It’s Not All Mary Poppins

You Toucha My Daughter, I Breaka Your… Face

When I was a young married with a baby girl, our daughter’s father would joke that she wouldn’t be allowed to date until she was 35. Well, 30 if the prospective boyfriend was a member of the royal family. I’d laugh at his little joke, but it always annoyed me just a bit, though I wasn’t sure why. (The fact that it was feeble and repeated waaaaay too often didn’t help, but it was the actual content of the joke which bugged me.)

Not too long ago, some commenters on a blog I was visiting were speaking of the future dates of their infant girls. A couple of the daddy-types came out with the typical Big Protective Daddy comments. “The first guy to stick anything in her,” said one, “and I’ll stick something bigger into him.” (Charming, no?)

Here’s a thought that most parents of very small children don’t really understand: One day, you will be the parent of an adult.
Think about that for a sec. Your baby will one day be an adult. And you will still be the mom or dad. This is good, of course. This is why you strive so hard now – so that your child will one day be a fulfilled, contributing, card-carrying member of adult society.

It’s a long way from here to there. No surprise you can lose sight of the reality of the end goal. And how does we get that baby from totally innocent, helpless dependent, to fully-functioning adult, anyway?

Well, we don’t get them there by pretending that our children, boys and girls, will never be full adults, adulthood which includes sexual maturity. Just like learning to walk, learning to potty, developing language, gaining judgment and capacity for abstract thought, there is a developmental curve for sex and sexuality. This process takes years, of course, but eventually, children will become sexually mature adults.

As a parent, I have to accept that at some point, when he/she is ready, my child is going to have sex. All we parental types are still somebody’s kid, after all, and we’re all having, or have had, sex. Sex is normal, it’s inevitable, it’s healthy. (You know what? I’ve heard tell it’s even fun!!) Optimally, it will happen at the right time, with the right person; it will be respectful and caring. Optimally, it will be their choice. For both our sons and our daughters.

My baby girl is now almost twenty-one. I’d be a fool to pretend she’s not an adult in all senses of the word. I’ve been watching and guiding her passage into adulthood for a few years now. She’s a young adult – she’s got a lot of life, living, and maturing ahead of her (though she’s a very mature young woman for her age). She still needs my guidance from time to time. (And is now mature enough to actually seek it out!) Still, she is an adult. How can I be a resource to her as she manages this area of adult life if I’m pretending she’s still seven years old? If I deny her an active role, disallow her right to choose whether, when, and who – how does that help her?

Okay, now we’re coming to the crux of this post. Why did that stupid joke, why do those ‘protective daddy’ comments exasperate me so? Because they are based upon the assumption that females are passive recipients of sex. Females have no drives of their own, they have no sexual volition. They make no choices. If they are having sex, it’s because someone required it of them.

“My daughter couldn’t actually want to indulge with her boyfriend!” these parents wail. “It must be his idea, the filthy creep.” Well, I hope for your daughter’s sake that this isn’t true. I hope that the sex she has, happens when she’s ready, that it is joyful, respectful, mutually desired and mutually satisfying.

Just like you want for yourself.

Updated to add related link: Talk Sex with Mary
© 2006, Mary P

October 14, 2006 - Posted by | controversy, my kids, parenting, sex


  1. you have the same outlook my mom has. my dad, on the other hand, always said my sister and i couldn’t date until we were married. 😛 in practice, this was not true – we were allowed to date at 16 (and i even fudged that and started at 15), and he was very respectful of our boyfriends, as long as they were respectful, too. so i guess with him, he understood that his comments were just blustering. but i agree that my mom’s stance made a lot more sense, and ensured we shared a lot more with her.

    Comment by kari | October 14, 2006 | Reply

  2. Is it okay for me to still be in denial…for at least 10 more years?

    Comment by Undercover Mutha | October 14, 2006 | Reply

  3. Kari: So the parent who blustered less and allowed you the right to make decisions (and perhaps mistakes), got to hear more information, and thus got the chance to give guidance and advice that might actually be heeded?? I think there’s a lesson here… 🙂

    UMutha: Um, no, you may not. Or, perhaps I should say ‘conditionally’ – the condition being that you deal with her interest in her ‘parts’ without squeamishness, and answer any and all questions as they arise with clear, accurate and age-appropriate answers. How’s that?

    Comment by Mary P. | October 14, 2006 | Reply

  4. Excellent post. I think in our hearts Dads just want what is best for their daughters and we do not want our little girls to be the talk of the football team.
    The best we can do is raise them to have respect for themselves and to act accordingly.
    Parenthood? What a trip!

