A mom friend of mine recently posted the following on Facebook: "My new eye shadow palette has names like bootycall, tease, snakebite, and busted. Which leads me to believe that a 41-year-old mother of three might not be the target audience." As a feminist relational scholar who researches, publishes, and teaches about sex and sexuality, I found the rowdy conversation in the comment section illuminating. Mamas wrote that these shades did not speak to their experiences of being mothers and partners, and the subtext of the comments focused on how women's sexuality changes once they become mothers. I wondered what an eye shadow palette for women who are mothers and sexual would look like. I colored in a palette I call Mamas Still Doing It, while reading the fifteen stories in the erotica collection, If Mom's Happy: Stories of Erotic Mothers, edited by Brandy Fox, a published erotica writer and sexuality educator who edited this collection as a way to address changes for women around motherhood and sexuality.
This 156 page collection as a whole would wear a shade called Scalded MILF; when I started reading it, I sent my kid to school, called in sick, and sexted a filthy message to my baby's daddy. The strength of this work is the focus on a variety of real mothers' lives and how sex has to be reclaimed, altered, and embraced in situ to suit the evolving realities of motherhood: less time, changed bodies, exhaustion, shifting desires, health challenges, identities in motion. We see all hues of mothers: old and young mamas, kinky and vanilla, queer and straight, monogamous and polyamorous, mamas with infants, and toddlers, and teenagers asking important questions. "How much, I wondered, must we mothers do before someone decides it's enough? That it's time for mothers to be happy?" (Pooja Pande, "Tocks in my Ticker")
As a whole, the stories answer these questions by refusing the either/or dialectic between mother or sexual (non-mother) person. We see women starting to think like sexual mothers to get their needs met. That is, they use their lust, their scheduling, their education, and their crisis management skills to get it on while wearing a shade I titled Call a Sitter. Mothers in the stories arrange to have family care for children over a weekend, wait for children to be at school or down for a nap, stay up late, communicate their needs explicitly to a partner, and take the time to focus on their relationships. For example, "Toy Story" by Andrea Lani, Literary Reflections Editor at Literary Mama, may have all mamas thinking of different ways to self-pleasure and play by considering how objects like a rubber ducky can offer us new relations to our post-child bodies. In "Hook and Tink," Fox transforms watching a movie with toddlers into a literary sexual fantasy worthy of an early bedtime. There are a few moments when the writing doesn't transform clichéd language enough to make it fresh, but when these experienced writers transform standard erotic scenes into something else, something worthy of calling in sick for, readers will feel the thrill. Jennifer Monro's work has appeared in two editions of "The Best American Erotica" and seven editions of "The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica"; Luda Jones has published queer erotica; Delilah Night has published an erotica anthology and dozen of erotica stories; Teresa Noelle Roberts publishes erotic novels including many with a supernatural theme; and Kristina Wright's short erotic fiction has appeared in over 100 anthologies.
The color I think of as Take Time Teal represents stories of mothers finagling time to please themselves, from finding sitters to moments when the kids are transfixed on a movie or napping to have unbound sex with themselves or their partners or a cute store clerk. These stories will help mamas scheme ways to find the energy, time, and place for a too tired tryst in the early morning light, figuring out how to balance work, relational interests, love, sex, and family, and for a partner to see something other than a milk maker with stretch marks. For example, Jordan Monroe writes in the story, "Happy Mother's Day" about the importance of having a partner see "that she could still be the full-bodied, libidinous woman she was before bringing life into the world."
Mothers wear Lusty Lavender when they need to reclaim their bodies as sexual, as theirs, as places and spaces for pleasure. Mothers find their "soft, fuckable, maternal self," as Kristina Wright suggests "In the Early Morning Light," when they focus on their desires and sexual needs, discovering how sex can be the salve and the salvation for bodies ravaged by cancer, birth, exhaustion, and age. In Wright's story, the mother laments: "My body is not my body, it hasn't been for months and months." Mom bodies in all of their leaky, uncontained, messy glory receive the attention and the affection they deserve. In "ZAP" by Luda Jones, a mother recovering from cancer finds healing as she selects a tattoo for a mastectomy scar: "I'm not thinking about me. How bad I look. I'm thinking about how good I feel, we feel."
I found the scenes of communication between partners who could wear a shade I call Talk Dirty hot and illustrative, like in Teresa Noelle Robert's story, "Waiting for Ilya":
"We're going to be parents at last. It will make our relationship stronger. We shouldn't worry about how it's going to affect our sex life." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she added, "But I do. I feel like I'm already letting it affect our sex life because I'm so nervous about making everything perfect for him. And then I feel like a horrible selfish person for even thinking that." To her horror, her lips quivered as she fought back tears.
The authors often included moms talking to their partners, or themselves, about their concerns, desires, and needs. And many lines made me laugh out loud: In "Bills and Girls" by Samantha Luce, one mama thinks that "Toddlers are more effective than cold showers when it comes to putting your libido in check." Later, after getting to have sex with her partner, this mom cheers: "The bills don't get to run the world today. On this day, Beyoncé got it mostly right. Not just girls, but moms, run the world." The hurts of infertility, the tensions between health and relational health, and expectations of parenting are worked out with effective communication skills and self-disclosure, something that research shows is vital to our sexual satisfaction. For example, in "Happy Mother's Day," the mother talks explicitly with a friend about her sexual desire: "'…but sometimes I want my husband to salivate and attack me, to lose control with me. Ever since I got pregnant, Kyle has been so infuriatingly gentle with me. I want him to own me again.'"
Another mom found that desire when she and her husband went to a hotel for a weekend in the story "Renewal" by Delilah Night: "We were playing. We were connecting. The sexual heat that had been banked for who knew how long came roaring back to life."
Brandy Fox indicates in the introduction that this collection represents "the complex and profound—and ultimately satisfying—task of attending to your own desires while tending to children." The stories are meant to connect the tasks and challenges of mothering with a mother's sexuality and sexual desire: "Like great erotica, mothering explores the complexity of sexuality—the ache, the ecstasy, and everything in between." The stories are all about finding time to connect the roles of mother and sexual partner to create satisfying relational lives. I found that the collection fulfilled this goal, and I would recommend it to all of us mothers in our various shades and with varied hues of desires who want and need to prioritize our sexual relationships as mothers who still get it on.