Caught between a generation of “you only get to sleep with the person you’re going to marry” and “you only get to sleep with the people who swipe right,” it’s no wonder Gen X women often struggle with what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to sex.
Some of us were lucky enough to be born to boomers who participated in the free-love movement, but more of us came from families still struggling to maintain the traditional values their parents instilled in them in order to reign in some sort of control over the chaos of the sexual revolution—and the chaos of teenagers.
In my generation, the idea that you—and by “you” I am obviously referring just to girls because the 80s and 90s weren’t anything if not grossly chauvinistic—only had sex with your husband was still prevalent. The good news was thinking had evolved enough to make it okay to sleep with your fiancé once you got the ring, instead of waiting until your wedding night. Our parents prided themselves on considering the virgin-bride-in-white to be an old-fashioned, out-of-date notion.
That didn’t mean there weren’t rules. And judging. And shaming.
My own mom considered herself progressive. She didn’t think you needed to be engaged before you … well, engaged, but she did believe you should ONLY sleep with people you love. And you should probably date that person for … three? five? years before you gave it up. She was rather vague on the timeline. It was couched in a highly subjective, “you’ll know when the time is right,” which is clearly the best advice you can give a teenage girl with confusing new hormones and abundance of self-confidence issues, resulting in an inordinate desire to please her boyfriend in order to “keep” him. This scenario may sound like it’s personal only to my situation, but I’m fairly sure I speak for at least 90% of 90’s teenage girls. And regardless of the lack of a detailed timeline, the overarching message was clear: Screw ‘em too early and you’re screwed.
Shame for All
I came from a generation of slut shaming. But also, of virgin shaming. It was a confusing time. And the window of time where you balanced between the two was distressingly narrow and undefined. The closest thing we came to the judgement-free world of “YOU DO YOU” we live in today was Blanche Devereaux. You do you, you absolutely golden girl, you. But even she got judged and shamed and teased regularly on the show by her peers—by her BFFs. Thank you for being a friend, indeed.
The backlash of growing up this way means when it comes to giving our own daughters advice, we are stuck in the “its complicated” status. A lot of us still feel that pressure of “too early, too many” means you’re a freak; but also, “too few, too late” means you’re a freak. And in our days, “freak” wasn’t a compliment. There’s literally an entire show dedicated to how un-complimentary that term was for us.
Logically, I know times have changed. And we modern moms pride ourselves on thinking that a “right” number of people to sleep with, a “right” age to lose your virginity are old-fashioned, out-of-date notions. But the labels we were given as girls get sewn into our mom genes—it’s hard not to pass them on. We still remember the sting of “slut,” of “easy,” of “whore.” It was like a reputation sniper tracked every decision you made, every “base” as you progressed, and once you went too far, he took you down in the blink of an eye with a bullet you’d never recover from.
So, we struggle. We want to empower but also protect. We want to trust but also shelter. Are we the mom who says sex is evil? Or are we the mom who lets their teenagers have co-ed sleepovers and leaves a bowl full of condoms next to the condiments. Added to that is the constant mom concern of, “what will the other moms think of my decisions” because while our daughters are less likely to get judged in today’s world, we fear (read: know) we still will.It’s both gratifying and terrifying that the “rules” no longer seem to exist. Gratifying because it frees our daughters to experiment, experience, and endeavor without fear (as long as they are safe). But terrifying because it’s a lot easier to say, “well EVERYONE knows three is the right amount of people to sleep with…” Now we have to let go of our baggage, trust our instincts, and make personal calls on what is right and what is wrong.
A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.