    Comment by Peter | October 14, 2006 | Reply

  5. My boyfriend’s mother is very much in denial that her children are (or will be soon for her youngest) adults. We were over there recently watching a movie and someone said a whole bunch of curse words in a row and she was worried that her twenty-two year old son had never heard those words before. Its a shame she hasn’t realized that her children have grown up since his one sister could definately use some unjudgemental guidence or at least some advice about birth control (although its too late for that now).

    Comment by Erin | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  6. ha. yes. i can’t quite get comfortable in that frame of mind yet w/ M, but yes, that is the direction i want to end up. and since she/we are already naming body parts and noticing the differences, so i am aware i need to get it together, and quick.

    Comment by jen | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  7. I’ve also got really annoyed whenever Aggie has made “jokes” about how he will sharpen his axe in front of any boyfriends the girls bring home. I’ve pointed out that such an attitude will merely ensure they never bring any home, not that they don’t have any!

    I’ve always thought it was a stupid attitude, just because it was denying their right to grow up, but perhaps you are right and it also about mysogeny – it is a purely female thing – he is quite happy for Mstr A to bring girlfriends home (although I’ ot convinced we’ll be seeing much of that too young with mstr A!).

    I shall have to think on it a bit. But i hope I will be able to bring my girls up to understand and appreciate sex for all it’s good & bad points, and to respect themselves enough to participate when ready. I really believe this is something that starts now – explaining both the how & the why in age appropriate terms, but not by witholding information u they are “old enough to understand”

    Comment by Juggling Mother | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  8. It would be nice for parents (mums or dads) to acknowledge that sex is a pleasurable, enjoyable part of life, and that their (adult) children have just as much right to it as they do.

    Appropriate sexual behaviour is an important milestone in our development, I fail to understand how parents (male or female) would want to deny their child the experience?

    {I think that almost qualifies as a rant, yes?}

    Comment by Karyn | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  9. Peter: Thanks. No parent wants their child to be promiscuous (which is what ‘talk of the football team’ suggests to me). I’m sure I’ll get no arguments from you when I say that children who get quality information from early on are far LESS likely to end up that way than kids whose parents ducked their heads whenever the topic arose.

    Erin: Oh, my. Concerned about cussing in front of a 22-year-old? That’s serious denial, all right. And the daughter is pregnant (unintentionally, I take it)? Well, it’s not surprising, but it is sad.

    Jen: This post focusses on larger concerns, ultimate goals. I’ve written another (now linked at the bottom of this post) that you might find a little more your speed just yet! She’s a baby, you take baby steps.

    Juggling Mother: such an attitude will merely ensure they never bring any home, not that they don’t have any! You’re so right. If they feel they have to keep their sexual development a total secret, you have no opportunity to be a resource to them. A recipe for disaster, I figure.

    Starting now is essential. Too many people talk with great discomfort of their memories of “the talk”. You know what? I don’t think my kids have a memory of “the” talk, because it wasn’t ONE talk, it was a natural strand of our interactions from before they remember much at all!

    (Though my son did laugh at me when I mentioned where we keep the condoms. “Yeah, mom, I know. You told me before and don’t worry, I’m not needing them yet.” I’m not entirely sure that latter is 100% accurate – it may be, but I suspect he’s awfully close – but the point is, he wasn’t embarrassed or annoyed, only amused at my absent-mindedness.)

    Karyn: Hello! Don’t think I’ve seen you here before. Welcome!

    Was that a rant? No more than my two posts on the subject have been! I see SO MUCH squeamishness about this subject (particularly on American blogs), and it makes me angry, because it’s doing the children SUCH a disservice. How will they ever learn to manage their sexuality in a wholesome, healthy way if their parents get weird or even angry whenever the subject comes up? It’s nuts. There are a tonne of parents out there – a TONNE – who can’t even manage to give their two-year-old proper names (or any names at all) for their genitalia, at least not without having fits. Nuts, I tell you.

    Now THAT was a rant. 🙂

    Comment by Mary P. | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  10. I’m a long way from having to worry about this, but, I hope when the time comes, I’m open and supportive of my daughter’s (and son’s) sexual curiousities. I want them to be informed, be knowledgeable, so when opportunities present themselves they are prepared to make a decision that is right for them.

    Comment by Mamacita Tina | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  11. I remember emailing you a year ago not knowing what to say or do when this subject came up. Do I ignore it? Address it in a manner that’s not really addressing it? Your advice, be honest, be open and use correct wording of sorts if I remember correctly.

    You saved me many a time this past year as my children have turned into teens with your direct honest approach. Talk in the KimmyK household is open, direct and above all else-honest.

    Thanks Mary P!

    Comment by kimmyk | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  12. Frankly, I think my (grown up) children have more problems about their parents’ sex life (that we may -shh do – have one) than we do with theirs, nowadays. Although I suspect my husband found it hard to deal with his little girl growing up, he never said a word out of place and I couldn’t have expected more of him.

