GIRLS AND SEX
I stood there at the counter that separated generations. I was in sixth grade and there it was, behind the counter in the Hands Off, you need to get permission from your parents section in the Jamestown Library in 1977. At least this is how I remembered the book, Girls and Sex sitting uncomfortably and somewhat illicitly next to its companion, Boys and Sex. The much older than me librarian standing in front of me with the key to my future of understanding what was going on in this body of mine. I am guessing that I was an unusual child mirroring her back as I somewhat uncomfortably asked her for the book that looked like it would sizzle in my fingers if I had been allowed to get my hands on it. Of course this would not be happening, the sexual revolution of the sixties and the sexual promiscuity of the seventies hadn’t translated to the librarians of The Jamestown Public Library. The Jamestown Public Library located on the island of Jamestown in Rhode Island that had a population of three thousand year rounders if we were lucky was in no way going to contribute to the sexual questions of a curious and highly sexualized twelve year old girl who had just recently moved to the island. I would have to get permission from my parents to take this book out, I remember the librarian saying probably with a bit of a tsk tsk eye roll. The fact that I even had the courage to ask about this book should tell the reader something about my sexual curiosity that had found its way into my body like a concord jet flying overhead on a quiet spring Sunday morning with your windows open for the first time. I had no idea what was going on in my body, but what I did know was that there in front of me was a book that could answer my questions so I wouldn’t have to humiliate myself by asking my mother. Girls and Sex is how I remember the book. This is not the current and modern Girls and Sex book written by the hip and fabulous writer, Peggy Orenstein. When I tried to find the original book on Google, some really disgusting videos came up that made me want to throw my phone in a hazmat suit, so I am not sure what had happened to these books so I looked them up in a more grown up better place, the Ocean State Library website. Voila, there it was like an old fashioned beam of light, just like I remembered it right next to Boys and Sex, both books written by Wardell B. Pomeroy. He was born in 1913 and I was surprised to learn that he was a co -author with the famous Alfred Kinsey. That book may have been so helpful. However, I wouldn’t know because in my second courageous act, (after the first one of drumming up the courage to ask the librarian for the book), I went home and asked my mother if she would take the book out for me. I would have thought that my mother who was only thirty two when I was twelve, would have only been too happy to relinquish the dreaded sex discussion to a book rather than a face to face. She did in fact take the book out for a quick perusal and promptly said a firm No, that I was too young. And just like that, my curiosity (and bravery if I do say so myself) went down under, silent, never to come out again except in the woods behind the school with Robbie H. where we could both satisfy our interests with each other’s sexual curiosity. I navigated my own questions in the basement dances at the local churches dancing close to the equally eager boys, sweaty and pheromone ladened in a way that took our young breath away. But I was a girl and girls weren’t supposed to be feeling, thinking, acting like that. That being sexually curious, sexually charged and energized and actually open to the idea of sexuality was actually something that was a natural feeling loaded with mixed feelings that we girls would find ourselves grappling with for years ahead.
I am not talking of intercourse or oral sex, that wasn’t even in my radar. (But thank you Bill Clinton for forcing me to have it in my parental radar when my son was born in 1997 having to watch endless television about cigars, semen and blowjobs). I am speaking of that old fashioned “petting,” as I have come to find out was one of the words used to describe some of the ideas in Wardell Pomeroy’s book. Instead of learning and ultimately validating that the feelings I was having from a legitimate book were normal and healthy, I had to learn from Judy Blume in her many books that weaved sexuality in and out in her themes right under the noses of our mothers who had seemed to turn conservative and June Cleaver on the subject.
Much to many of my friends horrors I began having discussions about sexuality with my son over card games as early as third grade. My thought was that my husband at the time surely wasn’t going to be having the talk and rather than make it a before and after in one awkward conversation, I would make the assumption that my son would be having these same feelings as early as I did and if I broached the subject earlier than his hormones, it wouldn’t be a “thing” but rather a natural part of normal maturity. Who knows if this decision was correct? Who knows if my son will be in therapy as he finds himself navigating his own grown up relationships with his mother’s voice chirping in his head. Eeee gads, but I had the mindset that discussion normalizes sexuality rather than surrounding it with all kinds of taboo and out of touch feelings.
These days, the notion of having to ask a librarian for permission to take out a book called Girls and Sex is like a Saturday Night Live skit. My memory seems as clear as a bell that these books were behind the counter, but I can’t imagine this now. These days, I am not sure that kids even read anymore. Our children who have a phone at their fingertips as a sixth digit on their hand have access to A-Z sex in videos and porn that make our own wonders and personal ideas about sex spin. Long gone are the days when a conversation about sex could spin from we parents caught in the act by our kids accidentally walking in on us or hearing us to realize that yes, their parents do in fact Do It. Kids today get all of their information unfiltered on the live sex shows that appear from an accidental google search with the word sex in the title. Sex is no longer left to our own personal journeys of undiscovered territory lead by our hormones and that first kiss of adolescence.
I am so happy I am past the point of having to think about these discussions with my son and instead get to focus on my own personal discoveries in the aging process. Fake boobs, body changing at the speed of light no matter how much I work out, waning and waxing interest, that pesky topic of vaginal dryness that makes for a buzz kill in the bedroom, a committed relationship that is not a married one, but a living apart together one and the simple fact that I am getting older as is my partner. Sex is everywhere, media for sure, the appalling songs that are in the buds of childrens’ head phones pumping disrespectful commentary about sexual expectations especially the female kind into their ears, innocent google searches, but also in the mating calls of birds and crickets right outside our doors and yet the open conversations about it are still in many ways locked away in our closets. Not for me though, I like talking about the ebbs and flows of sexuality and desire. My partner and I have introspective conversations about needs and wants making sure that this part of our own relationship moves in a growth pattern so we stay on the same page like all other aspects of a grown up partnership. Sex is a natural part of life and the more we can have these conversations with each other and our own children, the healthier their own outlooks on their bodies and what is going on with them will be.
If you are not comfortable talking about sex with your kids, figure it out, because if they don’t hear about healthy sex from you, the school bus and their iPhones will be their teachers. Start early because when they get to the age when their sexual interest is peaked, there is no way they will allow any form of conversation that has the word sex in it. I think we inadvertently teach our daughters that sex is a tool to be used as a manipulator by our mixed messages of being a “good girl” compared to what the definition of a “good boy’ means. For those of us fortunate to have a healthy outlook on sex and all of its attributes, I am grateful for the personal discoveries I made on my own, but I know feelings of inadequacy and shame could have been avoided if the topic had been talked about in an easier way with my mother rather than left to my own devices. Of course it is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, I guess someone would have to ask my son if he thinks this was a good idea or if I ruined his entire adolescence by my openness.
What I do know about sex is it evolves right alongside with me. There is no on or off button, but just somewhere in between. Sex, as I grow, grows with me like a warm companion in the hand holding on the couch while we watch a movie by the fire. I love the experience of maturity and sex is no longer a validator for love, attractiveness and interest. This has been liberating because I think with the wisdom of retrospect I used sex as a tool, a weapon even at times to gauge my own perception of a healthy solid connection. I am gratified by the release of this idea that never served me well and surely is not part of who I am now. Another lesson for sure when the cape came off right along with my breasts and I head towards my mid fifties.