Given the social construction of Latina sexuality as a social problem associated with high fertility and over-sexualization in popular media, Mexican-origin mothers use protective discourses to educate their daughters about their sexuality. Based on in-depth interviews with 34 Mexican-origin women (seventeen mother-daughter dyads), this study explores how mothers communicate with their daughters about not only sexual relations and virginity directly, but also the relevant topics of menstruation, tampon use, and masturbation. I find that mothers’ tend to employ one of two types of sexual discourse: disembodied and objectified or embodied and subjective. In the disembodied and objectified view, mothers urge their daughters to remain virgins until marriage—even avoiding tampon use in order to do so—and expect their daughters to have no interest in sexual pleasure prior to sexual initiation by a man. In the embodied and subjective view, mothers emphasize that sex should be an expression of love and connectedness, ideally in marriage, but they have more flexible views regarding menstruation and masturbation. These findings suggest that Mexican-origin women’s ideas about sexuality are dynamic and complex, while also broadening our understanding of how and through what topics mothers and daughters talk about sex.
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I use literature about Latinas and about Mexican-specific sexualities to contextualize my research. Lorena Garcia (2012) has noted that similar processes affect the construction of Mexican and Puerto Rican adolescent girls’ sexual identities.
The discourses presented are based on self-reported disclosures of mothers and daughters as they recall them. This project was not longitudinal.
Importantly, it is almost always daughters who are targeted for such education, as the sexuality of sons/men is far less likely to be problematized. This disproportional focus has been rightly critiqued by writer Jessica Valenti (2009).
See Luker (2007) for a discussion of competing visions of sex education in the United States.
I acknowledge my respondents keep with widely held heteronormative assumptions by defining virginity in purely heterosexual terms. The mothers in my study remained silent on the topic of sexual orientation.
The mother-daughter relationship is most often the focus of sexual socialization studies. Few studies focus on the father-daughter relationship (see Gonzalez-Lopez 2004 for one of the few exceptions).
More than 30 % of Latinos with a high school GPA higher than 3.5 go to a community college at some point in their academic career. This number doesn’t account for those with lower GPAs who are more likely to enroll in community college (see Carnvale and Strohl 2013).
One and one-half (1.5) generation refers to any person who was emigrated from their country of birth to another country, before the age of 12 or during the onset of puberty. This generation comes of age in the receiving country, and their adaptation process is different from someone who migrates later in life (Rumbaut and Ima 1988). Immigration scholars analyze their experiences alongside the second generation.
Although, the term mija means daughter in Spanish, it is often used as a term of endearment outside family boundaries in Latino communities.
Señorita is a gendered construct that is used to describe a young woman, someone who is unmarried and fertile. However, it is sometimes used by some of my respondents to indicate a non-virgin.
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Reyes, D.V. Conundrums of Desire: Sexual Discourses of Mexican-Origin Mothers. Sexuality & Culture 20, 1020–1041 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-016-9372-z
- Latina sexualities
- Sexual subjectivities