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My parents never told me anything.  Learning about sex in the late 70s-early 80s was like taking an independent study course with a couple of professors who couldn’t be bothered to keep office hours.

I was a first-born, serious girl.  I had spent my preschool years playing outdoors with my older male cousins.  Sometimes our games were sexually charged: as a result, I knew what boy parts looked like and that they didn’t have to sit down on the toilet.  I knew I liked being tied up as we re-enacted various Bugs Bunny cartoons, but I couldn’t say why.  I had seen a medical textbook of my father’s when I was very young; the image of a cross-section of a woman’s abdomen with an upside-down baby inside was burned into my memory.  I had seen big women like this and was able to conclude that babies come from inside women.  But how did they get there?  A man giving a woman “a special kind of hug,” as my mother explained it, seemed insanely vague.

When I was 11, Mom gave me a pamphlet called “Growing Up and Liking It,” which featured a dated photograph of a smiling blond teenage girl in a blue dress on the cover.  The pamphlet described menstruation and really seemed to push Modess (”rhymes with oh yes!”) sanitary napkins.  Included in the pamphlet was an insert about bras.  This was lavishly illustrated with drawings of fabulous, impossibly-stacked women wearing various bullet bras and did little more than cause me to become fascinated with fabulous, impossibly-stacked women wearing various bullet bras.  The menstruation information, however, was old news.  They had already shown us The Film at school.  And that, apparently, was all we needed to know about sex.  Except they were skipping what seemed to be the most interesting part!

Being self-reliant, I set out to learn about sex via the only tools I had available to me: books.  I knew the act was called sex, so I consulted Webster’s Student Dictionary, but looking up “sex” was a big disappointment to say the least.

I turned to fiction for help.  Judy Blume seemed to know what was going on, and I pored over Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret (useful, but not about sex), Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (inscrutable at the time because it was a boy’s story, but I knew I was on to something), and Deenie, which described what I later understood to be the miracle of masturbation.  Deenie talked about getting in the bathtub, rubbing herself somewhere–I don’t think she ever said exactly where–with a washcloth, and getting a “really nice feeling.”  So, of course, I tried rubbing my body in various places such as my stomach and arms with a washcloth, but I never experienced a sensation beyond “washcloth feeling.”  Eventually it occurred to me to try Down There, but I didn’t know what to do or how long to do it, giving up after possibly ten seconds.  “It must be something weird that only Deenie does,” I concluded.  I mean, the girl had problems.

Strangely, I didn’t connect this Deenie thing with what I sometimes did in bed to fall asleep.  I would close my eyes and imagine some elaborate scenario in which I was tied to a chair, tree, or pole.  Bad guys would be lurking around in a threatening kind of way, about to do something to me, whatever that might be.  Some heroic man, usually faceless but probably also Christopher Reeve-ish (I had a crush on Superman), would rescue me.  As I thought about this, my hand casually migrated south, not doing much beyond just being there, providing warmth.  I never came close to having an orgasm and had never even heard of the word at the time.

Things continued like this until I entered high school.  At age 14, I was in a hospital waiting room as my little sister was being born.  Bored out of my mind, I started reading the hospital’s offerings from cover to cover.  I came across a Redbook with an excerpt from a popular romance novel reprinted on pulpy, peach-colored paper.  The story’s heroine described an encounter with her lover and said something about “how good it felt to have him inside me.”  This concept was a complete revelation to me: the man has to be inside the woman!  It all makes sense to me now!

–Submitted by K.

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1 comment to Self-Reliance

  • So, I admit that I laughed at “Growing Up and Liking It.”

    But you must be a smart girl, because I never would have understood what “inside” meant? How does he GET inside? How does he fit? WHERE inside? I think I would have been confused even more. Good for you for being a curious, nosy little thing!

    When my mother told me that a man puts his “penis” in a woman’s “hole” I just nodded. Then she gave me a book that said something about sex feeling really good, but that it was too tiring for people to do all the time. I envisioned a man and a woman pancaked together, stomach to stomach, and rolling back and forth like hot dogs from one end of the bed to the other.

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