Ironically, I don’t think I reached sexual maturity until after I had a baby.
It’s not that I didn’t have good sex before, it’s just that there was always some part of me that was closed to all it could be. My husband and I had good chemistry and a healthy sense of adventure, so there was certainly nothing to complain about, but I held onto internalized slut-shaming and body-shaming throughout my twenties. I didn’t realize the level of fulfillment I’d been missing until I gave birth.
It may be silly but the sacrifice of carrying, delivering, and nursing a baby finally convinced me that my body was mine. It took something that big to feel I had earned it, away from the stewardship of my upbringing, my peers, and society as a whole. Having a child made me feel like a grown-up, and with adult confidence, I could finally explore and express my wholeness without needing to get drunk or feeling selfish. I could finally admit that sex was important not just to my relationship but to me.
But of course, pregnancy changes the body, as does age itself. Sometimes anger flares up when I think of how I wasted the physical and energetic prime of my life being ashamed of (or simply oblivious to) my appetite for touch. I’ll be honest, it’s strange for any mother to think of her young daughter growing up and becoming sexually active – there’s a mix of queasiness, worry, and even jealousy – but when it comes down to it, I don’t want her to have my regrets. I don’t want her to spend the first quarter of her life believing she is leasing her body from me, obliged to shoulder the baggage of all women who came before her.
My daughter has right now, in her early childhood, such a splendid sense of entitlement to pleasure, commanding affection and space with equal ease. She’ll spend any amount of time admiring various sensual wonders – the squish of muddy puddles, the softness of sage buds, the pure joy of spinning until she topples to the grass. Her body and mind are not yet at war. She doesn’t feel obliged to justify why things feel good or bad, or care whether anyone agrees. Dancing naked is ecstatic. Pooping makes her brain feel “sparkly.” Right now, and hopefully for a while yet, sensation is delight.
It’s this curiosity and lightheartedness that I pray she retains even as her life becomes less about personal gratification and more about joining society. Because even believing that sex is a holy practice, you can’t just sit at an organ and start cranking out hymns. We need permission to mess around a bit, to experiment and fumble, to develop the range of our personal style and discover the logic of harmony with our fingers, not just our minds. Casual play is an important part of serious practice, and self-knowledge is an important part of true intimacy.
Some little girls do this on their own, engaging in masturbation from a very young age. My mom friends who have such daughters feel this is no reason for alarm – that insofar as it’s an issue, it can be resolved with a simple talk about limiting self-touch to when we are all by ourselves, with clean hands.
But then there are the girls like me, who never would have dared to learn about my body first-hand. Is it the job of a mother to encourage them otherwise? Certainly there tends to be embarrassment on both sides of parent-child sex talks. I sometimes wonder if sexual self-discovery is a type of threshold where kids are meant to enter a new frontier without any guidance from their parents, perhaps for the first time. But the fact remains that exposure to sex is only happening sooner and more often in the age of streaming porn and camera phones. If moms want to have any influence on setting the tone, we may have to work with the technology that is setting the pace.
Enter digital resources like OMGyes (NSFW), Juicebox App, and MakeLoveNotPorn. The first focuses on “lifting the veil on women’s sexual pleasure,” introducing us to a collection of diverse, everyday women (complete with human personalities and cozy bedrooms!) who explain and demonstrate tenets of female pleasure as defined by original research. For those who can afford the subscription fee (which funds both the studies and the development of a groundbreaking touchscreen video format), these real women spread their own legs to show the viewer stimulation techniques such as “Edging,” “Hinting,” “Orbiting,” and “Layering.”
Though MakeLoveNotPorn may sound anti-porn, as its sex positive founder Cindy Gallop once told the Huffington Post, it’s founded on a simple belief. “It’s not that porn degrades women, but that business degrades porn.” Thus she’s built a resource to dispel myths perpetuated by a male- and money-centric industry, structured around a co-op style video library where one can rent erotic home videos made by real couples with typical bodies and a rainbow of turn-ons.
Sites like these do the heavy lifting of awakening young women to their own sexual authority. Moms don’t have to choose between playing dumb or breaking out a flip chart, we can simply pass along a link when the time feels right and make ourselves available for questions. Our daughters will likely appreciate the discretion as much as the support, because let’s face it, who wants to hear about their parents’ sex lives in full detail? On the other hand, who wants to let their daughter live on an island of self-ignorance and sexist clichés?