Female Bodies and Sex Ed | Part 3 of 3
It’s 1960. I’m 16 years old and I just graduated from high school. I thought you’d like to see how I filled in the gaps between Daddy’s Sex Ed 101 and my graduation.
My Sex Ed 102 Learning Resources with Annotations by Me
*My parents’ everyday relationship with each other. Mother seems to have no voice and no vote. She doesn’t say No to Daddy’s sexual come-ons in front of me. At least I know what I don’t want to marry and what kind of pushy behavior I won’t allow any man to try on me! Click here for more about everyday realities in my home.
*Dictionaries and encyclopedias. Especially with pictures and drawings; amazing reading. I can just go from one juicy entry to another. Easy access, and nothing to hide under my bed if someone comes in the room.
*Cartoon series about romance. Especially the Sunday newspaper funnies: action, dialogue, facial expressions, compelling narrative. Not quite everything I want to know, but a great primer on how to swoon and get all carried away. Lots of suggestive clothing and relative lack thereof. Perfectly harmless? Seems to be. Not X-rated. Right next to Blondie and Dagwood.
*Forbidden popular songs overheard and remembered. Great fodder for my deprived imagination. Finding my thrill on blueberry hill; loving me tender and true, rocking around the clock. Surrogate boyfriends crooning just for me!
*Cows, dogs, birds and other assorted animals caught up in their rites of spring or whatever time of year they feel like doing it. So embarrassing to behold; totally unavoidable at certain times of the year. Distressingly brutal to female animals and birds that have to put up with aggressive, inconsiderate, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer behavior from bullish males.
*Romance stories for young readers. Available at the public library. Never risqué and never quite enough detail, but oh-so-romantic. Extra-strength vitamins for my already healthy imagination that loves to fill in missing details including me as the sought-after prize and heroine.
*Assigned reading in my high school literature courses, especially Chaucer’s Tales of Canterbury. Tough going at first, but I get used to the different vocabularies and meanings for key words. Bawdy, racy stuff. Available from the public library. I read way more than my teacher assigned and keep the book under my bed. Big advance in my knowledge base. Did my parents ever read this? Parts are pretty disgusting. Not very civilized.
*Love poems. Nothing lewd or suggestive; just good classic poetry about longing for love. Who wouldn’t long for love? So easy to identify with.
*Sculptures and famous art works. Especially of nude men, about whom I am particularly curious. A rather unsatisfactory substitute for brothers or real men, but better than nothing for key body parts.
When I compare my Sex Ed 102 with Daddy’s Sex Ed 101, I’m taken aback. I seem to think I’ve taken matters into my own hands. If he won’t give us enough information, I’m going to get it on my own! What do you think? Here are some things I see right away.
Neither scenario is grounded in safe conversation. Daddy gives a one-way talk. I do one-way listening to him and to my informal sources of information. Nothing is processed out loud, even though a huge amount of one-way communication happens at every point. The silence is deafening, though it seemed normal or at least the best and safest option back then.
I keep my feelings, thoughts and questions about sexuality to myself. I’m uneasy about what I hear, what I read, what I see, and what I imagine. But even if Daddy had offered an opportunity for conversation, I wouldn’t have spoken up. I want to know more and I don’t want to know more. But there’s no way I’m going to talk with Daddy. He’s already embarrassed me by asking intrusive questions or offering unwelcome ‘advice’ about my female body from time to time. Definitely not safe!
I don’t try to talk with Mother about any of this. Why not? Maybe it’s because I think she’ll tell me to talk with Daddy about it—or repeat to me what he already said. Or tell him what she and I talk about. Definitely not safe. Besides, she’s too busy taking care of our everyday needs and her own health.
It doesn’t occur to me that I might talk with some other adult about sexuality. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone I would trust or be able to contact privately. I don’t even know what a private conversation is; there’s no reliable privacy for me in our house. This is a hot topic—a don’t-ask, don’t-tell topic. Come to think of it, I’m probably already unholy and impure when it comes to sexuality. Just asking about anything might raise eyebrows and unwelcome questions about some of my discoveries about my body. Better safe than sorry. My lips are sealed.
In both Sex-Ed scenarios, I’m left to figure things out on my own. A lonely way to cope internally with this huge, complex and important part of my life. It’s confusing and even scary to think about. I’m already developing a strong attraction/aversion pattern about sexual behavior. Longing for it and loathing it all at the same time. Which just goes to show there must be something wrong with me. I guess I’ll just have to live with it. Maybe things will look better when I’m not living at home. Or when and if I get married.
This isn’t what I would call normal, and it isn’t healthy or safe for me. I was groomed to be a victim. The dynamics described above and in earlier posts describe some of how this happened. It seems the same thing might be missing there, too.
With regard to sexuality, I don’t believe I need more or better information about sexuality. I need safety. I also need at least one safe adult willing to be there with and for me. A safe friend. That’s what’s missing.
Safety doesn’t happen automatically for me. It needs to be nurtured. At least in families; also in other places. As for families, it happens when family members learn to be friends with each other. Safe friends.
Making friends isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes regular attention to simple disciplines. And, of course, being willing to make mistakes and get discouraged or disappointed from time to time. And being willing to get up, try again, and celebrate progress.
I’m still learning to practice these simple disciplines with family members today:
- Taking time to be together one-on-one
- Thinking things over together
- Asking productive questions of each other
- Listening with an open mind to all points of view
- Sharing my point of view
- Paying attention to little things that matter
- Being willing to change
- Admitting when I’m wrong
- Respecting differences
- Including others in the family circle
- Counting on God’s presence through life’s ups and downs, gains and losses, sorrows and joys
I grieve the reality that I didn’t learn these disciplines is as a child or young person. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t shown daily how it’s done in real-time, or invited to participate.
Don’t you think these disciplines look like a great primer for Sex Ed 100 ? I do.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 July 2014