It’s been nearly a month since I read the article on Motherlode pitting parenting against passion.
Lisa Belkin was following up on “Fear of Flying” author Erica Jong’s recent ruminations on women and sex.
Or lack of sex.
Among younger women, younger mothers in particular, Ms. Jong notes an apparent lessened interest in sexuality. She associates it with – among other things – increasingly involved parenting.
Is this media hype? Promotional posturing?
In “Is Sex Passé?” Ms. Jong comments, relative to a group of female fiction writers:
I was fascinated to see, among younger women, a nostalgia for ’50s-era attitudes toward sexuality. The older writers in my anthology are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy.
Is the premise that today’s women are missing out, that motherhood is stealing time for sex, drive for sex, enthusiasm for creative sex – and oh by the way – monogamy is bad?
Are we truly so engaged in caring for kids that everything else pales in comparison – including making love to the ones we love?
Will all the women who agree please stand up? Oh, I imagine you’re sitting down. And the men? (Come on guys. You can do it. Let us know what you really think.)
Not quite so cut and dry?
Forgetting the “monogamy” part of the equation for a moment, what about Junior taking precedence over Dear Old Dad? Mom glued to her smart phone, her laptop, her carpool schedule, and Dad thinking that since he cleared the dishes and tidied the bathroom – maybe tonight he might get lucky?
Sexual Revolution, Sexual Evolution
Here’s the gist as I see it: Ms. Jong’s fame grew out of a controversial book in a heady time (1973) – a time of feminist enthusiasm and female sexual exploration, including with more than one partner.
Some 40 years later, Jong is trotting out the same old shtick – or is she? Could it be that she’s observing what many of us have – these observations unsupported by “data” but no less worthy of discussion? After all, motherhood is more involved than it was three or four decades ago. We are more fretful, we are more cautious, we are more hands-on.
But what of the issues Jong is ignoring? Aging and sexuality in a culture that worships the tummy tucked body? Depression and sexuality, fatigue and sexuality?
Maybe we’ve journeyed from sexual revolution to sexual evolution. And that isn’t a destination; it’s a voyage all its own.
Sex on Life Support?
Ms. Jong continues:
Sex itself may not be dead, but it seems sexual passion is on life support.
She goes on to point the finger at the Internet, motherhood, and a general swing toward more conservative ideas. And frankly, she makes some excellent points.
But I don’t believe that sexual passion is on life support. I do believe that the La-La-Land we lived in the 70s is over. Cue the passing of another generation. Cue the hardships of the current economy. And yes, cue the Internet. We simply don’t need to talk about sex the way we did in the 70s – which doesn’t mean we don’t need to talk about sex – with our partners as lovers, and with our children as parents.
As for desire?
Oh, I doubt that we’ve cast off desire for romance or eroticism. Desire doesn’t disappear once the wedding ring is slipped on and the infants are birthed. Well, depending on our hormones and our sleep deprivation.
Still, we don’t stop fantasizing, we don’t cease yearning, we don’t relinquish dreaming because of marital status or stress or aging. Not in my experience… thus far.
We do cycle in and out of sexual desire as with anything else. There is no static state; rather, desire ebbs and flows, reviving with changing life circumstances, when worries ease, when issues clarify. Libido lessens when we’re depressed (or medicated), and blossoms when we’re whisked off to a new location.
And let’s not ignore reality: stress will impact your sex drive.
Making Time for Making Love
“You’ll have to schedule nights out and schedule your lovemaking.”
That was the prevailing wisdom I heard years ago – when marriage was new and babies were young. I was tired, but I still didn’t believe it. Dumb. Very dumb. I learned otherwise, and I learned the hard way.
Last month’s bills on the table? Dinner burning on the stove? Kids screaming in the living room? My boss on the answering machine?
Not so much.
Mothering doesn’t shove aside sex; engaged parenting doesn’t drain us of desire. However, if we’re spending round-the-clock hours in domestic duties and impossible juggles, time will run out, as will our energy.
Ms. Jong may bring no data to bear, and I find plenty of contradictions in what she’s saying. Yet her commentary is based on life experience, and is there a woman of 45 or 55 or 65 who won’t attest to recognizing some measure of what she has identified – to observing the shift in the importance of parenting over partnering – not to mention the swing back to more conservative “positions” on sex?
I specify the 45+ crowd precisely because we have points of comparison (to our own childhoods), and also because we are likely to be beyond the baby stage – those first years of sleepless nights – and consequently, assumptions that life (and sex schedules) would “return to normal.”
In reality, many of us morph from infant interruptions to carpool conundrums, from sitter snafus to tween and teen tantrums. We live two decades of good times and bad – wearying and worrisome when we do it alone, and almost as much for those who share the pleasure. And parenting is pleasure – as well as work.
Sex – 10 minutes; Motherhood – 10 hours
Did motherhood play a role in getting us here? I’d say yes.
But what about divorce? What about the economy? What about the cost of of childcare options? What about families geographically dispersed? What about increasingly competitive preschools and private schools, as public education deteriorates with fewer tax dollars?
Can we really disregard the inherent social issues that filter into family life?
It’s worth noting that Ms. Belkin’s article includes a rebuttal from a young woman who is a 31-year old mother of a 5-month old. She lucidly defends her right to monogamy, the stability of her marriage, the shared parenting roles she enjoys – which she attributes at least in part to her feminist foremothers. She insists that motherhood doesn’t trump sex in marriage.
But as one (older) Motherlode reader points out – the experience of one child, still a baby, is a far cry from what happens over the years. And I agree.
Does that lessen her argument and reinforce Ms. Jong’s?
Hell – I believe in monogamy. I believe in sexual experimentation when you aren’t married – safely please. I also believe in sexual playfulness with the one you love – your partner, your spouse.
Is it possible to live with the same man or woman for 40 years, or 50, or 60 – as your only sexual partner? You tell me.
All things considered, I give a few rounds to Ms. Jong for reminding us to reconsider our priorities. I give another round to the young mother for her beautiful words and determined outlook. I give a nod to the inevitable weight of time and fatigue – and to the sustaining will of those who are willing to exercise the right hook, the left jab, the defensive maneuvers of hanging on to their family units – understanding that the building blocks of our “village” must include jobs, employment flexibility, affordable health care, rational educational opportunities, and a culture in which the elusive “balance” is no longer quite so elusive.
Three Cheers for This Vision!
Meanwhile, I will stand up and cheer for these words from Ms. Jong:
Different though we are, men and women were designed to be allies, to fill out each other’s limitations, to raise children together and give them different models of adulthood. We have often botched attempts to do this, but there is valor in trying to get it right…
We may differ on where we are. We may differ on what it takes to get us to feel like allies again. And I daresay – women need to see each other as allies, too. And yes, there is valor in trying to get it right.
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