When I was raised in the 50s I was told that sex outside of marriage was a sin and that it would ruin my reputation and that I would forever be banished from polite society as a fallen woman. Sex was for procreation and that was it. Sixteen years of catholic education really did a number on me.
Sex was bigger than life. Women were viewed as responsible for tempting men with their clothes and their behavior. The nuns told us that when dancing we were to leave room between our teenage bodies for the holy ghost – a spirit that didn’t take up too much room allowing the occasional bump and grind so long as the chaperones weren’t watching.
When I was in fourth grade,, I remember going to confession with my class (which was a weekly school requirement) and telling the priest that I was guilty of having “impure thoughts” (part of an awakening sexuality). The priest told me that the devil is like a spider and that my impure thoughts would cause me to get caught up in its web and devoured. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was embarrassed to leave the confessional for fear that my class mates would see my tears and think I was a really bad sinner headed straight to hell.
Then came the pill and the hippies and freedom. Having finally tried sex and initially found it to be underwhelming, I decided to become sexually active to find out what all the fuss was about. I stopped buying the catholic version of womanhood and instead began learning how to be a modern woman – including how to enjoy sex.
When my own daughter came of age, I told her to reserve sex for love and to be careful not to ruin her reputation, I told her that guys want sex and will take it from whoever offers it and to be aware of false declarations of love. I told her how to protect herself from getting pregnant; I did my best with what I knew.
My mother-daughter conversation would be quite different today. I would tell my daughter that sex is for recreation for all and procreation for some. I would tell her that sex is a normal bodily function and that way too much has been made about it over the years. I’d tell her that women have as much right to enjoy sex as men. I’d tell her how to protect herself from STDs and unwanted pregnancy. I’d tell her about sexuality as being a continuum and that heterosexuality is not the only option.
I’d tell her that what she wears and how she behaves are up to her. However, I would warn her about conservative values and how to defend against narrow-minded religious zealots. I’d teach her how to keep her body healthy and strong. I’d try never to talk about physical beauty but instead talk exclusively about inner beauty and compassion.
I would tell her that misogynist male religious and political leaders have historically regulated women’s sexual behavior with the vested interest of keeping women in the home and out of competition. I’d tell her that women have been repressed for millennia but that the future of womankind is evolving and that her part in the evolution is to enjoy sex just as she enjoys other aspects of her life. Finally, I’d tell her to be true to herself and find her way in the world as a person without regard to her sexuality.