We as mothers are putting our own fears ahead of our daughters' well being, and we have to confront this crisis of confidence in order to offer our girls more grounding in sexual vitality than we were given by our own mothers.
In not giving them the sexual information they need, and offering them that life long emotional connection to us, we do them a broader disservice than we imagine.
Yesterday on Oprah sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman did an excellent and long overdue episode on helping mothers talk to their daughters about sexuality. Therapists, sex educators and researchers including myself find that, shockingly, our level of anxiety as mothers still keeps us from really educating our daughters about their bodies, desire and relationships. Although we tend to disguise it with rationalizations like "she's too young" or "it will overwhelm her" the main deterrent to our being there for our girls in this way is often that we're simply too uncomfortable to do it.
My research has shown me how far we haven't come. It's the beginning of the 21st Century and many mothers aren't even teaching their daughters about menstruation, let alone sexuality. Just like our mothers did, we're passing off their education to Judy Blume or the school nurse. And now, the internet.
But we, as modern mothers, have the opportunity to truly break through to the dimension of mothering we thought we'd broken through to decades ago -- one not permeated with unnecessary shame-driven ignorance.
The easiest way to do this is to appreciate that our daughters' sexuality exists on the very same continuum as our own. Remember when you were curious about how babies were made, and when you didn't know where a tampon went? Remember when you felt like an idiot with your friends because everyone else seemed to know what oral sex was and you were afraid to ask? Remember the first time you felt yearning, and the first time you felt so swept away sexually you thought if you were to die right then and there, your life would be complete? Now remember the negative stuff. Did you feel naughty or dirty when you first began your own sexual exploration? Did you feel alone and separate from your mother? Did you worry she'd judge you? Do you even today feel guilty around masturbation? In your life now, do you feel disconnected or unfulfilled when you're having sex?
Whether we actually have them or whether we do not, women crave full and happy sex lives because we know we feel more alive when we do. So how can we want this vibrancy for ourselves and not for our daughters? If we want our daughters to feel sexually comfortable as women, we need to help them feel comfortable along the entire journey, and our awkward avoidance and judgment won't get them there.
Women in my study and practice routinely feel let down and abandoned by their mother's silence or lack of support. It undermines how they feel in their bodies, and not just with regard to sex - it influences what they feel entitled to do, think, say and wear. If we implicitly encourage our daughters to forsake their sexuality that sense of shame infects every other area of their self esteem. And the opposite is also true. If we raise our daughters to feel a healthy entitlement to their sexuality it will enhance their self esteem in every way because they'll have the freedom to be whole.
The little 10 year old girl on Oprah, who must surely be the most delightful child to ever appear on television, had the most poignant and concise message in the show. She'd been asking her mother twice a week for the past eight months to please teach her about sex, and her wonderful yet anxious mother was scared to death she'd say the wrong thing. In their session with Dr. Berman the girl said (italics her emphasis):
Little girl: "What is sex?"
Dr. Berman: "Do you have any idea what sex is?"
Little girl: "It's not like I have the confidence to think about that, but I want my mom to have the confidence to talk to me about it."