Discussing Sex & Rape With Our Daughters

Discussing Sex & Rape With Our Daughters

Discussing Sex & Rape With Our Daughters

Thumbnail: 
Dek: 
How much, if at all, should we discuss with our daughters?

I know that this question alone raises many eyebrows; especially since my memoir, which is still in production, recounts the many experiences that have led me to this point in my life as N. Meridian, the writer who shrouds herself behind words. However, because of my past, because of my daughter, I feel the need to protect her while hiding in plain sight. Recently, I came across Lisen Stromberg’s article, “What Age Is The Right Age To Talk With My Daughter About Rape?” Shortly afterwards, I stumbled unto Alyssa Rose’s shameful sex article and the comments she made about this subject matter. I can’t tell you, the timing couldn’t have been better.

I have been very uncomfortable talking with my daughter about rape. To talk to her about sex was difficult enough. Rape, because this is how she was conceived, isn’t something I can easily discuss with her. Mind you, I made it a point to tell my boyfriend when we first dated because I felt if he couldn’t handle this fact, he could leave before either of us were attached to one another. My ex-husband knew this early on into our relationship as well. But my daughter is different.

Throughout the years, we have had conversations about inappropriate touch, glares and conversations that made her uncomfortable because I wanted her to be well informed. I wanted to be sure that she was better equipped to handle awkward and trying situations because my own mother never protected me in this way. We have even discussed rape. Still, I can’t bring myself to tell her that I was raped, or that she is the product of such an experience.

One thing I’ve always done was never blame her. Although I had no choice in her conception, I ultimately chose her life. I could’ve aborted, could’ve put her up for adoption, but I didn’t. I tell her, and I mean this with every fiber of my being, that she is the most beautiful gift I have ever received. The other stuff, like how she literally came to be, is of no consequence. Out of the chaos of that horrific night she was the only one I was meant to focus on, not the sperm donor rapist.

In the same way, Jaycee Dugard is trying to protect her daughters by shielding them from the public, vowing to protect them until they are old enough to understand. I have done this for my daughter all her life. When I fell into writing, I knew that I’d have lots of questions I couldn’t easily answer; namely, her birth and my sketchy background. My response was to craft my memoir. In fact, the following is an excerpt from No Crying for Elena. This was the first conversation my daughter and I had about the sperm donor:

When she asked questions, I answered as honestly as possible, keeping in mind her age. Just as when she, at aged 10, finally asked me if Gene was her real father and I responded…

“Not biologically. But he’s the only man who seemed to want the job, baby,” I answered light-heartedly as I continued to fix her hair before the mirror.

“What about my real dad, then? Who is he?”

I paused.

I thought, not now. Wait til you’re eighteen and leaving for college. Please!

It was 7:30 in the morning. We were supposed to be on the road already so that I could take her to school. This wasn’t the type of thing I could wrap up in a few minutes and tried to squirm out of the discussion.

“Baby, we’re late now. Let’s get going. Ok?”

She pursed her lips and seemed to be fine with ending the conversation, at least until we got into the car, that is. Then, she picked back up where she’d left off.

So I measured my words and told her the truth. “Well, honey, your dad...I mean…the sperm donor—because your dad is actually at work right now,” I began nervously, “he…he wasn’t one of those good guys we watch in your favorite movies.”

She frowned. “Really? Well, what happened?”

I sighed.

She was ten. She wasn’t getting the details that even grownups didn’t know how to handle. I thought about lying, and telling her that he was dead, something, anything. I couldn’t think. But I remembered how I could never talk to my own mother, so I tried again and continued with, “ well, not everyone who father’s a child is a good father…or even…wants to be a father.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Hmm…?,” I pretended not to hear what she’d asked. Sometimes, it can be difficult to turn off my mommy-ears, which allows me to listen half-heartedly to bits and pieces of conversations, picking up the most important details while filtering out much of the nonessential information that she fills my ears with.

So she repeated the question.

“Oh….Prison, I think.”

“Prison? Wow, he must really be bad then? Well, what’s he in there for?”

I replied honestly, “I’m not sure, baby. But the bottom line is, I knew a long time ago…after he hurt me…that he wasn’t good for you. I knew I wouldn’t allow him to be in your life. He won’t get a chance to hurt you.”

“He hurt you? What did he…?”

“None of that matters now, baby,” I interrupted before she could finish the question.

That seemed to satisfy her. “Oh. K,” she said looking at me from the corner of her eye.

And like that, I could breathe again and turned up the radio where the Fray’s “How To Save A Life” was just starting. “Believe me, baby. Your dad may not be your biological father…. And I know he can be…” I was searching for the right word, but couldn’t find it, so I tried again. “Just know that he only fusses ’cause he loves you and is trying to keep you from getting hurt.”

She sighed, “I know.” Her large almond-slanted eyes briefly gazed back at me, but not the way the sperm donor’s had. “I just wish he’d lighten up sometimes.”

“Me too. He’s working on it though. Right?”

She rolled her eyes and squeezed her hands together. “Yeah, I guess.”

From there, my mommy-ear’s tuned back in to give me a chance to think while she talked about her teachers and classmates when I chimed in with a series of, “hmm mmm,” and “oh yeah?” and “really?”

Now that she is thirteen, she notices the trend in movies were more women are being violently raped. These scenes are graphic, horrific; some films explicitly mimic the experience while others vaguely recall what most women actually experience.

I explained these things to my daughter. I tell her that rape doesn’t have to be violent. That your face doesn’t have to become a punching bag, nor do you have to end up in a body bag before it is considered rape. That sometimes because we know the attacker, they may take liberties with our bodies without permission. That it may be difficult to say no, but when it’s your body and you don’t want anyone using it for their pleasures, you have to say no. I’ve explained that No means No, but some guys still use the Ovidian notions of No means Yes. So even though we have these conversations, which I’ll admit, are happening more frequently than I like, I still haven’t found the courage to tell her that I was raped.

Once, I posed this question to a friend and colleague, who admitted that she resented her mother for telling her that she was the product of rape. Granted, she and her mother had a difficult relationship so her mother was probably being vengeful when she did this, to show her that she never wanted her in the first place. But my daughter and I are very close and I fear that telling her will make her feel resentful.

I have read many expert opinions on what to say your child, what not to say to your child. But I swear, there just isn’t much out there to help parents rationally discuss this subject with their children. There isn’t much literature that explains whether a parent should, or should not tell her child that she was raped. Yet, we expect our children to tell us if they ever experience anything like this.

So how can I be such a hypocrite? For now, I’ve reasoned that she isn’t mature enough to understand. By being chicken-shit, I hoped that if this ever came up again, she’d be at college, or at least, on her way there. But the day is coming when she may want this information. Because I try to be honest with her, I’ve decided that if she asked me if I’ve experienced rape, then I would tell her. Otherwise, I’m sticking to our nation’s old military slogan: “Don’t ask. Don’t Tell.”

Besides, I don’t ever want her to question if I love or want her in my life. I address her conception, my upbringing and so many things in my memoir. Still, I’m a mother first and foremost, so I’m not sure if I can tell her. As a writer, I can hide behind my pen name and find the voice denied me in my youth. However, when it comes to telling my daughter something like this, I’m scared shitless. I can reveal things to my readers, to the world, but I don’t have to live with them. They are not with me the way that my daughter is with me.

I’m asking now just in case things get out of hand and I am no longer able to shield her identity by hiding my own.

So what do you think? So should I tell my only child, the love of my life, that I was raped?

This article originally appeared on Blogher as "Should We Draw the Line on What’s Safe to Tell Our Children about Sex and Rape?"

Join the Conversation