Just the other week, I read a
piece on Jezebel about the
world's most controversial supermodel: a 9-year-old girl (pictured below). Detractors mentioned
in the piece worry she's being sexualized at too young of an age. They express
alarm at the "creepy" comments people leave on her Instagram account
(managed by her mother), complimenting her on her body.
Others argue that we wouldn't be
having this conversation if a merely average-looking girl were posting the same
sorts of photographs. "You can say her expression is sultry in her photos,
or suggestive, or too mature," one London-based model agent told
MailOnline. "Or you can say she looks moody and sulky. Essentially, you're
just looking at a girl who happens to be extraordinarily beautiful. Perhaps if
her face was that of an average-looking child, no one would be having this conversation."
I feel conflicted about the whole
thing. I mean, I'm of the mind that all
young girls are being overly sexualized at younger and younger ages, learning
too much about dressing and primping for the male gaze, learning too much about
self-consciousness and body image at a time when they should be learning how to
embrace the world... to discover their place in it.
But is this really anything new? I
myself went through a phase in junior high during which I wore crop tops and
rolled up my short-shorts to make them even shorter. Problematic? Perhaps. But
my parents were good enough to let me move through this phase—and then leave it
behind—naturally and of my own volition, and I grew up to become someone who
wears jeans in the summer and granny panties all year long (my poor husband).
Then again, I also grew up to be
a sex writer. A sex writer
who wants her daughter to learn about sex far sooner than she did.
And it is this part of me that
worries me because, since I started writing about vibrators and body candy and
cardio striptease and sex parties 12 or so years ago, I feel as if I've lost
all sense of perspective on what is and is not appropriate to discuss in polite
company. And now, as a mother, I also wrestle with myself over what is and is
not too much information to share. And at what age.
Will my child expect me to be competent when it comes to The Sex Talk just because I'm a sex writer? Because I'm pretty sure it will still be super-awkward.
Sure, I could teach her to use the word
"vagina" at a young age, rather than a cutesy euphemism like
"poo-cha-cha" or "vajayjay." When she starts discovering
the joys of manhandling her nether regions, I can talk to her about taking
pleasure in her body... but keeping it private. But how do I respond when she
asks me where babies come from? And how does that answer evolve as she grows
older? How do I help her navigate the gray area around body image and intimacy
and consensuality? How do I raise a sex positive daughter yet, at the same
time, teach her that it's not something one needs to jump into too soon?
There are so many things to worry about. I also wonder:
Will my child expect me to be
competent when it comes to The Sex Talk just because I'm a sex writer? Because
I'm pretty sure it will still be super-awkward.
Will my child be embarrassed by
my tendency to expound on the topic of sex when it comes up in conversation?
Will my child assume I'm a proponent
of free love just because I'm a sex writer, and become sexually active long
before I'm ready to mentally and emotionally handle that reality? And will I
become an insufferable helicopter parent as a result?
Will my child hear about some of
my more colorful clips from someone else and be mercilessly teased because of
Will I get in trouble for
accidentally saying something inappropriate to someone else's child? Or, more
likely, will I get in trouble because I taught my child about sex at a young
age, my child repeated that information to another child, the other parent
found out, and the shit hit the fan?
Will my child find my stash of
vibrators and lube and erotica and become scarred for life?
Will my child come across my
published pieces? The ones that describe me trying out sex toys or getting down
and dirty with her father? The ones that reveal far more than any child needs
to know? What will I say if and when she does?
How do I teach her to love her body? And at the same time, how do I strike the right balance between teaching her to love her body and teaching her that people will see what they want to see no matter how she dresses?
But more than all of this, how do
I strike the right (age-appropriate) tone when I eventually talk to my daughter
about sex? How do I teach her that there's nothing wrong in finding pleasure in
sex but that, at the same time, that level of intimacy is a gift you give to
others when you're ready? How do I teach her to love her body? And at the same
time, how do I strike the right balance between teaching her to love her body
and teaching her that people will see what they want to see no matter how she
dresses? How do I convey to her that how she dresses is not an invitation? That
it is not consent? How do I help her make the right choices?
These are all things I'm anxious
about when I think about my role as her eventual sex educator. Luckily, I've
worked with sexuality professionals who know a thing or two about this topic.
Hell, they written the book(s) on it. There is Cory Silverberg's What Makes a Baby, for example, and
Logan Levkoff's Got Teens?
I still worry, though. Since
becoming a mother, worrying is my
primary activity. When it comes to sex, however, I can only hope that my
work in that area guides me. And that her eventual knowledge of my work makes
her feel comfortable coming to me with her questions when she's ready.