    Comment by Z | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  13. I admit, it kills me to think of my babies as adults. Not because of the sex (oh dear god, they are going to do that…) but because I am afraid of losing them. I like being the centre of their world. Heck, I like being their ENTIRE world. It’s going to be hard to let go.

    Comment by AverageMom | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  14. Thanks for posting both Mary…having 2 daughters, I’ve thought about this for awhile now. My step-daughter, up until a year ago, thought she had a “little penis” because her mother couldn’t bring herself to tell her it was a vagina!! Monkey-Moo is just 20mths and we’re already talking about it, well because she keeps poking herself during diaper changes/bathtime. I’m the least person to be ashamed of my body…what I hope to accomplish with my dauthers is respect for their bodies, something I learned the hard way.


    Comment by Lillithmother | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  15. If those guys are anything like the ones I went to High School with, they’re afraid their daughters will be surrounded by guys just. like. them. 🙂

    Seriously, I think many guys look back at past behavior (on their part or the part of friends) and fear for their girl children because, let’s face it, girls stand more of a risk of being objectified as sex objects than boys. (wait! before you throw something at me, let me say that 1) I know there are boys who are sexually objectified [thanks, Mark Foley], but I don’t think it’s as widespread a part of the collective consciousness. I also know that women contribute to the problem as much as men, but the men you’re talking about might not see that, and 2) I totally agree that educating girls about this is the key. I just don’t think the guys were necessarily being sexist pigs but rather had a very real understanding and fear for what might await their daughters.)

    Comment by stefanierj | October 15, 2006 | Reply

  16. “As a parent, I have to accept that at some point, when he/she is ready, my child is going to have sex.”

    Well, sometimes kids are ‘ready’ to stick fingers in dogs’ noses too, and we try to stop that. A kid is going to be _able_ to have sex a good while before being _ready_ to do so. We daddies probably know better than anyone what’s going on when kids think they’re ready but they’re not.

    Comment by KC | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  17. Mamacita Tina: You’re a long way from worrying about them having sex, that’s for sure! But once they’re old enough to talk, they’ll soon be starting with the questions. As I said in the earlier post, it starts in baby steps.

    Kimmyk: That sounds like the sort of thing I say, all right. Glad it was helpful.

    Z: When my eldest was fifteen or so, she’d roar her disapproval if she came into a room and caught us kissing. “You GUYS!!!” To which we responded (with a grin) “If you can still be this happy to be with your spouse when you’ve been together for years, you will count yourself lucky.” And then of course, we’d go back to what she’d interrupted, there being a principle at stake! LOL

    AverageMom: Thankfully, maturity is a long, gradual process, and when it works out well, you’re ready to have them move on at the same time they’re ready to go.

    Lillithmother: One baby step at a time. If you follow their lead as they seek information from you, it’s a natural, easy, logical procession. Now’s the easy time; it’s when their in their teens that the dilemmas and decisions become more charged and weighted, and you’re right: respect for yourself and your body is what protects you from abuse and bad decisions.

    Stefanierj: You’re quite right: the men who do this are afraid of their daughters meeting their teen selves. I will tell you that these days, girls are far more likely to be sexually aggressive. They’re certainly capable of objectifying the guys. However, there’s no denying that it’s still far more men objectifying women than the other way around.

    There’s also no arguing that the men’s fears are well-grounded in reality. Thing is, what do you DO with those fears?

    I know it’s deeply engrained in the male psyche to be protective of the ones you love, and that’s a lovely thing. The impulse is good – the implementation not so much. Which is more useful? Making big, blustery comments about their boyfriends (which, as Kari, the first commenter noted, only ensured that she didn’t go to her dad for help/advice) or working to build up their self-respect, giving them good information, making sure you’re a good resource for them, so they won’t accept that treatment?

    KC: Hello, and welcome! At first I thought you were disagreeing with me, but I see you’re not. You write: A kid is going to be _able_ to have sex a good while before being _ready_ to do so. Absolutely! Which is why I used the word “ready” throughout. Of course, they may think they’re ready before they in fact are, and that’s a significant concern for parents of both genders, and not something I addressed directly in this post. Nor does it change my basic message: less bluster, more respect and information.

    I do wonder why you think daddies have the inside track on sexuality, though? Surely both parents have valid perspectives and insights to offer. Why do you feel daddies “knows better than anyone…”?

    Comment by Mary P. | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  18. I want to add that being embarrassed or being confined by one`s religios beliefs are NOT excuses to keep your kids ignorant. My own devoutly Catholic mother was (and still is) very squeamish about discussing sex or bodily functions(well, except her bowels, but that`s another story).

    When I was a pre-teen, my mother gave me some books for me to read about the changes about to happen to my body. When I was older, she gave me a book on basic sex stuff (complete with the information that when I read the part about masturbation, I should remember that it was against our religion!). All she said was, “Here — read this, and let me know if you have any questions,” no doubt hoping that I wouldn`t.

