Family life can be the cause of our biggest joys and also our biggest sorrows. For centuries we have felt propelled to find a home, have children and ‘settle down’. The traditional family, consisting of a man, a woman and 2.4 children has become the status quo and still stands as the preferred choice for many, hoping for a stable and nurturing life. Yet, in the wake of this, we see new family constellations emerging and they’re bringing new narratives, creating new communities and gifting us new hope. We talk to Lauren Brim, sex coach and author of ‘The New Rules of Sex’ and ‘The New American Family’ to find out more…
sex+ – What is 'The New American Family'?
Lauren Brim – It’s a family forming outside the box of what we grew up with – a man and a woman who get married and have a baby, sometimes staying together for the kids, sometimes getting divorced or remarried. Now we're seeing something different emerging and that's 'The New American Family.'
sex+ – What are the core values of this new type of family?
Lauren Brim – The values are about love and about people, living and expressing themselves authentically. I don't have to lie to a man to get him to have a baby with me or force myself into a marriage that I really don't want so that I can be a mother.
sex+ – How would you say that this new way of living contrasts with the old one?
Lauren Brim – One of the main differences, especially for women, is that they are no longer required to be married to men to have children. They can be artificially inseminated and do it alone, raise a child with another family member, have a baby with an ex-boyfriend, stranger, or same-sex partner. They could also have a baby with several consenting adults like the polyamorous family I interview in my book. Another aspect of this new paradigm is the changing landscape of fertility. The latest research shows that after the age of 30, female bodies have lost 90% of their eggs and low sperm count and low sperm motility are just as much of a contributor to fertility problems. It is interesting that when we ovulate our sexual appetite increases and we are often drawn to more than one partner as nature's way of getting us pregnant. The old family norms expect us to only use the sperm of the man we’re with and nature doesn't always want it that way. Some men resist having children or aren’t ready, so their partners can struggle for that reason as well. 'The New American Family' model gives more options. If I were speaking with a woman approaching her 40’s who was struggling to get pregnant I would say 'You need to go to a sperm bank right now and get sperm from a younger man. Inseminate yourself and use everything that medicine has to offer you because you are approaching the end of your fertility timeline.'
sex+ – You have quite a few family stories in your book. Can you share one with us?
Lauren Brim – I interview nine families and they all are incredible stories. One of my favourites is a story about a woman who reached her mid 30’s. No relationship had worked out and she didn't have much hope for her fertility because her hormone panels showed she was infertile. One day, she heard a voice in her head that said 'I am Casey Carter and I am coming to you,' and she spoke back and said 'If you want to come to me you need to get David to call me' (David was her ex). Three days later he called and said he had been gone through and awakening due to some tragic events. Suddenly he thought family was important and agreed to have a baby with her and despite being measurably infertile she immediately conceived. They went through all sorts of ups and downs of living together and living apart but then she felt the second baby coming and became pregnant again. Now she and David live together in the same house, using separate bedrooms. She is the one who goes to work and he puts dinner on the table and they have the two children. She says they were meant to come together and now they’re a family.
sex+ – Would you like to share how you are personally living ‘The New American Family’?
Lauren Brim – I chose to have a baby with a friend I'd known for 8 years. He confided that he was pursuing gestational surrogacy to have a baby because he hadn't met the right woman. I came along and told him that I didn't want to spend any more time waiting for the perfect relationship, I was ready for motherhood. I had done everything else I wanted to do in my life – I'd travelled, was educated and built my business, but I still wasn't satisfied. So, we had a baby together and I write in my book about all the ups and downs and lessons learned. We both get to be parents and enjoy our daughter and we both also enjoy dropping her off with the other parent. It is a really incredible balance and we both feel very healthy and happy and we have a healthy, happy daughter. That is my story.
sex+ – Would you say that 'The New American Family' is reserved for middle class, white, privileged sections of society?
Lauren Brim - Yes, in terms of fertility medicine, that option is reserved more for the middle/upper class because it is very expensive. Another big reason why this might affect more of the more affluent white families is that we see a generation, particularly in that demographic, who didn't marry and are now reaching the age where they think that their fertility is about to run out. Also a lot of people are choosing not to have babies. They are auntie or uncle to friends' kids, have pets, or are playing a role in the community in a different way. I would definitely consider that to be part of 'The New American Family'. I also feel that some women tell themselves, to cope with longing, that they don't want motherhood or the they are happy with other things. If the opportunity was provided or if they were more supported they may feel differently.
sex+ – One of the push backs about alternative family structures is lack of stability. Do you think this is true?
