My parents had the “talk” with me when I was in grade four. I came home from school one day armed with the knowledge that I knew how babies were made. One of the grade six girls confided in me that a woman had to drink male urine in order to conceive. I couldn’t imagine a circumstance that would make me want to do this, regardless of how much I loved the guy. I supposed that was why my mother always talked about all the sacrifices parents make for their kids. I didn’t want to think about my mother drinking my father’s urine or that I was somehow the bi-product of pee. My grandmother always said that God had a sense of humour, but I didn’t find this funny.
“What did you say?” my mother asked me when I looked to her for confirmation. She seemed amused or shocked. It was difficult to tell. “Maybe it’s time your dad and I answered a few of your questions.” And so, after dinner, they sat me down and launched into a version of the birds and the bees that they thought a nine-year old would understand. They explained things pretty well, as far as I recall, and though it still all sounded weird, I was relieved to discover that urine was not involved. The funny thing about that conversation was that weeks later I had completely forgotten it. I mean I got the gist of the whole thing, and even though their explanation was clinically sound, it just went in one ear and out the other. By the time I was in grade six, I couldn’t remember what they had told me and there was no way I was going to ask them again.
We had a lot of books in our house, so it didn’t take much sleuthing to find bits of information here and there and piece it all together. In this respect, my sex education became much more salacious than the matter of fact explanation of two years earlier. D. H. Lawrence, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller supplied me with much more interesting words and phrases than Dr. Spock. One day I discovered a book with illustrations of barnyard animals copulating (no doubt strategically placed amongst the literature by a well-meaning parent) and my sex education was complete.
‘Remember,” my mother would say, “sex should be with someone you love.”
“What if it isn’t?” I asked, curious to know the consequences of sex with someone you maybe liked.
“Imagine the most depressing Christmas ever, with no toys and only soup for dinner,” she said. Then to really drive her point home she added, “Celery soup! That’s sex with someone you don’t love.”
Point taken. Must love your sexual partner.
“Does it hurt?” I asked my mother.
“Not as much as your heart when he breaks it,” she sighed as she sipped a gin and tonic and flipped through the pages of Cosmo.
Honestly, so far, I couldn’t figure out why anyone bothered, especially as I was always hearing people say, that such and such was better than sex.
“Did you have a good time at the spa?”
“It was better than sex.”
“You went on a shopping spree?”
“It was better than sex.”
“How was the chocolate mousse?”
“It was better than sex.”
What was better than sex? To hear most people talk, you’d think almost everything.
In grade six a sexual predator showed up at our school. Like the bogeyman from a scary story he made his way through the woods on the other side of the fence, and exposed himself to children in the school yard during recess. I never saw him, but the general upheaval and lock down was enough to scare the crap out of me. Whatever he was exposing was dangerous and shocking. We were told to avert our eyes and run inside if he appeared again. Eventually the police arrived, drapes were drawn and they carted him away. Note to self: Male anatomy shocking and dangerous.
In grade eight I had to go over this whole sex education thing yet again, this time with a classroom of my peers. No matter how many times it was explained to me, it always sounded messy and uncomfortable. When I was little, my brother and I used to refer to kissing on film as “mushy ketchup” and the label felt appropriate. As far as I was concerned the whole idea of bodily fluids getting mixed up together just made me sick to my stomach. A fact that would prove prophetic when I finally had sex. Moreover, all the boys in my class were disgusting. I couldn’t imagine them touching me let alone having sex.
“Do you have hairy armpits?” Tony Bianco asked in English class one day. He and his friends laughed amongst themselves in this all knowing, deprecating kind of way. It didn’t help that I was an early developer either. I never needed a training bra. It was just undershirt to real bra for the girl who wasn’t even a little bit interested in boys. God certainly does have a sense of humour. It turned out that sex wasn’t just about copulating. It was also about being objectified and humiliated by boys.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “Jane Eyre didn’t have sex with Mr. Rochester. I see no reason why I should be any different. I will hide behind words with wit as my weapon.” And so purposely made myself unattractive while everyone else was going out of their way to show off any and every positive attribute.
