Worried Daughter

Friday, July 25, 2008

Question

I finally had the sex talk with my mom yesterday. I'm 29. She's 65. She assures me that my stepfather is kind and gentle and doesn't push her any further than she wants to go, which is apparently not that far much of the time. I'd like to help her. She has plenty of inhibitions and lacks confidence, and I suspect that feeling sexy, being sexy, and being active with the man she loves could do wonders for breaking down some of those inhibitions. But I don't know where to start! I've suggested lube and assured her that "pictures or movies of other couples doing it" are not dirty if used as a tool to get in the mood. Do you have any other suggestions? Sex was just not discussed in her culture when she was growing up, and I figure better late than never.

Answer

My first question is, did your mother ask you for any help with her sex life? A 65-year-old woman who has a kind, gentle lover isn't doing that badly for herself, even if the sex is not what you would consider adventurous.

Let your mom know that if she wants to talk about her sex life, you're available. But then I'd recommend backing off. If she would like to feel more confident and less inhibited, how about some self-assertiveness training? This may not sound very erotic, but in my therapy practice I have found that this is an excellent step for women to begin to clarify their own needs, start thinking of themselves as often as they think of taking care of their partners, and learn to communicate their needs in a win-win fashion. Amazon.com can show you some good workbooks on this topic. Once again, however, this kind of personal growth doesn't happen unless the individual wants it for herself. Your mom has to be motivated to seek out change. Otherwise, this will just feel like an agenda that you have set and are trying to push onto her.

Meanwhile, let's check in with your sex life. How happy are you with the action you're getting? Do you have a close relationship? Do you envy the stability in your mother's life? If you look like a happy and satisfied woman who is getting what she needs out of life, you'll make a great role model for your mom, and she may become curious enough to ask you how you did it.

If you mom has asked you for advice or counsel about sexuality, the best thing you can do for her is to listen. Let her tell her own story. Ask her what it was like for her growing up. Share some of your own poignant stories. Be patient, and make allowances for the fact that she has to learn how to talk about her situation before she can change anything. Precisely because you grew up in another time and culture, your norms or expectations might not apply to her relationship. She probably needs reassurance more than anything else.

This is a very sensitive area of private life, and even a small suggestion may come across as criticism or even shame her. I've found that it works a lot better to ask people, "What do you think you should do?" or "What choices do you think you have here?" You don't want to destabilize her life and make her feel self-doubt or dissatisfaction if she was content before.

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