Lauren Brim – I completely disagree with that. I interviewed a polyamorous family in my book and it is the most stable I’ve come across. The more parental figures around a child the better. What we see with women who are inseminated, or men who adopt as single parents, is that they find that network around them. People in the sex positive world are better at asking for what they need and finding that. I quote in my book an article from the New York Times that defines the modern American family as 'stressed, tired and rushed,' they're talking about heteronormative couples who are too stressed and isolated to provide stability. It is not enough to just say 'Oh look, we're married. We have this family and so that's stable and that's as good as it can get.' No, it's as good as it can get when you've got a good work/life balance, when all the individuals are happy and when you've got enough support to raise a child, because two people is not enough to raise a child. It takes a village, as they say.
sex+ – When living 'The New American Family' what would you say the challenges are?
Lauren Brim – The challenges are that you don't really have role models to look to so it can feel isolating. You sometimes feel like you’ve done something wrong or maybe you are missing out. You have to really figure things out for yourself and navigate childcare and what the roles are – though that ends up being the strength as well because you don't just adopt roles unconsciously. Communication can be really challenging and it requires you to face a lot of your own stuff in the process. When you have a child you’re facing your own childhood, you're facing your own parents. You have to face the stuff and you have to evolve through it. One other challenge that I've faced is that it feels like there's less control, so there has to be more trust and recognising that you don’t have control. Heteronormative families also don't have more control, it just appears they do. It’s normal to feel a bit like an outcast. When we went to have the ultrasound it said 'Your name' and 'Spouses name'. It made me see how, in the paradigm we live in, you actually feel you are trying to be yourself and then suddenly you feel that you are the minority. Eventually I reached a point where I decided to own who I was and to stop feeling shame.
sex+ – How do you think the changes in the political system have affected 'The New American Family'?
Lauren Brim – I'm definitely hearing fear coming from people who have immigrated from other countries – married and unmarried. I'm hearing a lot of fear from same-sex couples and fear from women about how their reproductive rights will be affected. Overall, I feel strength in the country too, voices saying 'No, no, no. We've got our eye on you.' After this last election people are more involved and more empowered. I don't see these changes slowing down 'The New American Family'. I think the desire to have family in whatever way feels authentic is so strong that the political scene isn't going to stop us.
sex+ – How does 'The New American Family' affect your sense of self your sexuality?
Lauren Brim – This is one aspect of how I've chosen to have a family where I have really succeeded. I have friends who had babies in a traditional family and they have really lost their sense of self. Their sexuality is really affected because they're so tired and resentful. They're not communicating their feelings and so it makes them less full of life or desire. I have created my family and not sacrificed my life to motherhood, but allowed it to be a really satisfying piece of my life. I still get to keep my sexuality, I get to date, have time for myself, express myself creatively and make money, so it's a really satisfying life. It's the happiest I've ever been.
sex+ – If you could choose one thing that you've learned on your journey, for those who are starting out, what would it be?
Lauren Brim – If you're going to have a baby with someone it's a really good idea to have people you can talk to. You may want to see a therapist or have a support group, even if you think you are really great at communication. I thought I was, but there were things that came up that were so painful, scary or intense that I couldn't talk about them, so I suppressed them and they came out as anger towards my daughter’s father and shame. We went to (low cost) therapy for a few months and we just got all of the stuff aired out. It has enabled us to have a fantastic co-parenting relationship. It might seem a little cliched but I think having a third party/group is so great if you are going to have a child with someone.
sex+ – Would you say that 'The New American Family' was a stepping stone to a broader evolution and, if so, what do you imagine that would be?
Lauren Brim – To get an idea, we can look back to what life was like pre-agriculture, pre-monotheistic religion, pre-women being the property of men and children being the property of those men. When we look back at that we see women who are being taken care of by their tribe, who had a lot of support, sexual liberty and freedom. You see a lot of fulfilment for multi-generations because of the love and happiness that these children bring and the roles that everyone finds in rearing them, but also having their individual lives. We've gone so far towards being independent, now I see that we are moving towards more autonomy with more community and connection. They seem to be opposites, but I think that the duality is going to be healthy. It's beautiful and I feel really positive about where we are headed.
‘The New American Family’ is available now on Amazon.
Find out more about Lauren at: laurenbrim.com
Note:- Some names have been changed to preserve anonymity.