A couple of summers ago, during lunch with my mom and one of her oldest friends, I was excitedly telling them about my first story to go viral, which was about a young woman who was committing to blogging about one hundred dates. Not only was I pumped about the fact that I was the first person to report on her story, but I also loved the entire concept of her experiment. All of those dates! So honest! So sex-positive!
My mom’s best friend — who loves me like a much-spoiled niece — waited until I was done gushing and then said, “What’s the big deal?”
She didn’t get why it was radical for a young woman to go on so many dates with so many different men. “Well, she does sleep with a lot of them…” I explained. “So what?” she said. “In my day sleeping with a bunch of guys in a summer wouldn’t be anything crazy.”
That was the moment I realized that what I think is really radical and sex-positive must look so lame to women of my mom’s generation. It was one of those times when you’re like, "oh, yeah, my mom had a life before I was born. And, oh, yeah, that sexual revolution thing? That wasn’t just history books for her; that was her life." We like to think that society continually moves forward all of the time, always progressing, always getting better, but all it takes is one conversation with someone who came of age in the '60s and '70s to see that sometimes society takes big, massive steps backward instead.
I’m continually amazed and humbled by the things that my mom’s friends did — and do — that make them so much more sex-positive and radical than me and my friends. Here’s a list of just a few:
1. When They Had Multiple Boyfriends
Think non-monogamy is some kind of new, trendy thing? Think again. My mom’s friends were practicing it before any of my friends were even born.
One of them showed me a picture of when she lived in The Haight in San Francisco in ’68. She pointed to a guy standing behind her and said, “That one was my boyfriend.” Then she pointed to the guy crouching in front and said, “Of course, I was sleeping with him too.”
2. When They Told Me Their Period Stories
I got my period when I was 10, and my mom handed me a binder full of stories from her friends and family. They’d each written out their own stories of the first time they got their periods and what their periods meant to them as grown women. It was an amazing example of sisterhood in a time when my friends were all blushing and screaming “EW!” at even the mention of the word “tampon.”
3. When They Looked At Their Vulvae And Vaginas In Mirrors
My mom’s mom managed to tell her how to insert a tampon without ever using the word “vagina,” which makes the fact that she and her friends got up close and personal with their vulvae back during their conscious-raising days even cooler.
4. When They Insisted On Their Right To Orgasm
This is one that makes me really sad when I think about how far backward we've gone. My mom's friends would never dream of continuing to have sex with someone who didn't care about their orgasms, and yet I hear from women my age and younger all the time who aren't getting off and don't stand up for their right to orgasm. I say, take an example from your foremothers, ladies, and don't let them just roll over and fall asleep! Your orgasm is important too!
5. When They Bought Their Daughters And Nieces Our Bodies, Ourselves
My mom also encouraged me to take a look at my own vulva — and to learn every other thing about my body — when I was teenager when she gave me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. That book helped me figure out how my body worked and also made me really proud to be a woman. I’m lucky — a lot of my friends don’t even know that the outside parts are of their genitals are called the “vulva,” not the “vagina.”
6. When They Stopped Shaving
I shave my legs and my armpits, but my mom doesn’t shave and a bunch of her friends don’t either. And while I’d like to tell myself that it’s 100 percent my choice to shave, the reality is that we live in a culture that heavily leans on us to get rid of our body hair and I have totally caved to that. But that also means I appreciate and respect just how badass and bold it is for women like my mom to not shave. I can only hope to be so badass some day.
Images: Giphy (6); Courtesy of Stu McGowan