Yesterday, I blogged about how dads must meet the challenge of honoring their adolescent daughters' desires--including sexual desire.
I want to be clear that none of these notions are incompatible with religious beliefs or spiritual traditions. I was raised in Roman Catholicism, often seen as one of the more repressed religious traditions on the subject of sexuality.
But during my 14 years in Catholic school, I learned that sexual feelings and actions were sacred and sacramental—in other words, they can (and should) be concrete, living signs of God’s love. Thus, the nuns’ reasoning went, the most intimate sexual activity should be deferred until after the sacrament of marriage.
Even the celibate Sisters understood that, as part of a sacrament, sexuality is also part of an individual’s spirituality.
I became a teenager in 1967, an era with different sexual "norms" than our kids encounter today. Nevertheless, human experience tends to transcend eras,
Fathers of any age can recall their lives as pubescent boys. Too often, however, that remembrance freezes in a knee-jerk, fear-driven, and inaccurate belief that we spent all our time trying to manipulate some suspecting girl into having sex with us. "All I cared about 24/7 (and, ergo, all that boys today care about) was getting laid!"
But the truth is, an honest, calm, and "whole" reflection on your teen years will reveal some complex, loving, and sacred threads woven into the fabric of your adolescence. You fell in love. You admired your beloved. You had to pump up your courage (or its weaker cousin, bravado) to state your feelings, ask for a dance, ask for a kiss, ask for a date, etc. Your experience had many more dimensions that the blood flow in your genitals.
Admit and accept that truth, and it's hard to deny that at least some boys today are having similar, complex, nuanced, human experiences.
Let's take my example, even though it's from another era. During the teen years, I only had sexual contact (during the first 5 years: kissing, hugging, fondling) with girls with whom I was in love. That means that there was an element of emotional and spiritual connection at work (even when my "love" was unrequited). We can argue about which came first -- the desire or the love -- but the point is that the two were connected.
Until we fathers accept that our children can also have this connection, we’ll just keep chasing ourselves in a circle trying to control our daughters’ sexuality -- something over which we have less control with every day older she gets.
If we spend all of our energies on saying no to our daughters’ sexuality -- and teaching them that they can only say no -- none of us win. Until we can trust girls to safely say yes to their sexuality and desire, we have not fully enabled them to say no to sexual manipulation, abuse and irresponsibility.
The point is simple: the confidence we have in our daughters’ sexuality will reflect the confidence we have in every other aspect of her life. The confidence we have in other aspects of their lives will reflect our confidence in a healthy sexuality for them. Neither we nor our girls can separate these sacred dimensions of our humanity.
What do you think? Share your perspective and experiences in the comments below.
(Adapted from my book Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter.)