I’m about to discuss matters of a somewhat intimate nature. I just thought I’d give fair warning, since Dad reads this. And even though he realizes just how much I am like my mother, I am still his daughter, though that relationship is kind of what this post is about.
Dutch recently wrote a very provocative entry about raising a daughter. If you don’t have a minute to click over to the post, Dutch begins his discussion by invoking the “shotgun jokes” that he gets when someone compliments the beauty of his little girl–you know, “She’s so beautiful, ha ha, you’re going to have to go out and get yourself a shotgun.” This led into a discussion about exactly what it is that men fear when they find themselves the fathers of daughters. He also questioned the effectiveness of “Purity Balls” and the whole religious fundamentalist virginity crusade.
I had a strong reaction to that discussion, and I decided that instead of adding to a long list of comments on that site, I’d take my thoughts and lay them out over here, since I felt the need to make up for yesterday’s fluff about my DVR.
I get a sad feeling in my heart when I think about how many lives are made more difficult by such sheltered and closed-off versions of reality. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable with America’s hypocritical attitudes toward sex. We are bombarded with sexual images and innuendos at the same time as we are expected and urged to remain pure and faithful. I guess I should be surprised that more of us aren’t more screwed up about it. Sex is everywhere, now more than ever, but even as I was growing up, I didn’t have to be told that boys and girls were different. And I always knew that there was power in that difference, even though I might not have been able to define it.
I imagine that I have always had pretty good instincts when it comes to people. But even more than instinct, example shaped my attitudes about relationships and about sex. Last night, I was talking to a friend about the kind of example I had growing up with my parents. If there was ever a moment that the two of them were not in love, I couldn’t tell you, because I never would have known. They were always affectionate with each other. Mom made jokes about the two of them running around naked if my sister and I were going to be out of the house for awhile or over night. They kissed a lot, touched, cuddled, held hands and called the other “honey.” I knew that they slept in the buff sometimes, and it never bothered me. As I talked about this last night, I mentioned, as I usually do when I talk about parents and sex, that the thought of my parents doing it never unsettled me or grossed me out in the least. This is probably because I always just accepted it as part of what made their love and our family strong.
I know that my reaction to the thought of my parents as sexual is not a common one. In fact, I sometimes thought that maybe there was something not quite right with me because of this response. But I actually think that because I was witness to such a positive example of love, respect and trust, I ended up with a really positive attitude toward sex and to my own sexuality. And now that I am married, looking to a future that will probably include children of our own, I want to make sure that I continue to follow the example I was shown. I love making love with my husband–it’s one of my favorite things to do–but I also love just holding his hand, kissing his neck, or scratching his head because it’s a way to show him how much I value him and our relationship together, which is equally valued by him as he reciprocates. Does it matter that I didn’t lose my virginity to him on our wedding night? No, because when I had sex, I knew that I was doing it for the right reasons and with someone who cared for and respected me. The heart and body are connected, and I always knew that, too.
In truth, I would never think of discussing sex with my dad. One time, he found a condom in the pocket of my jeans as he sorted laundry. And even then, he didn’t say a word. That was fine. The look in his eyes said enough. I’m sure that however much he understood that I probably did some stuff with boys, seeing actual evidence must have been very difficult for him. But he never made me sign a pledge or made any claims on my purity, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. What it comes down to, I guess, is that my parents trusted me, and they trusted my judgment, meaning that they also trusted their own example. I’m sure it wasn’t always an easy thing to do, but they let me make my own choices, make mistakes, and be myself. I’m sure that they were not always confident in their abilities as parents, but I hope that as a parent, I will have confidence, if not always in my parental knowledge or skills, at least in the fact that I am a direct result of their example.
Whether James and I have daughters or sons, I know that our children will witness, as I did, great love between their parents, love and affection that translates into security and confidence for them. And even though it will be difficult when we can’t always protect them, I can always trust this foundation of openness and unconditional love.