some other girls helped put together so women wouldn't need to buy expensive stuff or be exploited..

So when and if (no rush and no need) you're interested in seeing this whole "dilating" thing, I hope that will be helpful.

For now I would just suggest to maybe read just the first 2 or 3 articles on the actual method, what it entails, the choice of dilators (the home-made ones too) etc. because it can all be a bit overwhelming at first..

Let us know and I'm glad too you found this forum..

When I saw sexual harassment and bullying listed as possible root causes of vaginismus on this website, I almost started to cry. I know this happened to a lot of other girls besides me because I saw it, but I didn't know there was a place people TALKED about it! I can hardly think of a problem that people seem more stubbornly blind to than the sexual bullying of young girls in school--except perhaps vaginismus itself. And I think this was definitely a contributing factor for me.
When I was in 8th grade, I wasn't one of the "cute" girls, I was the opposite, the artsy oddball girl that people thought was weird. Kids that age are not famed for their kindness anyway, but there was group of boys in my school that were particularly savage and singled out me and a couple other girls for their abuses--calling us b*tches, c*nts, whores etc., making cruel comments about our bodies and sometimes writing them on the walls of the school, telling us we were such ugly "lezbos" that no guy would ever want to touch us but that we want to get f*cked because we're such sluts--and then describing what we wanted done to us, which was often violent. It happened every day, relentlessly. I remember seeing them back a girl into corner by the lockers while she cried.
I wasn't afraid to stick up for myself and for this reason I think, they kept their distance and never touched me. And I was lucky enough that I knew I could always appear tough and unaffected by what they did, which was important to me then, even if what they did tore me up inside. There were a couple other girls who were even easier targets than me because they would just cry or scream and swear at them--so they got a bigger rise out of taunting them. I know they put their hands on them because one of them told me about it--I encouraged her to go to the principal about it, but the school didn't do anything about it. Finally, another girl snapped and threatened to kill one of the boys. This was the 90's, the big school shooting scare era, so the school freaked out and their was some kind of legal proceeding to determine if she was mentally stable enough to not be kept in school and not institutionalized. (I don't remember all the details because I was a kid.) I don't know how ignorant the administration of the school actually could have been--this was not the only kind of hazing going on at the school and they were never that far away--but, at any rate, they responded to all this by distancing themselves from her as much as possible. Not a person came out and said a word about what she'd been through, so finally, I went into the principal's office and told him, and asked if there was going to be anyone sticking up for this girl during the hearing. I didn't know her well but I'd tried to stick up for her before in the hallways, and we talked sometimes because we had something in common. And it was the end of the school year, I'd already been accepted to the public magnet high school (which was not only better academically, but much safer and not as brutal for kids that were a little different), I wasn't worried about anything the school could do to me, so I gave the principal a piece of my mind and I told him that if nobody in the school was going to do the right thing, than I was willing to be involved on her behalf in anyway I could. I'd just had enough.
I don't think he was a bad guy. He wasn't rude to me, and he even seemed to listen to some of what I was saying, but nothing ever came of it and I didn't know what to do because I was 13. I still don't know what happened to that poor girl.
I know I'm rambling and this may not seem entirely relevant but I think it is--because I know this experience is not unique, it's just so rarely talked about that I've rarely ever talked about it to anybody. I never even told my parents about it, even though they've always been loving and supportive because I was too ashamed, and I think on some level I believed that I'd invited these guys' treatment, even though at the time I didn't consciously know I felt that way. We talk about a great many more things that affect young girls and women in our society than we did even 10 or 20 years ago and I think that's great, but we seem to be afraid to engage the idea that kids as young as 12-15 or 16 (which is old for 8th grade but some of these guys had been held back one or two times) can do so much damage to people--because I trace a lot back to that time. I remember that that was when I started feeling worthless and generally uncomfortable with my body and sexuality--I felt like I just wanted to make it all go away because, at the time in my life when I should have been exploring these things, they were used against me to make me feel dirty and victimized. I started associating anything sexual with being hurt. It took years for me to get comfortable with being a sexual being at all and, even when I did, I pursued relationships with guys who weren't respectful of me because I was still convinced I had to take what I could get and not ask for too much. Penetration was painful from the get-go and, instead of it getting better as I'd hoped, it finally became almost impossible, at least without it being excruciating. At that point I was so discouraged, I just stayed away from sex and intimacy for over 2 years.
Anyway, things are much better now. Completely to my own surprise and delight, I found a wonderful, understanding partner in a close friend of mine, who makes me feel affirmed, comfortable, beautiful, and desired for all parts of my being. We've moved slowly and I've found happiness and pleasure in being sexual with him when I'd almost decided that it couldn't happen for me, and a trust has grown between us that I didn't think I was ever capable of feeling for a guy. And I finally got diagnosed with vaginismus when I changed GYNs (a smart move!) and I found this website and learned about dilation. Now I can finally start addressing and overcoming the problem that's been hanging over my head and causing me so much shame and anxiety for years and I'm thrilled.
But I still think a lot about those other girls, and I've had several jobs in which I've worked closely with young adolescent girls and heard more horrible stories. I know that these things are common, I know that many girls meant through many things that were so much worse than what i went through. I consider myself lucky for having the emotional resources to get by, and for having the good luck--and finally the good instinct--to find a man who values and respects my mind, my heart, and my body. But for the sake of the girls I've worked with, for many of my own friends who I've seen spiral downwards into bad relationships with men and bad experiences with sex, and for my own sister who's just starting to have relationships with guys and a lot of other girls like her, I want all this silence to stop. We need to acknowledge as a society that bullying and hazing are not just schoolyard problems of "kids being kids"--kids are people, they can cause real pain and damage to other people and a 15-year-old boy can have a lot of emotional power. I think we tell ourselves that "they're just growing up" and trying to figure out how to be men--and I dont' think this was entirely not a factor in the behavior of the guys who hurt me. I think they were experimenting with masculinity by trying to have power over women. But we need to take responsibility for the messed up influences in our society that teach boys that the way for them to be men is to control, hurt, and dominate women. We need to hold them accountable for their actions and tell them that when they act this way it's not "teasing"--it's abuse!
And we need to teach girls that these experiences are valid and real, that they have the right to tell adults about them and shouldn't be ashamed,that they are not obligated to put up with it because that's just the way kids are, that that they aren't "whining" or "tattling" and, most of all, that it's NOT THEIR FAULT! I know this stuff is going on right now and I know that I'm hearing nothing about it. I don't ever want anybody else to have to keep this stuff bottled up and have it affect their love and sex lives and still be paying for it an adult. I think that's one of the big reasons I decided to work with teenagers. The adults in my school setting really failed us. I want to be an adult who helps.
I can't even express how much it means to me to finally see it acknowledged somewhere that sexual harassment and bullying can lead to problems like vaginismus. I finally feel like my experiences have been validated and that other people are willing to talk about them. Thank you so much for this post--and this board and this website! Finding out about vaginismus and finding people that are willing to talk about it properly--as a function of our societal ills--has made me feel more hopeful about both myself, and the futures of other girls and women than I have in a long time. If you got to the end of this epic post, I appreciate it. Smile And thank you all again!

