Category Archives: Meet Lena

My daughter is sixteen

callas_6x9My daughter Lena is sixteen and mesmerized by the topic of sex. She is relentless in her passionate pursuit for information and understanding. During after-school hours, while so many other kids are kicking around soccer balls, she is working to broaden her knowledge base about all matters sexual. While other kids chat, to the accompaniment of parental approval, about candidates in the upcoming presidential election, Lena finds associates that like to discuss what sexual aid products have turned up in the “family planning” aisle of the CVS—and, perhaps more valuable from an adult perspective, why that aisle is even called that.

Naturally, girls her age are curious about sensuality and sexual exploration. But Lena is unlike the vaster percentiles of those girls, who possess constellations of mostly wholesome and unquestionably admirable interests. Those interests place them toward the center of the particular bell curve we are talking about here. Lena falls on the outer, rightmost fringe of that bell curve of respectable interests.

In spite of the lack of respectability in the mind of the broader culture of her particular interests, Lena is no less civic minded than any girl: she is already working to turn her native enthusiasm for the topics of sensuality and sex into a career of helping people become more “sex-positive” –a term and a notion that hadn’t been on my radar until, to my surprise, she put it there. This web journal chronicles one mother’s journey in raising a fringe child whose mostly healthy interests shouldn’t leave her feeling marginalized. Here’s to a more sex-positive world.

A New World

I, Lena’s mother, grew up without the vision for a better and more joyous world the term “sex-positive” is now poised to spread. Nonetheless, decades after an adolescence parched from the arid presence of sexual taboo, I see the value and beauty of her dream. I get that it is in theory as wholesome, as worthy of my pride in her, as any other. Would the world not be happier if people were not ashamed of their sexuality, as Lena envisions for them?

Yet, I also find myself wishing she had been gifted with this vision at a more convenient time—say, after she had finished college magnificently free of its siren pull. After we are beyond the reach of the cliques that have solidified at this age among girls, and among their mothers. After she can no longer be touched by the judgments that bind those cliques together.

That would have been the best time to pursue a dream of being a sexologist, the warring faction of mother instinct screams–not during high school, with all the cliques and judgmental parents! Or, better yet, they scream some more: it’s a great and worthy vision, and someone else should see to it, not my kid! My child should become a normal child, with a self based on well-established norms, and should calm my worries by doing something obviously wholesome–like teach art to kindergarten children, or become a nurse for a bit more money.

As you can see, the nimby in me is alive and well, no matter if my daughter has to tie herself into a knot.

I’m no prude myself

photo by Olga Vasikova

photo by Olga Vasikova

Lena’s inclination has posed challenges for me, and I’m no prude myself. I have come to greatly value the sexual part of myself–but that’s in spite of an upbringing in which my mother never mentioned sex and my father only mentioned it once, to tell me that if a man wanted to have sex with me before marriage then he surely was up to no good.

Over the decades, I grew a Healthy Sexual Value System (HSVS) that I now enjoy without the conflict to which my upbringing predisposed me. According to this HSVS, sex is a great Gift with which the Divine entrusts us, however encumbered choices for how to use the Gift may seem at times. In contradistinction to my father’s svs (sexual value system), I as a woman exercise a lot of sexual agency and, quite shockingly to individuals blinded by svs, this turns out to work outrageously well for my partner. It is crucial to my HSVS, furthermore, to stay in touch with my own desires. Those desires are a platform of honesty from which sexual pleasure can continue to emanate as long as communication is open and honest.

I am so grateful for the wholeness my sexuality accords me! I want my daughter to be whole, and not to disown important parts of herself or to feel that she has to hide them from her mother. She is inclined in a sensual direction with or without my say-so. These are some of the reasons that I find myself asking, Since I’ve rejected prudish inclinations as not life-giving, not authentically me, why shouldn’t I wholeheartedly embrace this process of guiding Lena in the areas of sensuality and sexuality, with the benefit of my fifty-something wisdom and HSVS, now? With whatever level of involvement she invites from me?

My daughter’s sexual blossoming has made for an interesting ride, and certainly not one I would have imagined or necessarily wished for when she was just a twinkle in my eye. Lena’s sensuousness has posed challenges for me, and I have to say I’m no prude myself.



The Silence Has Consequences

Photo by Dana Rothstein

Photo by Dana Rothstein

If there is an exact moment for the inception of puberty—a moment that contains within it the seed for the rest of the process–then I’m sure that moment for me, at least, could be defined by this: in that crystalline microsecond after I noted the first drop of blood on my panties, I became aware that it would be a very bad thing to talk to my parents about the changes happening inside of me, both then and forevermore; and that the consequences if I did, if not exactly biblical, would be comparably horrific.

