My parents were very strict and used religion to justify our oppressive lifestyle. Though I had little freedom, it did not stop me from wanting to date or explore my sexuality. At school, I had open discussions about sex and relationships with my friends during lunch break. I was a virgin, but I did not disparage the girls who were sexually active.
Being a fraternal twin taught me the double standards between men and women early. While I was perpetually grounded in an effort to prevent me from seeing my boyfriend, my parents ignored the fact that my twin was sexually active. But, being a “good girl” never won me any brownie points. I was expected to stay a virgin as long as I lived under their roof.
We never had an open conversation about sex, but my parents’ message to me was loud and clear: Don’t do it. My mom and dad were childhood neighbors that became young parents; they never understand the concept of dating. To them, dating was just a precursor to sex. My mother carried the shame of teen pregnancy into her adult years, and I would not be allowed to repeat the cycle.
After graduating from high school, I lost my virginity to my high school sweetheart. I bought into the fantasy, thinking I would fall in love with my Prince Charming, marry him and live happily ever after. Once we were engaged, I discovered he was not so charming after all. We had grown apart, and I did not respect the person he was becoming. I enlisted the help of friends to make my escape, moving out of our apartment while he was away at work after a particularly volatile fight.
I wanted to see the world, so I enlisted in the military. After training, I was stationed in California, nearly 3,000 miles away from my family. Once there, I met up with a cousin who worked in the modeling industry and tagged along on her escapades. It was liberating. While I had my fair share of sexual exploits, I was keenly aware that monogamy eliminates the chance of being labeled a “freak,” “slut,” “whore,” “trick,” or any other derogatory term applied to sexually experienced women. So, I played it safe, marrying the first cute guy who brought me to orgasm.
As it turns out, that is not the best way to pre-qualify a husband. I filed for divorce 8 months later. Still searching for love, I entered a string of bad relationships with men who did not even love themselves. After my second divorce, I took a year off to focus on rebuilding my life. The next time around, I was determined to date without expectations and left my inhibitions behind. Dating was exciting and sex became fun. I was in my 30s before I finally learned how to be comfortable in my skin and own my sexuality. After I learned how to live life on my own terms, I attracted a partner who was worth holding on to.
When I reflect on my childhood, I know there are things I will do differently as a parent. I view my children as these beautiful little beings who were put on earth for me to guide into adulthood, not to bully, judge or control. I want to teach them to love their bodies and accept sexuality as a natural part of life. Life is too short to spend it trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations; they must follow their own path.
Now that I have a daughter, I wonder how I can raise her in a way that cultivates a sense of independence, preserves her self-esteem and teaches her to protect her mind, body and spirit. I know firsthand how harshly society treats women, and it is scary knowing I will not always be there to protect her. I often stare at her, wondering what adventures she will experience and what paths she will blaze. She will fall in and out of love, and I can only guess how many panic attacks her father and I will suffer in the process. I am sure there will be many.
I think of her future in abstract terms, knowing I might be asked for my input but she will make her own decisions. I will not attempt to control how she loves, or whom she loves, and there is nothing she can do to make me love her less. I will protect her heart before she is old enough to give it away and only hope we can have honest discussions about sex that leave her empowered to make healthy choices. I want her to have freedom, knowing she will always have her mother as an ally.