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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.
I endeavor to avoid writing about politics on this blog, except when politics intersect with sex. I avoid politics because I don’t want how I feel about deficit spending, or gun control, or NAFTA or other rancorous issues to become entangled in how people understand my films. So much at I might be tempted to vent, I don’t. Not usually.
Some background. Peggy and I have two children, two daughters, one seven and a half, the other not yet two. Before I became a parent, the guiding star for my work was that I did not want to do anything I would be embarrassed or ashamed to show to my mother. After I became a parent I stopped looking back and started looking forward. My daughter became my new star, and my new guidance was that I did not want to do anything that I would be embarrassed or ashamed to explain, when the time came, to my daughter.
What we tell our older daughter about our work is calibrated to what she knows about sex. She knows about reproduction, and is fascinated by the workings of genetics (I am a recessive blue dark-eyed person, Peggy has fair eyes. There have been many discussions about Mendelian principals.) She knows the proper names of her sex organs so far as she’s asked, which is to say that she knows her vagina is different from her vulva. She knows the name of my sex organs too. She knows that her mother’s body is different from hers, and that when she is older, she will get breasts and pubic hair, and her body will change from being a straight-sided child’s body to a more or less curvy woman’s body. She knows about menstruation. I also know that she knows that people who love each other enjoy being close to each other, and I think she understands that although there are many similarities in the way that she snuggles with me or her mother, there is also something different in the way that Peggy and I snuggle, that it means something different when mommy and daddy snuggle. She knows about eggs and sperm, and how babies grow in their mother’s tummies. She knows that babies emerge from their mothers’ vaginas.
She has yet to ask just how the sperm gets into mommy’s tummy. When that day comes, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell her, except that whatever it is, it is going to be the truth. Against this understanding of her knowledge, we tell her that we make films about the good feeling that it gives people to be close to someone they love, and the good feeling it gives people to hear stories about that good feeling and see people who are in love.
Back to politics. A couple of months ago, on the way to drop my daughter off at school, she asked me about the war in Iraq. I did my best to explain in simple, objective facts, without betraying my own bias. I thought I was doing pretty well until she asked me, “Who started it?”
I felt myself freeze for a moment, then I said, “We did, honey.”
“We did?” bewilderment running across her face. “Why?” We had arrived at school and I was let off the hook.
“If you want, we can talk about this some more after school,” and politics did not come up again, until last night. Last night our daughter asked me why people are saying we torture people. “Why are people saying we torture people?”
How do you answer that question? How do you calibrate your answer against what you think your child knows about stress positions and water-boarding and the Geneva Convention and the blast radius of a suitcase nuke? After a bit of hesitation, I told her, as simply and gently as I could, what I believe to be the truth.
There is a lot of worrying in our country about what happens if children are exposed to sexual ideas or sexual imagery before they are ready to understand it. I think these concerns have merit, but I also think part of my responsibility as a parent is to give my children the knowledge they need to, as best they can, understand and incorporate sexuality as a part of the human experience and as a part of their own experience. To my mind, this is the best prophylactic against their inappropriate exposure to sex, and to mitigate whatever ill effects it might have.
It’s hard to know if you’re doing too much, or not doing enough, but Peggy and I bumble along as best we can. But as ill prepared as I might feel about being my daughter’s guide on her journey from a child’s understanding and experience of sex to that of an adult, I am far far less prepared to be her guide in a world where her own government subjects prisoners to water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” When I was her age, I was indoctrinated in the idea that we simply didn’t do things like this in America, and that’s what made us different and better than our mortal adversary, the Soviet Union. I was taught this difference was something worth making sacrifices for, worth killing for, even worth dying for if need be. I was indoctrinated in these ideals and I still believe in them. I don’t know how to explain torture to my daughter without becoming confused and angry.
Compared to explaining torture, explaining why mommy and daddy make dirty movies seems like a walk in the park. Perhaps some of you think I’m naive, and perhaps you even disagree with me. If so, I hope you will chalk it up to the same idealism that has sustained our efforts to make our films, and excuse this outburst as the ranting of an overwrought parent who only wants the best for his children, and wants them to grow up in a country that is regarded throughout the world as a place that is different and special.
–Submitted by Tony from Comstock Films
Picture this: he and I, sitting with Gander in the hammock. The weather is lovely, serene. He’s cuddly, something rare in an bouncy 8 year old. “Mom” he says, “I learned a new word today.”
“Really?” say I.
“Oh, goodness, what on earth does that mean?” I offer while glancing in an amused fashion at Gander.
“They’re BOOBS! And there is a whole restaurant about them! Alex said so in class!!!!”
