Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Examining Female Life Events: Implications for Counselors and Educators

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Examining Female Life Events: Implications for Counselors and Educators

Article excerpt

This article reports the findings of a study examining the impact of female life events (menarche, "the sex talk," and loss of virginity) on women. Fifty-one women from 2 universities responded to a questionnaire containing quantitative and qualitative items. Discussion and implications for counseling girls attd women are presented.


This study grew out of personal, anecdotal conversations about experiences of becoming a woman in the 1980s. As we reflected on adolescent experiences of menarche, "the sex talk," and loss of virginity, common themes emerged of negative messages, awkward conversations, and shame. As adults, we were able to find some humor and perspective related to these themes. It led us to wonder about the potential negative impact these combined experiences had on our development of sexual agency, which refers to the feeling as if one can do and act within the sexual domain. Informal expanded discussion with our peers resulted in numerous accounts of similar experiences during puberty. This further piqued our interest in studying possible connections between the early experiences of becoming a woman and the subsequent ability to engage in healthy sexual practices in adulthood.

An initial review of the literature indicated a paucity of research focused on potential connections among the key events in female sexual development. Teitelman (2004) went so far as to state, "there are no studies that specifically examine girls' perspectives of family interactions about menarche with a view toward understanding the impact on girls' developing sexual health (e.g., on their developing sexual subjectivity and sexual agency)" (p. 1294). The purpose in conducting this current pilot study was to examine evidence supporting the possible benefits of changing and reframing the early messages girls receive as the beginning point for empowered sexual choices. Having discussions about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy risks with teenage girls who are faced with peer pressure, a sexualized media machine, and raging hormones may be too little, too late. Research shows that girls in the 21st century are engaging in more dangerous sexual practices at earlier ages, thus exposing them to STIs, pregnancy risks, and mature sexual situations before they are developmentally ready to deal with them. In the United States, approximately 9% of female adolescents from 15 through 19 years of age become pregnant each year (Henshaw, 2001). Every year, approximately 3 million adolescents in the United States develop an STI, the highest number among all age groups nationally and all industrialized nations worldwide (Shireman, 2003).

Each year, 20,000 young people from 13 to 25 years of age in the United States are infected with HIV (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2000). Data from the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicate that half of all high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse at some point, including 39% of ninth graders and 65% of high school seniors (CDC, 2000; Kann et al., 2000). Oral and anal sex are becoming more common among adolescents, with anal sex becoming the new trend as a way to preserve virginity and avoid pregnancy (Schuster, Bell, & Kanouse, 1996; Strasburger & Brown, 1991).


The literature on menarche and menstruation indicates that girls' experiences in relation to these two aspects of development are largely negative (Beausang & Razor, 2000; Burrows & Johnson, 2005; Charlesworth, 2001; Costos, Ackerman, & Paradis, 2002; Erchull, Chrisler, Gorman, & Johnston-Robledo, 2002; Kissling, 1996; Koff & Rierdan, 1995; Stubbs & Costos, 2004). Beausang and Razor surveyed women across a wide age range and found that negative perceptions of puberty were prevalent, concluding that puberty education has made little progress regarding message content or method of delivery. …

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