embroiled in work procrastinating on Twitter when I saw it pop up in my feed: a retweet of a tweet in which a woman compared two bologna sandwiches to two different types of vaginas:
My head immediately exploded.
Then, once the smoke had cleared, a string of thoughts crowded into my head all at once, elbowing each other for the prime spot in my psyche.
Slut shame much? I immediately thought.
Then: #NotAllChristians, I noted.
Do you even know how vulvas and vaginas work!? I wanted to scream next.
And then: Those poor girls are going to grow up to hate their bodies, and to be ashamed and afraid of their own sexuality.
I felt deep regret, and the overwhelming urge to kidnap those girls in order to save them from their own mother. To save them from the inevitability of what would surely be a very rocky road into womanhood.
Finally, I felt rage.
Not knowing how to handle these feelings, I tweeted out a cluster of my favorite, vulva-themed pieces of artwork, wanting to show the variety and beauty of women's bodies, and wanting also to convey that one's sexuality is a positive thing that must be nurtured as an integral part of one's overall health and well-being. I knew I was only preaching to the choir and pissing off the people who would likely never agree with me. But what else could I do?
I write about sex for a living. And lately, because I have a two-year-old daughter, my focus has been on sexuality education. I even volunteer my writing to a local sex ed organization because I want to use the skills I have at hand to advocate for better sex-ed. After all, the state of sex ed in our country as it stands is only failing our sons and daughters.
But over time, it's become clear to me that this education has to start even before those school district-approved classes kick off for our kids.
Only in educating themselves can mothers avoid passing harmful messages on to their children.
And it has to start before mothers even begin to teach their kids about privacy and boundaries and sexual decision-making and the appropriate terminology for genitalia. (And I write this knowing that many mothers will never undertake this aspect of their children's education, preferring, instead, to wait for their school system to pass along the limited bits of knowledge they are legally mandated to pass along.)
Rather, this education has to start with mothers themselves, mothers who perhaps have never been properly educated about healthy sexuality, mothers who don't realize that a strong sexual education will only enable them to protect their sons and daughters. Only in educating themselves can mothers avoid passing harmful messages on to their children.
I acknowledge that, because of the diverse range of faith and cultural backgrounds that exist, the sexual values I impart may be different from the sexual values other mothers feel comfortable imparting to their own children. But there are certain messages I'd like to assume we all want to avoid disseminating to our daughters:
1. Your sexual status is a measure of your worth.
2. Your sexuality is a source of shame, and should be stifled/protected/hidden at all costs.
3. The way your body looks is a measure of your worth, and is possibly indicative of how sexually active you are, you dirty slut.
4. If you have sex, your body will shrivel up into a deformed, ugly thing that no one could ever possibly want.
5. In fact, sex is terrifying, and can only result in terrible things.
6. For that reason, you should never want sex. Sex is merely a marital obligation and/or a means of procreation.
7. While we're at it, you should cover up your body. Men can't control themselves, and so their urges are your responsibility.
8. If you are sexually assaulted, it is in some way your fault.
9. If you didn't say no, you obviously meant yes.
10. And in conclusion, it's probably best to just shut your legs and your mouth.
All of the above messages are absolute bullshit, but they are also messages our daughters learn as they grow into womanhood, through direct or indirect messaging. They are messages that we, as mothers, need to actively combat.
Is it too presumptuous of me to assume you agree they're bullshit, too?