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Female Sexuality: The Bermuda Triangle of Mothers and Daughters

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Grown daughters yearn to know how their mothers' sexuality informed them as women when they were at the most important crossroads of their lives. They want to know these things because they want to understand their mothers as women, and let that understanding flow over how they see themselves in their own lives.

Daughters are driven to yearn because their mothers keep many of these things secret.

Here are some quotes representative of what women from my Women's Realities Study are saying in response to the question: What do you want to know about your mother but would never ask?

If she questioned her sexuality. [I don't ask because] she would know I'm questioning mine.

Who is my father?

Did she ever love my father?

That I think she had an affair.

Why she never told us about my oldest brother's birth and how she married my dad after he was born...why she was so ashamed.

I would most like to ask my mother: Why didn't you date other men? Why did you allow grandma to push you into a marriage you weren't sure was right?

When she lost her virginity.

I suspect that she had an abortion during my teenage years and I want to know for sure. I am definitely not comfortable enough with her to ask her that.

If she had sex before she was married. If she's ever loved anyone as much as she loves my dad.

How she deals with the painful body memory of rape. She was raped as an 18 year old. That is how she lost her virginity. I wish I could kick that man in the balls. [I don't ask because] I don't want to make her sad/or have to relive the trauma."

From what little I know about it, to distill it to its simplest explanation, my parents divorced because dad liked sex and mom hated it, and this made them both miserable and led to other deal-breaking events. I've suspected for quite some time that she may have been abused or raped in her youth, because it would explain so many things about her. This is a question I don't think I could ever ask her. We can't even talk about sex in a POSTIVE way, not even about normal happy sex, not even about totally-sanctioned-by-"God"-married sex. I could never ask her about if she had been raped or molested. Because if it's true, it is her deepest darkest secret that probably no one on earth knows about.

This is often what happens. A mother lives out life-altering experiences within her sexuality, or violation of it, then casts them off into a Bermuda Triangle, making all the information they contain forever unavailable to her daughter, who then has to find her own way through some of the very same challenges her mother faced, without benefit of her mother's experience.

Every mother and daughter is entitled to her privacy and it's important for each of them to determine for herself what her comfort zones are and what she requires to safeguard them, especially around sexual trauma. My concern is that mothers hold these things inside simply because their mothers did - because they don't know any alternatives to the silence. Our mothers are our templates, and much of how we cope reflects that.

Since women still aren't fully embraced as sexual creatures, which sexually-oriented secrets does a mother keep because she's made a conscious decision to uphold her personal privacy, and which does she keep, more by default than consideration, out of shame?

There can be an automatic assumption that certain information isn't appropriate for a daughter to have. But sometimes the mother's shame can blind her to her to what her daughter might want to know. And sometimes the daughter senses and inherits her mother's shame around these issues, and ends up keeping the very same secrets from her mother, for fear of being judged.

These are the realities not exclusive to mothers: daughters might question their sexuality. Daughters can get pregnant under conditions that are less than optimal. Daughters might be uncertain if they're with the right partner. Daughters do wonder how sex fits into all of the other complications of relationships or lack thereof. Daughters will likely come to see infidelity as the peanut butter to the jelly of supposed monogamy. Daughters do get molested. And 1 in 6 daughters will be the victim of rape in her lifetime.

Mothers pass down pot roast recipes to their daughters. But they're reluctant to pass down crucial life content to help them and their daughters appreciate how women cope at those crossroads, and how that influences which way they move forward.

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