While pondering the wisdom of continuing the conversation, and also wondering just how on earth Alex knows of this dining mecca, I say, “You mean breasts, honey.”
Always use the proper lingo.
“Do you think that sounds like a good place to go? I mean? Is it ok for a restaurant to just be about breasts?” I ask? Surely a teachable moment, this is.
“Yeah!” he says (naturally).
“Well, what if there was a restaurant that only had men waiters and they wore tight tight pants and it was called….Butt-ers? Would that be ok?
He breaks into gales of laughter. I don’t think it was the genius juxtaposition of my male to female sexism that got him going, nor was it an age old sense of male privilege at the very idea of men in hot pants.
I had said “Butt”.
“I’m gonna tell everyone we are opening a restaurant called “Butt-ers” he giggled and ran off.
My future with the Parents Association is tenuous at best.
The children are our future, and I think they want to go to Hooters.
–Submitted by Goose from Living In Outlaw Territory
When I was about four, my parents explained the basic mechanics of where babies come from. Excited that I knew something the other kids didn’t know, but ever the informational egalitarian, I told the other kids at my preschool. This didn’t go over well in the conservative community where I was raised.
A few years later, I distributed my father’s Playboy collection to the neighborhood boys. I got in even more trouble for that one. I suppose I was just born to spread sex.
–Submitted by Furry Girl, agrimony photography: be the porn you want to see in the world
I don’t really remember the first time my mom talked to me about sex. I remember her buying me a book called “Where Do Babies Come From?” before I went to sleep away camp for the first time, the summer after second grade. She was worried that kids would tell me things that were untrue and wanted me to have some understanding about it before the rumor mill got to me.
The only other explicit conversation I remember having with my mom was in 7th or 8th grade. I said, “Mom? What is ‘eating out’?” She told me that it was “when a guy stuck his tongue in your ‘hole.’”
When I was 17, I told my mother that I was thinking about having sex with my boyfriend, and my mother took me to get birth control. And that was the extent of our talks.
Because my mother and I never really spoke about sex and sexuality, I never really thought about my mother’s views on sex and sexuality. When I was in college, I became very interested in the subject of sexuality and did a ton of research on the topic. I began exploring my own. I got a job working at an adult toy store. Sex and sexuality were a huge part of my life.
My mother knew this and accepted it. We would have general conversations about things that had happened at work or I would relate stories of customers that had come in, but we never talked about OUR sex lives. However, I believe that it was because of my openness and open-mindedness about the subject that my mother eventually came to me to talk about her own sex life. I don’t know that my mother had ever been able to talk to anyone about her sex life before. She is fairly conservative, as are most of her friends, and it was not a subject that was seen as acceptable to talk about. So, I was a little shocked when she brought it up.
She came to visit me at school and we went out for drinks. And once she started talking, it all came out. The years and years of being unsatisfied with her sex life with my father. How, when they were first married, she would try to wear sexy lingerie for him and he never paid her any mind. How, in their 25 years of marriage, he had never let her give him a blow job, even though she always wanted to. How conservative and afraid to try new things he was. How, as he had gotten older, he began to have erectile difficulties and that made him so insecure that he was afraid to even attempt to have sex. And she cried.
I bought my mother her first vibrator shortly after that conversation. She thanked me profusely, and she loved it. And then she asked me to go shopping with her for things to bring on their 25th anniversary trip. We picked out things that would be fun, but wouldn’t intimidate my conservative father. Some lubricant. Some flavored massage oils. Edible body paints. A small vibrating cock ring. And through talking with me, and with my encouragement, my mother brought these things with her on the trip. And she got up the confidence to tell my father that she wanted to try them. She told him what she wanted. And he listened.
Their sex life is still a work in progress, and some people may find it odd that it ended up being her daughter that ended up helping my mother to begin to find her sexual self. But we are from two different generations, and my generation is more open to discussing issues of sex and sexuality. And it was my openness about the subject that finally encouraged my mother to come to me for help. I love that my mother and I have this kind of relationship. It may not be typical, and it may be a reversal of roles in a lot of ways, but it works for us.
And I couldn’t be more proud of my mother. She is proof that it’s never too late to find sexual satisfaction.
–Submitted by Britni from Oh My God, That Britni’s Shameless
My Grandmother is an awesome woman. She accepted my family as it was long before my mother decided to speak to me again. In my eyes, she is a hero, just for that.
Every time we are together (she lives several hours from us) we take more pictures. And when she is the one taking pictures, she always says “Say sex, cause it’s fun!” And we all laugh about it.
She never says it when my mother is in the room, because she knows my mother would have a problem with it. But when it’s just us, she is a bit more open.
And we love her for it.
–Submitted by Monkey from They Belong To Us…
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