In her article "Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to be Sexy," Jennifer Abbasi writes, "Most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects, according to a new study of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest."
The academic study she refers to, published in the behavioral science journal Sex Roles, examines the media's emphasis on the sexualization of girls and women. It also finds that a mother's instruction and perspective can either interrupt or exacerbate our daughters' succumbing to it.
The good news? Here again we see the power mothers have to raise grounded, self-assured girls who can grow into grounded, self-assured women -- girls who become women comfortable in their bodies and able to experience desire without shame or comparison to Victoria's Secret models.
The bad news? We're not maximizing that power. According to what daughters have to say, we still don't talk to them about sexuality in ways that help them revere their bodies and human sexuality. We're not seizing the opportunity to replace all that objectified, performance-based, airbrushed, competitive sexuality (that I like to refer to as Sex from a Can) with information on what sexuality is like in real life.
If we want to dilute social pressures on our girls to be sexy, we have to offer them an alternative: Our validation of their true sexuality as they'll grow into it and experience it over their lifetimes. And we'll get an amazing bonus out of it: Our daughters will learn to trust and respect themselves, and -- judging by what daughters in my research say -- they'll also trust and respect us, which in turn makes them feel closer to us throughout their lives.
Young daughters want to look up to their mothers as role models for what it means to be female. They want us to be confident enough to show them the ropes. This doesn't mean they want to hear the specifics of our sex lives. It means they want us to teach them to respect the female body we share. When they're little they want to know about their anatomy; later they want to know about menstruation and then ultimately about all of the complexities of desire's influence over the quality of the adult sexual relationships they'll encounter. They want to be supported in being true to themselves, not to the misrepresentations of sexuality they see all around them.
If we want to be there for our daughters and teach them about their bodies, sexuality and desire, we need to have an understanding of our own erotic life and its highly personal meaning to us. And we need to consider not just where we are now, but also how we got there from girlhood and what we hope for ourselves in the future.
If we're skittish talking about sexuality with them, one of the easiest ways to be less afraid is to tap into our own experiences and use them to connect with what our daughters need. Here are some questions to get us thinking about our own mothers' sexuality; how our sexual sense of self might have been shaped by them; how we then come to see our own sexuality and finally, how we might consider our influence on our daughters'.
WHEN WE THINK OF OUR MOTHERS
Questions a Mother Can Ask Herself as She Considers Her Mother's Sexuality
- Do I know what my mother's sexual existence is/was like? How do I know this?
- Do I want to have a sense of what my mother's sexual sense of herself is/was? Why or why not? What would it mean to me?
- Do I hope that at some point in my mother's life she felt sexually swept away? Why or why not?What would it mean to me and what would it say about her?
- What do I hope she experiences/experienced in her sexuality and desire throughout her life? Why is that what I would wish for her?
WHEN WE THINK OF OURSELVES
Questions a Mother Can Ask Herself as She Considers Her Own Sexuality
- When I was a girl, did I ever feel confused, frightened, alone, naughty or dirty with regard to my sexuality? Am I positioning my daughter to feel any of those things?
- How did my mother come through for me in helping learn about my sexuality?
- How did my mother disappoint me in not helping me learn about my sexuality?
- Do I have memories of being disconnected from my body, or being unable to get turned on because I was focusing more on what my partner was feeling? If so, what worry caused the disconnection?
- How often do I undermine my own arousal by getting preoccupied with what I see as my physical flaws? Have I ever let my focus on my flaws get in the way of hearing how my partner desires me?
WHEN WE THINK OF OUR DAUGHTERS
Questions a Mother Can Ask Herself as She Considers Her Daughter's Sexuality
- How might my daughter interpret my silence or reluctance to talk to her about her body and her sexuality? Will she think I believe it's wrong? Abnormal? Perverted? Not worth my time?
- If my young daughter has a question about her sexuality, do I want her to think I don't want her to come to me? How do I expect her to know otherwise?
- Do I want her to feel she can come to me throughout her life with sexual questions if she has them? How have I conveyed this to her?
- When she's a woman, do I want her to be able to feel alive and connected not only to her lovers but to herself when she acts on her desire? How have I actively supported this grounding in herself?
- Do I critique her body or my own in front of her? How do I imagine this will affect her confidence and how she expresses herself with her body in and out of bed?
- Do I want her to be able to know and ask for what arouses her? How do I expect her to come by that confidence?
If our daughters feel safe talking about sexuality with us, then they won't be as inclined to look elsewhere for answers.