I did get to the end of your post and I'm glad you brought this topic
back up to my attention.
I work with adolescents too and I should do something about this soon,
since as you said, and I can relate to, very few adults act like adults when these issues are raised by young girls.

I think it was very brave of you to stand up for your friend and yes, I think it was your age that didn't make them take you too seriously.
Back then, and when I was in middle school too, groping of boys to girls
was quite common and teachers would king of go "aww, come on [name of boy], stop that now", and that was it.

I remember being terrified of going to school too.
You are so right that society is being too blind to this issue.
Thank you for reminding me about it (this was an old thread) and I'm really glad you felt relieved and acknowledged here.

Maybe, if you wish, we can think about what steps could be done in schools or other public places, to keep girls safe and boys more aware that what they are doing is called abuse.
I was thinking of writing down a sort of clear rules so that girls know they can talk about this and that it's wrong and boys know that it's bullism and not them being 'boys' or men, but them being abusive.

But yes, spreading the word about this issue could certainly decrease cases of vaginismus I'm sure.

And you know, it's not surprising to see that studies show that girls and boys have identical self-esteem levels up until they are in their 13-15y.o. and from then on, girls' self-esteem starts decreasing steadily..
I always thought it was because, as you too said, right when we're about to explore our feminine sides and sexuality as women, here comes this bullism or we start discovering how sex is associated with so many negative things for women, and we're called names for being sexual or for not being sexual and yet we're pushed to attract men somehow.

Very VERY confusing and scary for some girls for sure.
Of course our body would start getting tense down there.
I'm really glad you found that kind of partner somehow.
Thankfully your intuition sounds like an intact one.
Resilience is called I guess.
Our resilient spirit.
Or luck, i dont know.
But i'm glad you are being treated as you deserve, as a human being.

I look forward to more posts from you about anything.
Thanks for joining.

Bye now

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