In my particular family, there was a whole range of topics that I simply knew were beyond the pale of what could even be mentioned, and sex was indubitably, irrevocably one of them. My parents’ own silence about sex, in particular, sent a crystal-clear message that bringing it up as a topic to be discussed with equanimity, with openness to wherever the discussion might lead, was about as sensible as intentionally spawning an overwhelming quantity of frogs in the basement. Did I want to invite pestilence into our “normal” family life, as if the inception of my sexuality wasn’t already bad enough?

This silence, as far as I could know without actually knowing to ask, permeated the lives of my friends, too: nothing I heard from them would have indicated that things were any different for them at home. The normalcy of this silence was duly assumed and absorbed, the status quo protected. Sex was a social tool, and the boys were in charge of using it. Gay people, let alone people even more aberrant, seemed not to exist as actual human beings. Talking wasn’t going to change anything because you just didn’t do it, except for ribald joking and hushed gossip that, well, reinforced the status quo.

Over the span of my adult years, I became aware of having been harmed as a child by damaging words and actions; but the powerful effects of all this silence were more difficult to identify. Though so much about my own sexuality healed over time without my having to specifically think about the insidious effects of all this silence, raising Lena finally gave me reason to confront it, and to confront it utterly.

Nothing on My Teenage Mind

photo by Colin Alworth

photo by Colin Alworth

My conversations with Lena make me remind myself that my parents’ insecurities, and shame about sex, are now mine to shed. Ideally, there should have been nothing on my teenage mind too salacious for them to hear, and certainly nothing to offend their parental dignity, because I was merely curious about an important part of my human self, one that was so abruptly and obviously there.

Just the same, I have had to wonder: Is there anything besides my inherited sense of shame to prevent Lena from speaking of any sexual topic that engages her mind, to me, at least in private? With the same level of insouciance between us as when we chat about an upcoming trip, or giggle about how much the various models in the latest Vogue look like they are about to throw up?

I am not done pondering this, perhaps because all the possibilities haven’t yet presented themselves and I lack the imagination to know what they will be. In the meantime–before I have arrived at the final answer—I prod myself not to judge Lena in terms of a bunch of assumptions I’m really not so sure I should be holding onto, and sometimes am not even aware of having. My objective in my sea of unknowns is to create an environment where Lena will feel free to speak with me, about whatever—and I am wrenchingly successful.




Am I Dense?

photo by Jenny Levine

photo by Jenny Levine

I am no denser than the next person. I have totally absorbed that, at the tender age of sixteen, Lena should really be focusing on other subjects besides human sexuality and (God forbid) the practicum so dreaded by us older people, sex; and that I, her mother, should be seeing to that. Maybe it’s my job to provide a modern chastity belt of deterrents: I could sign her up for lots and lots of baseball and set her up with scrapbooking supplies and tutoring and book club.

The idea, “anything but sex,” has such an aura of sense about it and I would not be arguing with its merits at all, except that I’ve been raising a kid who has some power of her own, and has been using that power without my knowledge and permission to make me grow up and individuate. I can now say, after this unexpected upbringing at the hands of my daughter, that maybe her focusing on other subjects would be “better for her”; but possibly that’s just another idea unconsciously frothed into an ether, as inevitably as foam from crashing ocean waves, through adult words spoken and unspoken, through their subtle and not-so-subtle approving and disapproving, through actions and failures to act.

Growing up with this ether as a fact, I think Lena is so brave to hold onto her own sense of what would be in her own best interests and even for the greater good. She is trying so valiantly to choose a path of joy and meaning, in spite of the world at large, wise and sensible as it represents itself, being rather short on these. Hers seems a reasonable matrix from which to make significant choices.

Would it be such a better thing, really, for her to be focused on the kinds of tasks that her elders have established as the important ones for her age group? As if kids were all meant to grow up and do the same seventy or eighty jobs delineated by the categories of the Myers Briggs? Given the state into which we elders have driven this world, and our forcing of kids into a state-sanctioned direction and at a state-sanctioned time, like so many hyacinth bulbs in the wintertime, I’m not quite sure.

Given my daughter’s profound interest in all matters sexual, I can either create an environment where she can get her core wisdom about a most important life dimension from me, or I can consign her to get it from someone or something else. I know which to choose. Brothers and sisters in the conservative faith community, please hold my back as I assert my right to exercise parental guidance and authority with my daughter’s sexual upbringing. Thank you.