Needless to say, I never dated in high school. I was the weird girl who did up the top button of her blouse and wore jumpers. For birth control, I used my personality. The only boys who seemed interested in me were the ones who occupied the other side of weird. The misfits who skipped class or were always being sent to the principal’s office for detention. One boy named Rob, sat in front of me in the “dumb” math class. He was the kind of guy that looked like he should have graduated three years earlier. He had facial hair and a deep voice and reeked of cigarette smoke. In every other class I was smart, but in “dumb math” I slid behind my desk and disappeared into the vast expanse of ineptitude. There I was, just a dumb girl with boobs who had no future. THIS was apparently attractive. When Rob asked me out I simply said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the girl you think I am.” And that was that.
It was easy to tell which kids in school were doing it. They sauntered through the hallways in tight jeans and tee shirts showing off their prowess in art class by drawing perfectly proportioned female nudes. I sat at the table with these cool guys. They were musicians, and political activists. They shunned authority and had a kind of worldliness about them. Girls hung around them like flies. Girls who had sophistication and confidence tattooed to their backsides. Seriously…it was in the drawings. They didn’t take art because it was easy. They were actually talented…more talented than I, which gave them substance in spite of their rebellious nature. One boy, Dave, asked me one day. “Hey, you! Glasses!”
I looked up from my sweet little drawing of a girl on a swing. “Me?”
“What kind of music do you listen to?” he asked. His friends smiled and stopped what they were doing. All eyes were on me. It was a crucial moment. Should I lie? Should I recite the names of cool bands and popular music?
“Stan Getz,” I replied. “Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan.” I was deep into it. I waited. Then he simply said, “Cool.” I was in. I didn’t lose my virginity but I lost a little bit of my innocence that day. By the time I graduated public high school I was the nerdy girl that no one picked on. Not in bathrooms. Not in hallways. Not in classrooms. I was nominated for Queen of the Prom and I didn’t even have a date.
It didn’t help that my girlfriends were vastly superior in the art of love. One of my best friends got married when she was just nineteen. I sat under the tent at her wedding thinking to myself that I’d missed a gene or chromosome somewhere. It wasn’t that I preferred women to men. I simply didn’t care one bit about sex. “What’s it like?” I would ask Vicki at sleep-overs. But most of what she described wasn’t the act of sex but the embellishments of romance. Picnics and moonlit nights under the stars, candlelit dinners, flowers…Her family was incredibly wealthy and their house was spectacular. In almost every way, she had the life I wanted. How, I thought to myself, could she give all of this up for a skinny, bow legged opera singer?
I didn’t sleep with anyone until I was twenty. There were a few opportunities and a couple of close calls, but for one reason or another (partially the fear of buying condoms), it just never happened. Then I went away to school and met a guy at a party and fate intervened.
We immediately started hanging out together; having dinner and catching the occasional film. Days turned into weeks and then a month. Things were starting to get awkward. We were on the verge of settling into that friendship zone from which no one ever recovers. Some things can only be delayed for so long before psychologists need to be brought in. It was Oscar night…what could possibly be more romantic? We were in a celebratory mood. There was alcohol and take-out from Balducci’s and dessert, as I recall. The best picture of the year award was announced and I gathered my tote bag. As I began to head out he simply said, “Stay.” And I did. That year the awards were in March and I remember the window of his bedroom was open. The drapes billowed every now and then as voices from the sidewalk below drifted up to the room. I don’t think nervous does justice to what I was feeling that night. I tried to block it from my mind, but that stupid sexual predator from grade six kept showing up behind the fence. I heard my mother's voice..."Do you love this guy?" Sure, I thought to myself. At least it was easy enough to convince myself that I did. And so, I surrendered to the whole enterprise. The usual questions playing around in my head, “What if I’m awful? What if he hates me? What if he’s awful?” I wore a housecoat and thought about how many calories I was burning.
It was fine. I was fine. He was fine. But afterwards -- I threw up. I don’t think throwing up after sex is recommended. It’s not something people brag about.
“Gee, it was so good, I threw up.”
No one says that.
To my great relief the next time was better. I dated that guy for six years. It turned out I did love him after all. My mother would have been so proud.
In the end, when it comes to sex, maybe W.C. Fields said it best ~
Some things are better than sex and some things are worse but there’s nothing exactly like it.