Episode 18: Barbara Musser: Mothers and Daughters Talking about Sex
Barbara Musser: Mothers and Daughters Talking about Sex
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Chip August: Welcome to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I am your today Chip August and today we are going to be talking to Barbara Musser. Barbara is an educator in the field of human sexuality and the thing of particular interest for me is she works with mothers and daughters and helps them communicate about sex and sexuality. That is what we are going to be talking about today. We are going to be talking about mothers and daughters and how they communicate, how we can help that communication. Hopefully we are going to get some insights on what’s current in sex education, and what’s lacking, and what we can do better, and maybe even get some tips on, mothers, how to talk to your own daughters.
Barbara Musser: I am open and accepting of peoples sexuality and I have a big personal commitment to helping people heal craziness in our world about sexuality and I think it should start with our kids. So when I did a little digging about that I found out that it is a pretty heavy handed message which basically is don’t do it. Well that is not very helpful. Just in this generation of current teenage girls love being girls and they feel like they have a lot more opportunity, a lot more freedom, and a lot more power then boys. I have this very interesting vulva puppet that I use which is really wonderful and it is a puppet that you can put your hand in that is in the shape of a vulva. It opens and you can see the different parts you would see inside a woman. So that is a way I make it more real to them. I pass them around and let them touch and feel it. There are always a lot of giggles with that and they love using the puppet.
Chip August: In the current climate there is enforced ignorance and fear. It seems like what we are telling our children and what we are tell adults is if you know about it then you are going to misbehave. Welcome to the show Barbara.
Barbara Musser: Hi Chip. Thanks for having me.
Chip August: It is my pleasure, my pleasure. Barbara has spent over twenty years developing, presenting and facilitating personal growth workshops and for more than five years she has been doing this mother – daughter work. Barbara is also a facilitator for the human awareness institute leading workshops all around the world in love, intimacy and sexuality. I feel really blessed to have you here Barbara. Can you tell me a little bit about, how did you start doing work with mothers and daughters?
Barbara Musser: I’d be happy too. Part of what prompted it is I have a teenage daughter. So I felt the need to give her some information and because of my work as a facilitator with the human awareness institute workshops I am open and accepting of peoples sexuality and I have a personal commitment to helping heal some of the craziness in our world about sexuality. I think it should start with our kids so I have always talked freely about it and it’s has been important to me to educate my daughter and have it be a natural, normal, aspect to who she is. As she started getting closer to puberty I was interested in what she was learning in school and realized that, in my opinion, it was woefully inadequate. So I saw an opportunity there also in talking to other mothers realized that moms don’t know how to have this conversation. They don’ t know how to present the information. So, bingo, there was the opportunity. I designed a day long workshop and I have been doing that for five years.
Chip August: So moms don’t know how. How did you learn how? How did you learn how to do this? I mean you are a mom, how do you do this?
Barbara Musser: Well my mom never told me anything. So that is part of the incentive for me to do this too because I was so ignorant about it. I learned about sexuality the hard way, from my friends, from books, from magazines. For me, over the years, as I have evolved personally and healed my own old sexual wounds I have gathered a lot of information. Quite honestly Chip a big part of it is just giving people a place to talk, a place where they can ask their questions. I have educated myself in a variety of ways. I have gone to a lot of workshops, I have done a lot of research, both by reading books and by researching on the Internet, and by talking to a lot of people including sex therapists and other sex educators.
Chip August: I really don’t know how to ask the question but I think a lot of people, a lot of adults, feel a little embarrassed talking to their kids about sex and actually don’t think they are necessarily the best expert. They don’t think they know the most. You have spent a lot of time training and learning and I get that you have a lot of wisdom to impart. I think a lot of people listening to this are going to think ‘I would just assume the school does this. I wish the teachers would teach my kids because I don’t know what to say anyway.’ What do you want to say to a mom who hasn’t had your kind of training? What kind of advice can she give her daughter?
