From the time we started talking about where babies come from, I have tried to leave an open door for Lena to ask any questions she liked, on any angle of the topic. (Books her father and I put in her hands in her later ‘tweens helped pave the way.) I think I’ve successfully managed to leave inherited discomforts about acknowledging her sexuality (with everything they might imply, realistically or not) out of our talks. This has been a process, not without struggles and doubts; and though practice here does not necessarily make perfect, four or five years of warming to my daughter’s very significant sexual side has given me confidence in my judgment, in my ability to be a good resource for her.
In fact, the challenges do keep coming without my having been perfected by my practices, not just yet. It is still the case that every time Lena’s talk gets a little more graphic, a little more down and dirty, I face some internal conflict. Part of me would like to just push her questions aside, to let her know from my exalted position as her mother that her preoccupations have no place in her young life. Through the magical qualities of a mother’s silence, she would be benevolently released from the curse of uncomfortable and controversial interests—I’m sure of it!
Lena would definitely be happier for that boundary I drew in the sand for her. Then, she would be blithely free to focus on schoolwork, sports, musical instruments, and all the happy and wholesome things that contribute to a sunny disposition and healthy upbringing. Those would be the occupations that would make her thrive in the only larger community that any mother in her right mind would tolerate for her child (not to mention that she’d be aiding and abetting my own happiness, since I would be freed from worry about her).
That uncomfortable, fearful part of me does not give up without a struggle.
photo by GoBigPicture
Lately, the talk is very specific and very graphic, indeed. Just the other day, Lena told me that her boyfriend “went down on her,” then delicately inquired as to whether I knew what that meant.
Now, I am 99% certain Lena is a virgin, at least in the arena of actual vaginal penetration. She has told me that her friends at school have nicknamed her the Virgin Sex Goddess, and I find this incredibly sweet. First of all, it is further evidence of what I am virtually, even smugly certain–that my daughter is still a virgin while a number of the kids who are kept so busy that their parents never get a chance to speak with them about sex are not. (There is a delicious irony not only to the situation but to the smugness that I feel: does it not show that I am still shedding my investment in this kind of thinking? And that I still have some growing up to do? I have to laugh at myself sometimes.) I also enjoy the moniker because I have enjoyed relationships with some of these kids since they were little, and I have been observing and appreciating their creative output for a long time now. I now find it easy to appreciate the innocent, creative, unjaded way they talk about sexual matters, both as Lena describes it and as I have heard from my figurative position of fly on the wall when they visit. (Though I might be nearby, they either forget this or don’t see any reason to care.)
So, willfully, I cast away another chunk of shame—the little sliver that this latest exchange has just exposed. I assure Lena that I know, as surprising as that may seem, what is meant by “going down on.” As I continue to pour a not inconsequential amount of energy into remaining unruffled, we actually have a talk about pleasure—nothing verbose or cloyingly heavy, just enough for now. I get to make the not-inconsequential point that she deserves to experience it. I work in a short sentence or two about how to foster it and about the importance of kind communication. To my delight, Lena shows every sign of listening!–and the part of me that thinks that parents can’t have any credibility with their kids when it comes to sex is so surprised.
At every turn, I question whether I am being a responsible mother when I acknowledge her sexuality without qualifying my statements with such patriarchal remnants as “but you should wait for a committed relationship” or “you want to be careful that people don’t see you as a slut” or even “don’t be a slut.” My healthy sexuality came at the price of a lot of questioning, and I now question these slogans of a mindset I perhaps shouldn’t assume.