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What’s a Babe Like You Doing In The Mother ‘Hood?

Marcy
Hot Flash: The latest trend in porn video is older women getting it on with younger men. We’re not talking thirty- or even forty-year olds here; we’re talking about the fifty- to sixty-five-year-old demographic.

The mature-woman genre is growing so rapidly that next month it will be inaugurated as a category at the AVN {Adult Video News} awards, the Oscars of the skin trade.

And I’m not quoting from some rah-rah sex-positive propaganda sheet pushing sex toys to elders, or even an article from nerve.com. This is mainstream, honey—the lead story in the December 31st Sunday Styles section of the New York Times.

Some of the stars of what’s called granny porn by fetishists, and older-women porn by the tamer majority of the industry, are actresses coming out of retirement—but most are ordinary women, “Housewives Unleashed,” as one video names them. One woman followed her starlet daughter to the San Fernando Valley studios; another was an accountant emboldened to audition after winning an amateur contest in Hustler.

What the hell? Did we just take a giant leap across the exhausted bodies of long-suffering mamas to liberate American grandmothers? I’m not saying they–actually, we–don’t deserve it, but we’ve missed a crucial step here. Back in the day, mothers complained that in society’s (read: male) eyes we lost our mojo the minute we gave birth, and from what I gather through the ether, this isn’t an aspect of motherhood that’s undergone radical change.

Granted, sexy mamas made some progress in the nineties: a very pregnant Demi Moore posed naked on the cover of Vogue; Susie Bright used her vibrator to masturbate her way through labor. And both women went further than mere symbolism: Bright has remained a sex activist well into her daughter’s adolescence, fearlessly speaking out and writing the way she always did, her material now including the raising of a daughter with sexual honesty. Demi Moore starred in Striptease, which, being a dismal specimen of filmmaking, never got credit for its radical statement. In Striptease, Moore’s real-life daughter watched from the wings while her mother pole-danced before a roomful of ogling men. The audience was supposed to be horrified; Moore’s character, doing her motherly duty, tried to instill sexphobia in her daughter—but the child seemed to suffer no trauma, or even confusion. Not only did Moore’s character retain her dignity, she retained parental custody as well. Most significantly, it wasn’t just any child actor admiring any actress-cum-stripper—this was the real daughter of her real mother– quite a departure from the usual portrayal of apple-pie motherhood.

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In the new millennium, a media-hyped celebrity baby boom may be shifting the image of motherhood in American culture: Angelina or Britney or Meg drop a baby into the world, then immediately don their little black dresses and go back to being fabulous. But ordinary folk tend to feel fairly separate, with good reason, from the rich and famous. New mothers are still complaining that, in the male gaze at least, their breasts changed overnight from delicious sex toys to delicious milk containers.

This whole issue has plagued me since the day I failed to check my libido at the delivery room door. True, the fight began way before I became a mother: female sexuality is sufficiently complicated and distorted in our culture with or without the kid element, and the battle becomes crystallized during adolescence. Still, motherhood gives sex a brand new twist. A child of the fifties, I spent years repressing my sexuality. Supposedly freed by marriage, for a (very) brief period I let it rip. Then I had a baby, and it was back into the closet once more.

Worse than being counted out sexually was being judged when I refused to be. Even when a mother manages to throw off the yoke of frumpiness, she quickly discovers it’s against the rules to look or act too sexy. Just let any mother show up at a PTA meeting in a mini-skirt and low-cut t-shirt, for instance, and the good townsfolk will point and whisper: she’s inappropriate. She’s a bad role model. The notion that children must never suspect their parents of engaging in sexual activity is so deeply entrenched in American culture, we accept it as natural. We laugh, even think it’s cute, when kids express disgust at the mere suggestion their parents “do it.” When the primary parent is a divorced female, sex isn’t even part of the equation.

I knew–I still know—divorced mothers of my generation who would not take a lover, or would do so only when the kids were with their father or otherwise absent, out of fear she’d traumatize them. I know single mothers who, despite the sexual revolution, dared not let a lover stay overnight, lest they lose child custody–not an entirely irrational fear (see The Good Mother, book by Sue Miller; movie starring Diane Keaton). I know mothers who went without sex for so long they found it natural, even after the kids were grown, to remain permanently celibate.