Barbara Musser: Great question. The first thing I would suggest is that if you want it to happen in the school then you talk to your children’s teacher and find out what they are actually saying. Because at the beginning of the school year there is a form that is send home that the parents have to sign acknowledging that this education is going to happen. But it doesn’t really say what it is. So when I did a little digging about that I found out it is a pretty heavy handed message which basically is, don’t do it. Well that is not very helpful and so for parents some ways in are just to recognize remember when you were a teenager? How did you learn? Wouldn’t it have been great if you had had some kind, knowing adult who didn’t shame you? Who didn’t embarrass you in any way but was just willing to sit down and say ‘Hey, this is what it is all about. Here are some things to think about’ and want you to be able to make good decisions for yourself as you go. I can give parents all kinds of tips on how to do that but sometimes all it takes is having someone else open the door. This is some of the feedback I have gotten from many mothers after coming to a daylong workshop is that was all it took. Now there is a bridge now. Now we can have these kinds of conversations and it is really helpful.
Chip August: I don’t know about you but I notice when I am trying to talk to my teenage daughter or my teenage son, cause I got one of each, about things sexual often those conversations feel really one sided. It seems like my kids don’t really want to talk to me about sex. Actually one is a little easier than the other but it just sort of feels like they are embarrassed and they don’t want to talk. How do you get kids to talk?
Barbara Musser: Well I have a lot of techniques in the workshops that I use. One of them is after a break I asked the moms and their daughters to say three things they like about being a female. Here is something that is very interesting about it just in this generation of current teenagers, girls love being girls, and they feel like they have a lot more opportunity and a lot more freedom and a lot more power than boys. I’ll tell you it is an eye opener to the moms who didn’t necessarily grow up feeling that so it is a situation where the moms get curious and the daughter becomes the teacher. There is a doorway and when I ask them what it is they like about being girls they say things like ‘I can dress however I want. I can express my feelings, I can be more curious. I feel like I can do anything I want.’ Boys don’t have that. They have to be cool, they have to dress a certain way, they have to look like they have it all together. So there is a doorway in.
Chip August: I wonder, just before you were saying. I am sorry, I am a question behind you. I don’t mean to lag but as you were talking I was thinking, okay so it is true a lot of certainly public schools that emphasis on sex education is abstinence education. Is that such a bad thing? I read all these things in the papers about children being sexual at younger ages. Isn’t it kind of a good thing to discourage children from having sex?
Barbara Musser: Well, yes and no. When I do my teaching I am not an advocate of teenage sexuality. What I am advocate for is giving the kids the information so they can make healthy choices for themselves. Because the fact of the matter is if you think back to when you were fourteen or fifteen and you kissed for the first time it was a pretty hot, sexual experience that you had. Things can happen really, really fast. If you don’t have the information to make good decisions all of the sudden you can be in really hot water. The truth is the rate of teenage pregnancies is on the rise and I think part of that is kids just don’t have the information. Teenagers are curious and they are becoming independent. They are defining themselves, individuating themselves in many ways including sexually. So in my book rather than just say no it is better to give them some information so maybe navigate a little better through that.
Chip August: Well you are certainly giving me a lot to think about here. We’re going to take a little pause and give an opportunity to give show some support for our sponsors. This is Chip August and you are listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy and we will be right back.
Chip August: We’re back. Your listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I am your host Chip August and we’re talking to Barbara Musser and we’re talking about mothers and daughters and communicating about sex. Barbara when we took our break we were talking a little about these workshops and what you teach. I am kind of curious. How does it work? How do you get moms and daughters, to talk about a subject that is really challenging for moms and daughters to talk about?
Barbara Musser: Well it might be useful just to talk a little bit about the design of the day. Which varies depending on the group that I am working with. But when I do a workshop that is open to the general public my format for the day is I want to give some education about anatomy, both female and male anatomy. Since these are primarily twelve to fourteen year old girls who are either approaching or in puberty I want to give them some information about menstrual cycles, I want to educated them about menstrual products, I want to talk about the changes that happen emotionally, physically, and spiritually during puberty. I want to do all of that in a natural, easy, normal and fun context.
Chip August: Whoa. Of course, those are all great subjects. I imagine you must get a few giggles and titters. I don’t know if we can talk about this stuff. Is it lecture, are you just lecturing them or how do you present this?
