General Articles

Feminist Views on Girls’ Sexual Empowerment: Multiple Paths, One Destination

By Daniel Rubin-Marx, SIECUS Program Research Intern

Source: Sharon Lamb and Zoë D. Peterson, “Adolescent Girls’ Sexual Empowerment: Two Feminists Explore the Concept,” Sex Roles (June 2012).

Psychology researchers Sharon Lamb and Zoë D. Peterson collaborate on this article, a continuation of themes explored in the journal’s “Feminist Forum.” Debating the question, “are girls sexually empowered if they feel that they are empowered?”, Lamb and Peterson try to reach a shared conclusion about what truly constitutes adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment. 1

Key Findings:

  • “Empowerment” for girls has multiple dimensions, including the subjective feeling of being empowered as well as actual access to resources and power.
  • Sexuality in media has the potential to both positively and negatively affect girls’ perspectives on sex and what it means to be sexually healthy/empowered.
  • Comprehensive sexuality education is “essential” for helping adolescent girls achieve sexual empowerment.

The authors debate how girls can become sexually empowered and why it is important they do so. Because Lamb and Peterson had previously clashed over the path to sexual empowerment, they chose to collaborate on this article. Credit is due to them for acknowledging that their purpose was not simply to reconcile opposing viewpoints, but to help adults guide adolescent girls toward positive and enriching experiences of sexuality. The sexuality education field can be enriched when those with different views make good-faith efforts to explore their differences in this kind of collaborative forum.

Further research and discussion in this area could focus on parallel paths for adolescent boys; in what ways can young males also become sexually empowered? What concepts are most important for helping males achieve sexual empowerment? In addition, researchers could explore differences rooted in race or social class to find useful insights regarding the multiple meanings of sexual “empowerment”.

1 Lamb S, Peterson ZD (2012). ‘Adolescent girls’ sexual empowerment: two feminists explore the concept’. Sex Roles 66(11-12): 703-712. <>