Candace Ganger
March 15, 2016 1:22 pm
NBC Universal

Sex has always been a complicated thing for me. Before I knew the definition or mechanics, it already felt too emotionally heavy. A number of personal factors that eventually came into play, like trauma in my past and reproductive health problems, mean that mention of the word “sex” is still enough to make me shut down completely.

When I was in school, some kids had “the talk” before we watched the vintage VHS that awkwardly described “intercourse” in the most basic ways. They all seemed to understand what was happening. I didn’t. As mortifying and horrific as it may be, I envy those who had an official speech from a trusted adult so this ball of anxiety-riddled confusion could be explained in a way I didn’t feel so violated or embarrassed every time the topic came up. Even as an adult (who now knows the definition and mechanics), I still struggle with the right words, and feelings, to convey the depth of emotion the act pulls loose. The older I get though, the more I realize how important it is to make things right with my children so, unlike me, they won’t confuse sex with self-worth or love with virginity. Or all the things in between that linger far into adulthood where they can ruin relationships and self-esteem altogether.

I developed young, around age eight, and had my first menstrual cycle soon after. Quite frankly, it was traumatizing. Thus began my journey of pre-pubescent confusion. Was I a girl? A woman? I wasn’t sure where I fit. I felt so completely alone. And to top it off, my weight ballooned so that I never felt at home in my own skin. Then, in high school when I began to date, my lack of love or sexual knowledge and understanding became more apparent while my peers seemed to surpass me. I had my first real kiss at 15, but even then always felt like I was doing something wrong. There was a shame I couldn’t escape because I didn’t love or respect myself and because sex became this monster I didn’t want to fight. It scared me and I wasn’t sure how to change that.

I hadn’t thought much about any of this until just the other day. In totally normal conversation with my 9-year-old daughter (who hasn’t had many questions about sex as of yet), we went from why Mommy has hormonal breakouts during a menstrual cycle to how her baby brother was made –all within five minutes. At first, the shock of the conversation consumed me. She’s still my baby, I don’t like to talk about any of it, and this is not how or when I planned to tell her these things. But there we were, right in the thick of it. I couldn’t run or hide from her sincere wonderment; I couldn’t distract her as I did when she was small. It was time to face my fear head on.

Throughout my childhood, I never had specific discussions about menstrual cycles, love, sex, or bodies. I heard about things from kids at school all the way back in elementary, rumors and gossip. Aside from that, the only references I had to these sensitive topics came in the form of my divorced parents’ tumultuous relationships with others (and each other), movies, and magazines. So how could I know what a positive image of sexuality felt or looked like? The answer is, I didn’t. Now that I have this tiny mirror—my daughter—I’m faced with trying to decipher the differences between positive and negative body image, self-esteem, self-worth, and how they are all directly tied to sex, development, respecting one’s body, and mostly, how we feel about ourselves.

It only took those few minutes standing under the harsh bathroom lighting to see all the things I needed when I was her age: answers, guidance, trust, respect. I couldn’t escape it—this wasn’t about her anymore. It was about coming to terms with my own sexuality and what it means for me now; as a woman, a mother, a wife.  All my fears and anxieties pertaining to sex and how connected, or for me, disconnected, one can become around sexuality—these are not her fears or anxieties. They are mine, and mine alone. In this moment, I had a choice.

I could hold onto all the negative thoughts and feelings regarding sex and, maybe not even intentionally, pass those onto her. Or, I could fight the feelings that make me uncomfortable and explain, both factually and emotionally, what sex means, what positive body image means, what self-worth means and how they are intertwined. That her body is hers and no one can invade it without her permission.

That no matter how out-of-place she may feel as she grows into the beautiful young woman I know she will, she can always come to me with questions or concerns. That I will not judge or berate or belittle. I will hold her in high esteem and show her how to love and respect herself so that the outside world’s negativity becomes only a muted murmur. So she will be confident and strong and sure of herself, her sexuality, and her identity without pause. And maybe, in all of this, she has taught me to do the very same for myself in return.

For that, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation, I am thankful.

Advertisement