Barbara Musser: It is a combination. Typically what we do is get together in a circle and as an ice breaker I have everybody introduce themselves and say why they are there. As you can imagine the kids are pretty tight lipped about that sort of stuff. The mothers are really happy to be there. The conversation just starts and then I give them the lay of the land about what I am going to do. I start out with the anatomy and I use anatomy charts that are readily available and put it in the context of you may already know this but I want to just give it to you again just so we know we are on the same page. So there is a little bit of lecture in that part and of course I tell anyone if they have any questions feel free to interrupt me. Then I have this very interesting vulva puppet that I use, which is really wonderful. It’s a puppet that you can put your hand in that is in the shape of a vulva and it opens and you can see the different parts that you might see inside a woman. So that is a way I make it more real to them and I pass it them around and let them touch it and feel it. There are always a lot of giggles with that and they love using the puppet. Then I also have a wonderful book that I use called Female Genitalia, which is a book with a series of photographs of woman’s genitals. It is really enlightening for both the girls and their mothers to see the variety in woman’s genitals because there are all different shapes, colors, and sizes. So people get curious with that sort of information and then they start asking questions. Then there is also a part where I do a demonstration of menstrual products and we do things like make what I call tampon tea. Which is taking a tampon and putting it in a glass of water and when the girls see how much it expands ‘Ooh, Ah,’ so there are ways that I just get them involved. They are curious and they are dying to ask questions. There are doorway in for them to begin to ask.
Chip August: I am listening to you and I am just remembering my own high school health ed and biology classes and stuff. I get the in school, what they are probably going to learn about reproductive biology. You know, these are ovaries, these are sperm, the sperm meets the ovary, the egg, blah, blah, blah. It sounds to me like you have a much more emphasis on sexuality as opposed to reproduction.
Barbara Musser: Right. I start that doorway with the reproduction because they might be familiar with that but then I open it up in many other ways. You are right, and one of the things I also do in the course of the day is I ask the mothers to tell the stories of their daughters birth. What the labor was actually like. Not only what they went through during their pregnancy and during the birth but what it was like when they looked into their daughters eyes for the first time. Then that really opens up the room because the mothers back into that experience and they begin to express some feelings and the daughters are hooked because it is all about them.
Chip August: It is all about them. Welcome to teenage life. So, I get it. So basically you get moms to start to open up with their own experience. I imagine that’s got to a little unnerving, a little scary for the moms because it seems like that isn’t a story the moms have told very often.
Barbara Musser: That is exactly right. Part of what makes that possible is just my own openness. I always start with telling my own stories about it as a way of opening the door for that and there is just a way that is starts to flow. I am sure you have observed this before in your life but when a group of women get together they go deep, fast and they start telling these stories and it gets very interesting and very exciting. One of the other things that I do to get the girls involved is talking about wild emotional swings that happen when the hormones start to flow. I will often position it with a question like ‘So how many of you girls have ever had the experience of all the sudden your mother says something so stupid you just want to kill her?’ Or something equally strong like that? You wonder, where the heck did that come from? Then they start to nod and they think I am not the only one that has those kinds of feelings and then the girls start telling stories, and the mothers listen with rapt attention because it is the kind of stuff they don’t normally talk about. There is also something that happens in the context of a group in sharing those experiences. There is a lot of nodding of heads that go on because when somebody shares something chances are there are at least a couple other people in that group that have had the same or similar kind of experience.
Chip August: In a way I get that it sort of brings you back to a time when human beings didn’t live quiet so separate. It is sort of tribal we tell each other our stories some pretty deep healing happens.
Barbara Musser: Yeah, that’s right. Another reason I do this is because when we did live tribally we had a lot of ceremonies and rites to mark the passages in life. We have pretty much lost that. We have first communion in Christian churches, then we have Bar Mitzvahs, but really that is about it. So a big part of the day that we do is a rite of passage and it a very touching ceremony that we create together.
