Female Bodies and Sex Ed | Part 2 of 3
It’s 1954. We just finished breakfast, and are sitting around the dinner table. Sister #4 is about one year old. Mother is holding her at one end of the table. Daddy is sitting at the ‘head’ of the table. Sisters #2 and #3 and I are present. We don’t know it, but Sex Ed 101 for Daughters is about to begin.
Important Background Information
When we moved to the Deep South Daddy began a family tradition: morning Bible reading and prayer after breakfast. Required. Straight through the Bible, no picking and choosing. It’s all God’s word, and we are going to read it as such.
I don’t mind. I rather enjoy the Bible reading part since we get to take turns reading out loud. I don’t care a lot for prayer time—also obligatory taking of turns, with Daddy always holding forth in the last very long prayer.
In our daily Bible readings we haven’t skipped anything so far—including the long lists of sons of this or that man, and a pitifully small number of daughters or mothers with and without names. Believe it or not, we’ve come to the end of Ecclesiastes! Pretty impressive, don’t you think? I do.
Before I continue, I have to make a confession right here
I read my Bible a lot. It’s required at my church school, my Sunday school, in church services, and in my home. A Very Important Book. So I already know the next book on our reading agenda—the Song of Solomon. But I don’t have a clue what’s really coming.
It’s important for you to know I’m 11 years old and then some. Yes, I’ve already heard about sex. Who hasn’t? Do I know anything about it? I’ve picked up a little hint here and a little hint there, but frankly, I haven’t been that interested in knowing all about it. Not yet anyway.
I have, however, discovered all by myself that my body is capable of things I never would have imagined in a million years. In fact, the first time it happens I’m terrified. Where did that come from? Did I just do something to hurt myself? Am I going to get sick from this? What if Daddy finds out?
Now for the Song of Solomon
I’ve tried reading it on my own, but I can’t imagine what most of it means or why it’s in the Bible. Nonetheless, I’m no dummy. Breasts are breasts, right? Kisses are kisses, right? Pretty heady sneak-preview reading for a young girl who isn’t allowed to go to movies or dances or listen to ‘suggestive’ popular music. In fact, I can hardly believe it’s in the Bible!
So here’s what happens. We’ve finished eating breakfast. Daddy gets his Bible out and opens it to the Song of Solomon. He looks very serious—much more serious than usual. He pauses.
Then, in a voice I can only call eerie (I hear it sometimes when he’s preaching, too), he begins to wax eloquent not just about this special, beautifully written book that’s really a love poem, but about its subject matter.
I don’t remember whether he said anything about it being symbolic—though I can’t believe he didn’t say something about that. On the other hand, I’ll never forget feeling sick to my stomach as he begins telling us about the wonders of married life and how we’ll find out about this when we’re married and that this is how babies are ‘made,’ and how, in the meantime, we’re to keep ourselves pure and holy—which includes refraining from any activities like the one I had secretly already stumbled upon all by myself!
I can’t wait for him to stop rhapsodizing about the glories of having SI with Mother or what awaits us as married women. (SI is my code, not his. He just says the words out loud: ‘sexual intercourse.’) Nothing too explicit, mind you. It’s all wrapped in a cloud of unknowing—too precious to bring into the ordinary light of day.
I’m painfully aware of Mother sitting there beside me, silent. What does she think about all this? As I already said, I’m no dummy: this is NOT the time to launch a Q&A about SI! I keep my mouth shut tight and my eyes turned down.
To be honest, I don’t remember whether my father read the Song of Solomon out loud to us or not. I don’t remember whether I read any of it out loud—though I may well have blocked it out of my memory. I definitely cannot, however, block out how clear Daddy is that this book is for married adults, and that he wants us to know how glorious it all is right now and will someday be for us, too. He even gets weepy.
That’s it. Sex Ed 101 is over and done with, thank goodness. In the meantime, my job is to keep myself holy and pure.
Four take-aways from this lesson
- It’s probably too late for me to keep myself holy and pure (I already discovered something I’m not supposed to do!)
- I loathe the language of SI (and don’t know why)
- I can’t wait to get away from this table (and do know why)
- I feel dirty all over (and don’t know why)
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 July 2014
Coming in Part 3: How sex ed actually happened for me in my family….
For Part 1, click here.