I was not one of these women. It never occurred to me to sequester sex from my life as Mommy—and I was not alone. Many of us were determined to raise our kids differently from the way we were raised; we believed that if we modeled sex as a natural part of life, they’d grow up free of what we referred to as hang-ups. Thus, my children saw lovers come and go with the same casual treatment as dinner guests. They took late-night and sleepover visitors for granted; sometimes these men would accompany us to the supermarket or the zoo the morning after. Whether my lovers hung around for a weekend or a year, they invariably taught my kids some vitally needed life skill like origami, guitar frets or the hidden meaning of Grateful Dead lyrics.

When the kids were small, they took it for granted that Mommy hugged and kissed some men—it was unremarkable, since I hugged and kissed my women friends as well. Lovers drifted in and out of our household along with friends and political activists–to share a meal, a joint, a song, and, sometimes, Mommy’s bed. They were too young to judge or condemn any of this–besides, they were having a great time with the colorful characters who populated our lives. But gradually, things changed. The older they got, the more cognizant they became of taboos. And these taboos became more pronounced as the social atmosphere changed: what we called free love was less and less tolerated.

One kind of sexuality that was never tolerated all that much among the hippie crowd was gay sexuality. For a few years, when my kids lived with their father, I had a sexual relationship with a woman. I didn’t take pains to hide it when the kids visited, but I didn’t make a big announcement either. One night after they moved back in with me, at ten and twelve years old, my daughter asked out of the blue, “Ma, have you ever been in love?”

We were preparing dinner; I kept my eyes glued to the chopping board. “Have I ever been in love? You know I have.”

“With who?” she asked.

“Well–with your father, believe it or not. And with Ken. And Alan…” I paused for a brief moment, then decided it would be a travesty not to add, “and Stephanie.”

“Stephanie?!”

“Yeah. I guess you never noticed.”

Silence. Perhaps she was adding two and two: remembering our outings with Stephanie, or our theater group, whose rehearsals she’d loved to watch. Ironically, her favorite records in my collection at that time were, in sweet naiveté, the lesbian band Deadly Nightshade, and Meg Christian’s Ode to a Gym Teacher. None of that, as it turned out, helped.

“What do you think?” I asked, looking closely at my daughter’s scrunched up face. I laughed uneasily. “Do you think I’m a freak?”

“No,” she said, slowly and thoughtfully, “I think you’re a ho-mo-sex-u-al.”
“Huh? I just named three men I’ve loved.”
“If you love women then you’re ho-mo-sex-u-al.”

My son wandered into the kitchen, and she told him the shocking news. I asked him if he thought I was homosexual. He spread his arms in his signature gesture and said, “Whatever.” Like most pre-adolescent boys, he’d learned to hide his feelings.

A week after this incident, a woman friend who the kids adored came to visit for the weekend. As M. and I sat on my bed talking, my daughter cracked open the door without knocking, and peeked inside. Later on, M. and I had a good laugh about it—but what I didn’t realize was that this was an omen: in the coming years my daughter would distrust me more and more. Whenever I was around her friends or their parents, she seemed to be on pins and needles; if a conversation veered remotely near anything sexual, she changed the subject. She was afraid, I realized, that I’d say or do something entirely inappropriate.


By the time they graduated high school, my son thought his kooky mom was “a hoot,” while my daughter was mortified by me. Their positions gradually solidified, and remain mostly unchanged today. Though my kids were nearly middle-aged when I made something of a name for myself in the erotic literary genre, I constantly worried about its effect on them. That might sound strange—what with all my righteous ranting on the subject, you’d think I’d feel comfortable living by my principles. You’d think I’d have no qualms or regrets for the way I raised my kids. But nothing could be further from the truth. Now, when “age-appropriate” theories of child-rearing are all the rage, I have to remind myself that I wasn’t just being “a bad mother,” that at the time I honestly believed what I was doing was the right thing—and not just where sex was concerned. I believed that children learn by example: they would read because there were books all over the house; they’d learn to say please and thank you because I did; they’d treat people kindly because they lived among gentle people. I was not from the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school of child rearing. Okay, so I probably espoused a laissez-faire attitude partly out of laziness: it was admittedly easier to impart values in the normal course of everyday life than to make a concerted parental effort. But at the time, I genuinely believed I was doing right by them.

