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From Gossip to Bragging, How Girls and Boys Are Talking About Sex Is a Problem

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(Some) girls gossip.

"Wanna know the difference between a nice boy and a hook-up boy? The nice one adds 'please' at the end of 'Ya wanna give me a BJ?'"

I'm sitting with two sophomores during lunch at the Catholic girls' school after my assembly. She said it like she could have said, "Ya wanna get coffee." Insouciance.

The New England girls' lunch-table talk is richer yet. We are discussing the power couple at their high school. Salads and Diet Coke on the table. "A freshman texted a senior that she was better than his girlfriend. She said she'd prove it if he showed up at 7 a.m. in the English classroom." No one gags on our noontime conversation. It's salacious. "Her friend came along to guard the door. She's the one who ended up finishing the job when the other girl couldn't get it done." Another girl at our table adds a new dimension. "And, the guy filmed the whole thing 'cause he thought it was so funny. Even his girlfriend saw it." Back to the first girl so she can tell me the outcome. "Yea, she stayed with him. She'd never leave him."

(Some) boys brag.

"Last night was rodeo night. We go out and get a townie girl. On the hefty side. Low confidence. We buy her a few at the bar. Then we ask her if she wants to party on campus." I'm sitting within earshot. They know it. One looks directly at me while he talks. "We get her to pass out with grain. Then we take turns riding 'er. Who can stay on the longest wins." I am hearing the words, envisioning the scene, and not believing him all at once. But then, I know that many rapists see women in two categories: women with whom you have sex, and women you marry. Our "heifer" is in the former group.

Airplane neighbor. Phone call. "You gotta get here, man. There's girls who'll do anything. They're hot when they're together, too." I must be invisible. No, I'm just not hot enough to impede the conversation. "Next time I'm getting you out here, man. You just gotta come out."

Girls bragging:

I'm walking down the hall to the auditorium -- the bell just rang in the girls' school -- and I see over two dozen sweatshirts with the name of the boys' school across town. Later, I'm in the boys' school and seen zero sweatshirts with the name of the girls' school across town.

Boys gossiping:

Two boys dressed to comply with their school handbook are sitting on a bench just outside of a pizza place. I am walking past them, and then it all clicks at once: I'm about to speak to them about rape and respect. Proximity to my destination gives it away. They are leaning forward, elbows on their knees, in huddle formation. He's looking at the sidewalk as he says, "I think there's still some untapped girls at [insert name of elite all girls' school in NYC]." Other boy, looking down, too, "Yea, but there's a reason why." I'm already on finding the way to weave their dialogue into my speech. What good fortune to have heard the tree fall in the forest today.

If boys and men speak of the act of doing, conquest, teamwork, and if girls retell the story without commentary and proudly support the boys' team, how can we delude ourselves into movement toward sexual equality and respect? Ah, we can rationalize. It is only words. It is free speech. It is not "the walk," but only "the talk." I say that when we are silent on the conversation, we are taking the comfortable, easy way out of addressing the issue.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.