    When I was 16, a kindly counselor at a Planned Parenthood clinic filled in the gaps in my practical knowlege, but I give my mother lots of credit for what she did.

    Comment by L. | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  19. Very well put, Mary. I agree with all of this…but at the same time, because I grew up with the types of parents you’re talking about, I haven’t had this philosophy modeled for me, so I’m kind of going blind here. Hopefully you’ll still be blogging when my kids are old enough that I need to address this with them more directly. (And I don’t have daughters, which I know your post was about, but I think the mother-son relationship is critical when it comes to kids’ view of sexuality / privacy, etc.)

    Comment by Kristen | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  20. Thank you for this! my husband makes the same jokes, and I remind him that I was having sex at about 16 or 17 and because it was my choice, at the right time, with the right person, I have never regretted it. He used to be very protective of his younger sister when we first started dating too – she was my age, as I pointed out to him, and I was making the choice to have sex with him and we were BOTH quite happy about it.

    I think you are quite right that as long as we teach them to have a strong sense of self, to make choices, to insist that their partner value and respect them and be a true partner, to be careful in their decisions and in the situations in which they place themselves, to take care of their own health and to approach sex as seomthing that comes with responsability on both people’s parts, as long as we teach them our values around this, we have done what we can. And I think we will have taught them well. This worked for me – I may well have been an interested and sexual being, but I was never promiscuous, and because I was mindful, I have no regrets about how I claimed that part of myself when I was ready. I can wish no more than that for Pumpkinpie, and am quite prepared for my having to battle Misterpie over it down the road.

    Comment by kittenpie | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  21. Mary this was an excellent post! Should be required reading for every parent of a boy or a girl.

    I wish my own mother had read it … I am a 30-something year old woman who has been married for 7 years and has birthed a CHILD and she still is in denial that I have had sex. Made for postively closed communication when I needed it most.

    Its about open communication, education, respect and understanding. Threats and denial will get us no where.

    Comment by sunshine scribe | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  22. Oh thank you for this post! One of my friend’s husband always talks about sending his daugter to a convent and that she’ll never date and makes little (lame) jokes about the boys in the playgroup. I can’t stand it. It just makes me want to scream! I’m just happy to read that someone else feels this way and pointed out the misogyny that makes it infuriating.

    Comment by kate | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  23. L: Thanks for reminding me of this aspect of the situation. Your religious heritage may make you uneasy with the topic (though many who have a personal faith are not sexually repressed), but uneasiness isn’t an excuse for not educating your child, and not all people of faith use it that way.

    Kristen: Your boys are too little to be concerned about them having sex just yet (though I know you know they will, one day), but I’ll bet they’ve asked some direct questions! I somehow can’t imagine Bryce not having more than a few, once he stumbles onto the subject… Just be cool, be factual, and give them short, clear, non-evasive answers, and you’ll do fine! (On the issue of non-evasive answers: if a child asks a question of your own sex life that you find too personal, you are perfectly within your rights to say, “That’s private between me and daddy.” That’s not evasive, that’s clear communication of boundaries.)

    Kittenpie: That paragraph beginning “as long as we…” is terrific. We all need to strive for this; if you manage it, you’ve done well! It’s much harder to do all that, carefully and mindfully, than it is to issue commands, demands, and ultimatums, or to simply pretend it’s not happening, or deny your teen’s sexual volition. But which set of responses protects our children better?

    Sunshine Scribe: Thank you. Hard to fathom someone who can’t manage the topic with a married adult child. That’s some serious denial. I’m guessing that at your age, you’ve found yourself the supports you need in this, as in other areas of your life. But I’ll bet at 16, you probably needed a little more…

    Kate: Mysogyny it is. It’s also a little twisted to attribute sexual awareness and impose sexual mores on the interactions of toddlers. Ick.

    Comment by Mary P. | October 16, 2006 | Reply

  24. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for this post, and I’m going to link it from both of my blogs.

    I’ve said of my daughter (only two now) that I KNOW she will have sex someday, and my hope is that it’s her decision and that it’s fabulous. My current relationship is the first (FIRST!) ever where I’ve had no ambivalent/guilty feelings related to sex — and I’m 35 years old!

    How sad is that, that in trying to “protect” their child from something, my parents unwittingly screwed up a part of my life that should, instead, have been beautiful? They meant well…

    Comment by Alli | October 17, 2006 | Reply

  25. […] children stand a far better chance of getting to be healthy adults with healthy sexuality if we act like adults ourselves, instead of sniggering 9-year-old boys or simpering 9-year-old girls. Grow up, […]

    Pingback by There are no secrets « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | November 15, 2012 | Reply

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