I didn’t count on society’s influence, which was considerable. After the hippie candle briefly flickered and died, I was pretty much alone in the free-love department. The times they were a-changin’–and so was I, but instead of “settling down” like a lot of my hippie friends, I kept on moving. When I began writing and publishing pornography, I used a pseudonym so as not to embarrass my children—until I got to San Francisco and found support in the evolving sex-positive movement.

With the kids grown and on their own, I’m free to live as I please, sexually and otherwise. Even now, though, I often feel guilty about the work I do; there’ve been plenty of dues to pay. As for my child-rearing philosophy, it’s taken a 360-degree turn. According to age-appropriate child developmental theories, I exposed my kids to more than they were prepared to digest—especially since they already had a pretty full plate.

These days I’m in observation mode: I’m watching the mothers and kids of coming generations, particularly the children of mothers who work in the sex field. I’m curious to see how kids raised “sex positive” from the get-go turn out. Will they be proud of the work their mothers do? Will they rebel by joining chastity clubs? Hide in a convent or ashram? Grow up confused and overly promiscuous? Or will they be, as I hope and imagine, sexually healthy adults who appreciate their mothers’ work as well as her parenting?

One thing’s for sure: it ain’t over till the sexy lady sings.

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4 responses »

  1. Your post raised two thoughts that I felt deserved some comment:

    First, from a middle age male perspective, I’d have to say the explosion of granny porn is a thirst for more realism and less cartoonish repetition — or maybe Oedipus still reigns supreme.

    Second, dealing with your sexuality with your children is always a mine field. I was heartened to hear your experiences. My two daughters are on the cusp of adulthood and raising daughters as a single dad presents its own set of awkward moments, full of potential pitfalls.

  2. T.W.–I actually welcome this trend of older women in porn videos–I guess I should’ve made that clear. I just wanted to point out that the image of women who’re in the middle of the active phase of mothering are seen as asexual. And I’m sure that dealing with your kids and your sexuality is tricky for men too, albeit in different ways. Thanks for commenting.

  3. callmegrandmaandillkillu

    I’ve just read many of your posts and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Your writings stir something within me. Thank you.

    My partner and I have three boys. Our oldest has the hardest time dealing with our relationship but loves both of us. He is on the cusp of adolescence and has no idea how to deal with any of this. We are working with him but there will come a day…There is a 16 year age difference between my partner and myself, and he has to deal with this aspect as well. (Don’t we all? Hence my blog title.)
    What he sees is love, nurturing, and two women protecting him by acting as naturally as possible in our relationship. We talk to him about how he feels and he’s fairly open.

    The other two boys, well, the youngest is autistic and he wouldn’t understand. Middle child thinks our relationship is “great!” He also loves to wear pink shirts and dances to the beat of a very different drum.
    We are a very unconventional family but so far it’s working for us. Between us both being women, the age difference, trying to figure out what to call me in public, and the kids being ethnically mixed…it’s enough to confuse anyone. We’re just rollin’ with it and strive to keep positive influences in our lives.
    And I have to remember what my mother told me: “At some point, all parents embarass their children. They need to get a life and get over it.” Always sage advice…

    Natalie

  4. Natalie–Sounds like you have a full plate there, especially with an autistic child. I have some experience with disability and will no doubt be posting more about it in the future.

    I have a lesbian friend who adopted two siblings from Guatemala when they were toddlers. Although she’s in a relationship, the adoption was in her name alone and she took primary responsiblity. She used to run down the litany of everything her kids had to deal with–lesbian mom, culture shock, and other variables in her life, and say “Dayenu,” meaning “Enough” in Yiddish: “If they’d just had to deal with being adopted…or if they’d only had to deal with a lesbian mom…” etcetera. The kids are teenagers now with teenage problems, some unique to their situation, some the same as all teenagers. I think we need to start copping to the fact that everyone has a lot of issues, and instead of seeing them as problems, regard them as challenges. Ha! Twenty years ago I would’ve killed anyone who tried to tell me this.

    Thanks for writing, and good luck.

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