Chip August: Well I am just completely fascinated by this idea of getting moms and daughters to talk and I want to take a pause right now and give an opportunity for us to give a little support to our sponsors. Your listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I am Chip August and we’ll be right back.
Chip August: We’re back. Your listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I am your host Chip August and we are talking to Barbara Musser and we’re talking about mothers and daughters and sexuality. You know as I listen to you Barbara I am thinking why don’t you go into schools and teach this? This feels like something that ought to be taught in every high school in the country.
Barbara Musser: Yeah. I agree completely. Interestingly several years ago there was a position open my local school district, in the high schools, for a sex educator, I applied for it. I went through a whole series of interviews up to the point of making a presentation before a group of about fifteen people in the school district, a combination of teachers and administrators. I made the presentation, they ask me a lot of questions, including why wouldn’t you just tell the kids to just say no? Which is certainly the current party line in our country. I said ‘really to ignore the fact that high schoolers are often being sexual is blind as far as I am concerned. My advice is to give these young people the information that they need so they can keep themselves safe and they can have a good time and they cannot pathologies themselves about their sexuality.’ I was, how should I say, taken out of the running because I was too liberal.
Chip August: Yeah. It gives me a moment to climb onto my soapbox. I have to say it does feel like, in the current climate, there is enforced ignorance and fear. It seems like what were are telling our children and what we tell adults is if you know about it then your gonna misbehave. That somehow knowledge is the key to behavior in that way. So if you teach a child about healthy sexuality then the child will act out sexually. I don’t know about you but my experiences are exactly the opposite. That these horrible experiences that I hear about from children and adults pretty much all derive from the children’s and adult’s ignorance, not from their knowledge.
Barbara Musser: That’s right. I look at my own daughter as an example. She is about to turn fifteen and like I’ve said earlier I have been talking to her about her body and her sexuality since she could talk. When she got curious about where babies come from. She is just at the point now where she just starting to get interested in boys and she has all this information and she is by no means what I would consider precocious or promiscuous in that sense, just the opposite. She’s got her head on her shoulders, she has a better sense of what she might be getting into as she is just getting interested. She is now asking me questions like ‘Mom, how do I know when I am ready?’ Those are the kind of questions I want to hear. Those are the kinds of things I want her to be thinking about rather than just riding on her hormonal roller coaster.
Chip August: This is all wonderful stuff. If people wanted to get in touch with you or were interested in doing your workshop how could people find you? How do they look for you?
Barbara Musser: Well there are a couple of ways. I have a web site which is www.evalutionaryhealer.com or people can phone me at my office, which is (707) 766-7001. On my web site I will always have a current calendar of events and I am happy to answer questions on the phone as well.
Chip August: That’s terrific. I like to ask my guests if we have an exercise? Something that my listeners can do at home to sort of improve the Love, Intimacy, Sexuality in this field? I am wondering, do you have an exercise my listeners can do?
Barbara Musser: I do. It is an icebreaker that I use in my workshops. It is a tip for you moms and it is a way to start a conversation with you daughter. Tell your daughter the story of when you got your first bra because girls are often self conscious about their breasts. They are the wrong size, they are developing to early, they are developing to late. Things are sexualized at this age and just to be willing to tell your daughter that story and what your experience was often will give her an opportunity to then engage in a dialog with you.
Chip August: What a great idea. What a terrific way to open up a whole conversation there. Thank you. You have been a great guest Barbara. I really do appreciate you spending the time and I love your insights into the subject.
Barbara Musser: Thanks very much. It has been a pleasure Chip.
Chip August: If you would like text and transcript of this interview or any of the interviews on personal life media you can just go to our web site. Which is personnel life media but all written as one word. Personnellifemedia.com. If you would like to send some comments to me personally you can reach me, Chip August, at personnellifemedia.com. I love to hear your suggestions for future shows, I love to hear your comments. I also have a blog and you are welcome when you go to our web site if you like to notice the blog. Usually there are companion pieces to the show and I would love to have your input into the blog also. Please visit our web site. That is kind of wrapping it up for this show today. Thanks for listening and I hope you join us again. This is Chip August and you’ve been listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy.
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