I have a thirteen-year-old cousin and she's beautiful. The rest of us are of medium attractiveness, but my just-barely-teenaged cousin is a doll and — on account of her burgeoning womanhood — a lot of jokes get tossed around. There's the one about her father greeting boys at the door with a shotgun and the one about how they're going to lock her in her room until she's 30 and the one about how she'll never be allowed to date ever. You know, just run of the mill, "I must maintain my sweet daughter's virginity at all costs," semi-serious, super funny jokes.
These jokes and the attitudes that fashion them make my skin hot with rage, but I'm already the super-liberal weird one, the ugly-angry feminist one, and the one who overreacts about everything, so I keep it to myself.
I can't control the way other people raise their daughters, but I do have a modicum of control over the way I raise mine. And I hope my daughter grows up to have as much wonderful, sensuous, consensual, wild and crazy sex as she damn well pleases.
I think my little cousin kind of likes the attention. Her grin, poorly concealed beneath an annoyed roll of the eyes, tells me so. These comments admit that she is a woman, that she has a power, and that her woman-ness can be seen as a threat. I remember being in her size-five shoes. I remember feeling like I had a secret power that was bad-but-brazen; something they would try to take away from me but couldn't.
In a lot of ways, it felt good.
But the twisted thing about jokes like that is that they fetishize female sexuality while taking away the wisdom that should back it up. They say, sure, you're sexy, but you don't know what's good for you. You can't decide who to date. You don't get choose who to fuck (or who not to fuck). You're not smart enough to know when you're ready. Your dad should make those decisions for you. Because your dad owns you until he passes you off to another man.
My daughter is just a toddler. I'm sure thinking about sex and my baby daughter in the same sentence is taboo, but I'm always thinking ahead to what I'll teach her, what I'll talk to her about, and what I'll prohibit. I am always rehearsing conversations. I am constantly evaluating the parenting styles of others, taking what I think works and leaving the rest.
I think one of the most important things I can try to teach her is what I know about sex. Furthermore, I think her sexuality is one of the stupidest things for me to try and stop. I'm not going to play games and pretend that sex isn't going to happen. I'm not going to pretend that sex started and ended for me with her dad. I'm not going to pretend that sex isn't simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, both empowering and humbling, both serious as the dead of winter and playful as a warm summer day.
Instead, I'm going to do my best to tell the truth.
I won't tell her that sex is something that only happens between two people who love each other (although love and sex together is lot of fun). I won't tell her that sex is something that only happens between a man and a woman, or only between two people at a time. I won't tell her that "sex" only happens when a penis crosses a vaginal threshold. I won't even mention the word "virginity."
I want my daughter to know and understand her body. I want her figure out when she wants sex, how to consent to sex, and how to say no. I can't teach her these things, but I can talk to her about them. I can acknowledge that she's on a messy and complicated journey to figure them out. I can express that it's crucial for her to be thinking about them and attempting to untangle them, instead of trying to coddle her with phrases like "sex is what happens when two people are in love," or worse, "You'll understand when you're older."
I can be there for her when she needs me, without judgment and without shame. To echo Ferrett Steinmetz, I won't tell her that sex is bad, or that she's bad for wanting it, or that other people are bad for wanting it from her.
I don't presume that she will be straight. I don't presume that she will get married. I don't presume that she's going to grow up into a cis-gender woman. I don't presume that all of her relationships will be monogamous. I don't even presume that she will want to have sex, because some people don't, and that's just fine too. These are all things she will discover for herself in time.
Instead, I just want her to grow up knowing that she has options and that her lifestyle is 100% hers. I want her to know that the only person who can decide when and where and how she has sex, and what that "sex" consists of, is herself. Not her dad, not the person she's fooling around with (although collaboration is nice), not the media, and not me.
Female sexuality is powerful. It is robust, and wild, and downright magnificent. I would never do anything to snuff out that flame. Instead, I hope to fortify the wisdom that is its counterpart. Everywhere you look in this society female sexuality is for sale. It is coveted, it is tantalizing, but it is stupid. What they don't want you to know is that sexuality is the home of an ancient acumen, a sacred sagacity, an erotic erudition. Sexuality is inherently very smart.
I won't let the world take that away from her.