It’s understandable that it’s hard for us to confront social sexual taboos to raise our daughters with more honesty. But we would be far less afraid if we reframed the issue as one of daughters wanting to understand, in concert with the mothers who love them, how their bodies work, how love works, and how women young and old can navigate the world together. – Joyce McFadden
I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools. I would say that my sexual education was very sheltered. In high school, for example, we did not have “sexual education.” Instead, we had “marriage preparation,” which was ironically (and absurdly) taught to us by a 70 year old nun. Not to say I don’t value the morality I was raised with. I do. However, I also believe that creating fear and repression around sexuality can only cause those very feelings to manifest and have all kinds of adverse effects on us when we grow up.
Back to the “marriage preparation”…unfortunately, where there was an opportunity to really teach a group of young women to take control of their sexuality and their bodies, the class was not taken seriously by me and many of my peers. As a result, I feel, that opportunity was lost. Instead we turned to other sources (TV, Internet, Library books, older friends and siblings etc.) most of the time without the guiding voice of a caring adult to decipher and explain the information were trying to process. Consequently, many girls’ early sexual experiences were unpleasant, rushed, or forced. Because there was no real conversation happening around sex for most of us (either at home or at school) we didn’t really know how to talk about it with each other. You couldn’t really talk about any pleasure you may have had (because you would be deemed “loose” or a “slut”), nor could you talk about any unpleasant experiences (same aforementioned outcome).
I’m not certain of what the experience was for my public-school counterparts, but I imagine much the same (without the added religion guilt…). Historically, we have not done a good job of educating children and youth about sexuality. What I would argue, however, is that, like with anything else, the foundation for these conversations and subsequent understanding begins at home.
I was reading a post last week that discusses how mothers influence the sexuality of their daughters. One quote that really stuck with me was that our daughters have a “…longing to not only learn from us, but to see our sexual education of them as an act of maternal love.” Seems so simple. It is a maternal and loving thing to speak to your daughter about her body, to candidly educate her about its parts and their functions. To celebrate the wonder and privilege of womanhood and teach her that there is no shame in deriving pleasure from your body. All of these things can be addressed in an open, honest and age-appropriate way, right? The part I struggle with is “how”?? As women who, for the most part, did not have these open and honest conversations with their mothers, where and how do we learn how to do this? I know I have to get on it because my daughter is now in school and I remember how I found out about “where babies come from.” It was from an older kid on the playground. I don’t want that for my daughter. I want to be the person that educates her about this. I want to answer her questions as they come up…I want to be the person that she comes to…without hesitation, embarrassment or shame.
When my daughter was in preschool, I was lucky to have attended a parent session with Vancouver’s Salema Noon, who is a Sexual Health Educator. A few things that I took away from that session have set the stage for how the sexual education of my children will unfold. She advised us to “use proper names” for genitalia. She highlighted the importance of answering questions about sex and our bodies truthfully and scientifically (answering the question posed only – if subsequent questions arise, answer them one by one). Finally, she emphasized how important it is to engage in a two-way conversation with your child (i.e. why do you think that happens? how do you feel about that answer?). I have used these tips and approach with both my children and so far, so good.
However, with our culture’s hyper-sexualization of girls I really struggle with how to find a balance and how to ensure my voice comes through in my daughter’s mind over all the noise that is out there. I guess only time will tell.