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Parenthetical Sex

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Why is it when we become parents we lose our classification as sexual beings? I mean, come on, admit it, nobody, and I mean nobody likes to think about their parents having sex. It is as if the two roles aren’t compatible, but wasn’t it our exploits as sexual beings that brought us to the role of being parents in the first place? I had thought this was a perception primarily held by our own children, but I recently found out it reaches into the extended family.

One day my husband Doug was male bonding with my then 21-year-old nephew Josiah. They got into a discussion about the unique places they had had sexual experiences. Doug said, “Yeah, I remember that: the corn field, airplanes, the movie theatre, while driving down the highway at 80 miles an hour.” Josiah responded, “Yeah, those were the good old single days, huh?” To which my husband replied, “No, actually, that was all with your aunt Ann.” Josiah howled and slapped his hands over his ears, “Ahhh! No! I didn’t want to know that! It burns!”

Josey’s a smart guy. He knows we were young once and that we had to have sex at least once to have Carlos, so why is it so horrifying? On the other hand, I feel his pain. I remember a particular incident when I was eight-years-old that probably scarred me for life. I was riding in the car with my friend of the moment, Nancy, and we were giggling about the concept of oral sex. I made the socially suicidal move of asking my mother, who was driving us around, “You never did that, did you Mom?” She replied, “Oh sure! All the time! I loved doing that to your father!” I arrived at school the next day to find that Nancy had told all of our classmates. I swore then and there I would never, ever, discuss sex with my mother again.

When our kids are grown and off living their own lives, does our sexual being classification return? I think not, at least not from what I hear from external sources, and it isn’t just about being parents, but about aging. For some reason, in this country we don’t want to think about older adults as sexual creatures, particularly women (as my friend Kyle commented, old men are called distinguished while women are at best matronly, at worst hags).

What I’m trying to figure out is, why not? I’m beginning to think our need to be sexually validated by society is what gets us into trouble. When we’re five we play with Barbies, dressing their unnatural figures in form-fitting designer miniatures and shoving their tiny butts into the seats of molded plastic sports cars. When we’re twelve we can’t wait to grow breasts and wear high heels and lipsticks and catch the eye of the high school junior who looks like Justin Timberlake. When we’re nineteen we know we can’t be sexy unless we have the same bone-jutting figure as Kate Moss or squeeze into those low riding Seven jeans.

When we are middle-aged parents, we find the traditional qualities associated with sexuality no longer apply to us. The latest fashions aren’t designed for our figures. We don’t see women our age represented in beauty magazines, and the actresses our age in movies more often than not play the romantic lead’s mother. As far as the media is concerned, it’s just too late.

Perhaps we are the only ones who can give ourselves the approval to be sexually vibrant beings. Though I know this intellectually, it is still hard to make the two roles of parent and sexy adult work together. Years ago, our favorite time to make love was the morning — well rested, the sun streaming in the window, it was a lovely and relaxing hour — but with an early rising nine-year-old it is not so relaxing anymore, and certainly not private.

We adjust. We manage to sneak between the Wamsuttas amongst work, school, hockey parent, and household responsibilities. I’m still hoping that one day my inner-siren will return, all on her own, and not care what anyone thinks. Hopefully, by that time, Doug won’t be too damn tired to heed her call.

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • i share your frustration…we aren’t the only ones who can validate our own sexuality, but nurturing that network of friends and family who share the idea that women don’t outgrow themselves just because they’re no longer 25 can be difficult…

    role models are few and far between, and fashion is more self-help than anything else…what used to be shopping is now more scrapbooking for the body…it’s rather ridiculous…i shouldn’t have to pick between baring my tummy or draping it in several layers of fabric…where’s the in-between?

    i raised my kids (now grown) with the knowledge that sexuality is of a person – every person…our bodies and ourselves are to be protected, nurtured and respected…a fortunate byproduct of this approach is that they regard me the same way they do themselves…

    while we don’t share intimate, private details, our general regard for one another as people is mutual – rather than the “mom is the living dead” idea so many of their friends have for their mothers…

    the problems come with the rest of the world where other 45-year-old women, like myself, think we should all act and dress our age (a vague definition of mid-life, at best)…the funny thing is, my taste in clothing and my very mannerisms have become quite conservative over the past few years – and still i am “the flirty one”…i am a flirt, but i always have been and i flirt with everyone – men, women, children, birds at my feeder…

    it’s not so much that i don’t care what anyone thinks anymore as it is that i don’t feel responsible for how uncomfortable others feel when greeted head-on by someone who is okay in their own skin…