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English 212
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Thinking Sex

Lindsay Updegrove

"Mom, I'm having sex."

Having grown up in a suburban, white, middle class home, there is no greater paradox to me than the methods by which American mothers and daughters communicate about sex.   In an attempt to protect their daughters, mothers often keep silent on the topic; rarely does this strategy do anything to protect. The level of discomfort toward the subject is so great that many mothers and daughters cannot hear sex being addressed in each other's presence without a feeling a twinge of embarrassment. Rarely are we reconciled that our parents did at one time have sex, even though we are the outcome of that union.  To most daughters, Mom is the least desirable person to have a sex-related conversation with in the world.

This discomfort probably stems from general feelings of guilt toward sex in general. And while a generation gap may account for the inability to relate on the subject, there is still a lot that mothers and daughters have in common.  Mothers generally cannot help but try to impress certain moral standards upon their children.  These morals are often attached to immense pressure. A daughter may feel reluctant to try to bridge the gap because she feels as though her mother is only accepting of sex after marriage, even if it is clear that the mother herself did not abstain from premarital sex.  Maternal protection manifests itself in phrases like, "I've been there; I know what's best," and, "I don't want you to make the same mistakes I did."  On the whole, the mother gives her daughter a negative sense of sex. Consequently, no matter what decisions the daughter makes regarding her sexual life, she carries this feeling of guilt from her early teenage years.

Mothers seem to assume that showing their daughters the positive aspects of sex has a direct correlation with their daughters landing "in trouble."  Yet, if a mother is silent, the daughter is ignorant and uneducated of her sexual responsibilities.  So often, a mother's idea of talking about sex consists of heaping warnings in the form of, "Don't this," "Don't that," atop her daughter's head.  When presented in such a manner, daughters don't buy in to these threatening "words of advice." Sex becomes clumped together with all the other things Mother warns against: drugs, bad grades, and fuchsia hair-dye.

In a world where the pressures of society usually triumph over home-bred morals, American girls try drugs, they let their grades slip every once in a while, and make the occasional horrendous beauty mistake. They have sex, regardless of their mothers' feelings. If daughters felt the ability to communicate freely with their mothers about sex, that last fact wouldn't be quite so daunting.  But there is often a high price to pay for silence when a daughter doesn't feel comfortable enough to ask her mother for birth control.  A daughter could spend a lifetime compensating for the sexual suppression caused by her mother's attitudes.

Let us imagine a mother-daughter pair that communicates about sex in the most ideal way given the setting of contemporary America. They could talk openly about the emotional as well as the practical aspects of sex.  Instead of just saying, "If you're going to do it, I'll put you on the Pill," the mother could first outline both the positive and negative repercussions. She could demonstrate that sex has had positive and negative effects on her own life.  The daughter would feel comfortable about having a sexual identity around her mother. The mother would respect her daughter's right to make decisions regarding her own body, and therefore not stress certain moral standards.  As a result, the daughter would not feel the stigma of being a victim or a delinquent in her sexual relationships.

In order to create an ideal interaction between mothers and daughters, both parties need to recognize their desire to learn something from each other.  Doing so may mean risking the loss of accepted habits. On the other hand, not doing so could lead to far, far worse.

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