You're a mom. You've had a daughter. You want to tell her the truth about sex. You yourself were "promiscuous" back in the day (or maybe still are, whatever that means). What to do? So inquired a recent online thread that highlights some interesting ideas about how we talk to girls about sexuality, including our own.
The thread on reddit asked recently, Mothers who were promiscuous in your younger days - Did your values change once you had a daughter?
First thing I thought when I read that question was: Why daughters? Why mothers? And why would dads never be asked this question about themselves or their sons? But we know why — because men still aren't called sluts, and are often not even called promiscuous, which is just a coded word for slut and is typically used only to refer to women.
But here's the thing: I think it's actually a great question, and I think how you answer it depends on how you feel about your own sexuality growing up, because what you would tell a son or daughter to do versus what you did is a great litmus test for where you really stand:
For instance, MulderHeartsScully replies:
Sex is fun. It's even more fun when done safely and with a person you care about and trust. That's how I felt as a teenager, how I feel as an adult, and what I'll tell my daughters when they are older.
While Doogybag offers the flipside:
Yes. I didn't value myself when I was a teen and made a lot of questionable and risky sexual decisions. Neither of my parents taught me the importance of holding myself and my sexuality to higher standards and to choose not to just give it away to any body. They certainly didn't tell me that boys will take what they can get wether or not they love or care about me.
I love both of these answers because they are both equally correct and valid. Part of what gets obscured in vital conversations about slut shaming is that in having to constantly defend a woman's right to be a sexual being who has sex on her own terms, we don't always get a chance to explore what those terms are emotionally. (Men too, OF COURSE, but this conversation is about women).
I'm talking about something beyond issues of consent or safety, but rather, the emotional well being that is a necessary part of healthy sexual exploration. Over at Mommyish, in a piece called " I Want To Teach My Daughter Not To Be Promiscuous Like I Was," Meredith Bland writes:
In my early twenties, I was a slut. I don't use that word to slut-shame myself, I use it because I feel that it accurately describes me at 22. "Kinda whore-y" would also work. Or perhaps, "sexually pliable." But regardless of what name you use, I was one and now that I have a daughter of my own I plan to raise her to go down a different path.
To be clear, Bland doesn't in any way say women who've had a lot of partners are bad news, she just says for her it wasn't a healthy thing to do because it was about seeking validation. I suspect a lot of women feel this way about their own sexual growth — we are bombarded with mixed messages about how to perform sexuality. We are often well versed in performing sexiness long before we even know how to get ourselves off. We go into experiences with a lot of curiosity and no guidance, and it can be trial by fire figuring out our own boundaries that way.
All this can lead to weird notions about what sex is for, or what we're supposed to get out of it, or how to ask for what we want, or why we're even doing it. Resolving our mistakes can be a lifelong process.
So what would that "different path" Bland mentions look like? Some ideas (pending age appropriateness, of course):
Consider why you're doing it.
Sex is fun. And it feels good. These are great reasons for being curious about it and good enough reasons for doing it. Wanting someone to like you or think you're cool or fun or doing it because you think you're supposed to? Not so great.
Some people have a lot of partners because they are adventurous and love sex and are sex-positive and all that good stuff. But in order to feel that way, you have to have a real clear hold of who you are and what your worth is. There has to be a level of equality in those relationships. I had neither of those things when I was younger. I had no idea who I was and used sex to seek approval and a sense of worth. Newsflash – that doesn't work.
There is no such thing as a slut.
Like the Loch Ness of sexual types, the slut has been allegedly spotted for centuries but never caught and studied. Who is she? What is she really all about? How does she operate? She is a woman who has sex "a lot" — though we can't seem to define "a lot" — and for the wrong reasons — though it's unclear exactly what those are.
What matters is knowing your reasons, and your state of mind, and your level of engagement, and your own boundaries. That takes time to figure out, and as long as you are being safe, that process, including the mistakes, is all part of what it means to know yourself.
This could mean a lot of partners, or very few.
Exploration is an important part of healthy sexuality, but that doesn't require a designated number of partners or designated relationship status.
Back at reddit, user whatim wrote in response to the promiscuity question:
Why does the gender of the child matter?
I want the same thing for my sons and my daughters. Healthy sexual relationships with people who treat them well and are treated well in return.
I'd rather my kid have a fun ONS with an interesting, respectful stranger than spend 15 years 'in love' with someone who uses her and makes her miserable.
And Bland writes something to similar effect:
I want my daughter to love and enjoy her body, but that doesn't have to mean having a lot of partners. I think it's rare – not impossible, but rare — for a young women to be settled enough in her skin to be able to have a lot of partners without regrets. Sure, sex can be part of figuring out who you are and is a large part of one's identity, but mistakes come at a high cost. Choosing the wrong partner, or choosing to have more partners than you are truly comfortable with, can do a number on your self-esteem. Ask me how I know that.
The point is, learn from those mistakes or the sex you regret. Let your own inner feeling be your guide — as long as it's safe, as long as there is enthusiastic consent, you are on the right path.
Consider your self worth to be as important as using protection.
This takes care of so much in life, but believing you have a basic worth will guide you toward healthy sex choices. The goal here is to have sex for pleasure and connection, and not out of some weird unresolved sadness. Irresponsible sex has far-reaching consequences. Always remember: If you're feeling shitty about yourself there are better ways to feel better than fucking sometimes. There is also cake.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby