Growing up in the 1970s, I was never taught to celebrate my sexual freedom. I was taught that sex was bad, only men liked it and not only did it hurt, but you risked getting pregnant. And if you had sex before marriage then you were damaged goods.
When I was in second grade I blurted out at the dinner table that my best friend=s sister started her period and I wanted to know what that meant. My mother said she would tell me after dinner. She took me out to the backyard and began to whisper.
“A period is a thing that comes once every 28 days. When you get a little older you will get one. Every 28 days women bleed,” she said.
I started to think about the time my brother threw a tin can and it hit me in the back of my head. It bled and I needed six stitches to close the wound. I didn’t want to bleed every 28 days. No, this wasn’t an option for me.
“So, do I have to get stitches every month?” I asked.
“No, it’s not like that,” she said, “You bleed from down there.”
“From the same place a baby comes out of,” she said.
“My belly button?”
“No, from your coochie.”
I felt panicked and started to cry. There was no way this way going to be an option for me and now she is telling me that babies come from where I pee? That had to be impossible. Now I had to ask the logical question.
“How does the baby get in there?” I asked.
“Well,” said my mother, When you get married and want to make a baby, you hug very close to your husband and he puts his pee pee inside your coochie. But, you must never ever do this until you are married. Not to mention it hurts. It hurts a lot. Like a knife stabbing into you.”
I couldn’t bear to hear another word. I ran away from her. Ran into my bedroom and slammed the door. I crouched down behind the door, brought my knees up to my chest and cried warm, butter tears, watching them fall into the hole in the knees of my jeans. I vowed to never let any of these awful things happen to me.
Now that I was armed with this newfound knowledge, I began giving my father dirty looks at the dinner table. I would snicker at my grandfather and stick my tongue out at him. Women had to do these things. There was no way in my mind any woman would ever consent to such torture.
By the fourth grade I was still learning that vaginas and penises were different. Seemed to me that the penis had all the power and the penis was able to have all the fun.
There was an old abandoned trailer at the back of my aunt=s property. All the boys would hang out there and the girls were never allowed to go. I wanted to go. In fact, I begged to go, but was never allowed. Until one day, a neighbor boy that was two years older than me asked if I wanted to go see the trailer.
“If you want to see it, I will take you there,” he said.
I followed behind him. I was so excited. I could now be part of the secret club. In a clearing, there it was. The windows were busted out and I couldn=t wait to go inside. Once inside I began to explore. Old books, torn curtain, dishes still in the sink. It was like a giant time capsule with a calender still on the wall.
“Hey, you want to see something cool?” he asked.
“Yes!” I screamed.
And there it was. It was a penis sticking out his pants. I stared at it. It was long and hard. It jutted straight out from his body.
“Touch it,” he said.
I poked it with my finger. I was curious. It felt hard. I stared at it a bit longer, the poked it again. He laughed.
“Why don’t you kiss it?” he asked.
“I don’t want to kiss it. Why would I want to kiss it?”
“C’mon just kiss it, ” he said, as he tried to pull me closer to it.
My curiosity quickly vanished and I became afraid. I pushed him away and ran from the trailer, never stopping until I reached the safety of my mother. I never told her. I was afraid I would get in trouble for going into the trailer when I was told not to and it would all be my fault.
As soon as I started to develop, I learned that the penis was everywhere. My mother had given me two quarters and told me to make sure to pay the newspaper boy when he came to collect. As soon as the doorbell rang, I opened it and handed him the two quarters. He shoved them into his pocket and, as he turned to leave, he reached out and latched onto my 12-year old breast, giving it a fast squeeze before he ran away. I stood there stunned. Again, I felt afraid and embarrassed. I tried to think of what I might have done to make the paper boy react this way toward me. When I returned to school the next day, I felt embarrassed and couldn’t look at him. I felt ashamed and I didn’t know why.
As the days passed things in my world seemed to become even more bizarre and I became more confused. My mother explained to me that I was now too big and too old to sit on anyone’s lap. I didn’t understand it, as I was always crawling onto my grandfather=s lap.
“It’s just not ladylike,” she said, “You see, you can sit on a male=s lap and wiggle around. I mean…not that you do it intentionally…it’s just when you sit on a male=s lap…it…well…it gives them an erection. You know what that is, right? It makes their thing hard,” my mother explained.
Here was more confusion for me. If I sat on your lap, then you could get an erection and if you got an erection, then it was my fault? Okay, enough said. I seemed to be responsible for a lot of erections and I was going to try really hard to control myself so that the penis could control itself. I was learning something about the penis. It was larger than life. It had a mind of its own and you had to be on the lookout for it at all times. It was a like a jet flying through the sky, painting a landscape like a giant pencil… it was a submarine, lurking under water, sneaking, waiting to attack and to add insult to injury it was as a hard as a rock and could easily double as a dangerous weapon. Like a built-in nightstick or a hammer, sledgehammer, ready to pound you at any given second. You had to be on the lookout for it at any given moment.
I heard my older brother talking one day to his friends. He was saying words like, “blow job” and “snatch.” I kept begging him to tell me what those words meant. I was relentless. I wanted to know. He would get very angry with me and tell me that I didn’t need to know. But, I didn’t give up. I waited until he was playing football with a group of his friends and I kept yelling at him.
“You are a stupid blow job! C’mon SNATCH the ball, blow job boy!”
That got his attention pretty more quickly because he ran toward me, threw down on the ground and farted on my head. His friends laughed and I cried.
“There are you happy? That’s a blow job!”
Okay, so no questions asked. I was going to add this to my list of things I would never do. I was not going to have a period. I was not going have sex and I sure as hell was never going to participate in a blow job.
But, there was still the lurking question about the snatch. I needed to know what that was. I had to devise another plan to make my brother tell me. I figured blackmail might work. I saw him smoking behind the garage and went over to him.
“If you don’t tell me what a snatch is,@ I said, AI=m going to tell Mom you smoke.” (woo hoo talk about vagina power!)
“It’s just a word, ” he said, “A word guys use when they talk about your coochie. There are all kinds of words for the coochie, a snatch is one of them.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Forget about it.”
My brother wasn’t going to tell me anymore and now on top of everything I had a few more worries. At what age did my coochie began to snatch things? How did it snatch things? How many things would it snatch? Could it snatch the Cheetos and the coins out of the couch cushions when you least expected it? Why did men and boys call the coochie a snatch?
And then it happened. The day I feared most. The day I got my period. The day my mother called my grandmother and all of her sisters, friends, and distant relatives. Diana was a woman.
That night my mother came into my room and she was holding a brown bag. I knew it wasn’t good. From the brown bag she pulled a red rubber object with a long hose attached to it. The same identical thing I had seen hanging in our shower for years.
“Okay, honey, this is a called a douche bag and when your curse ends, you need to fill this up with water and cleanse the area, okay?” she said.
Two things came to mind. One…I had been playing with my mother=s coochie cleaner for years and had no idea what it was. I would fill it up and squirt it around and even rinse my hair with it. Second, what was this new word?
“Why did you call it the >curse=?’ AI asked.
“Oh it’s a curse. We get it because of our sins. It’s just a curse,” she said.
Okay, so we bled because we were sinners. Sex felt like a knife driving into us and the penis was this crazy, hammer-like device that was lurking at all times an its major goal was to meet up with our snatch, that could at any second snatch it up without warning? Penises and Vaginas were magical. Not like genies in bottles…not like magical and mystical. It was just that they both seemed to have power. Like the vagina was the magic, mystical box and the penis was the golden key.
Imagine my surprise and confusion the first time I kissed a boy. Mind you this was a boy that I dated in ninth and tenth grade and didn’t allow to even kiss me until tenth grade…but when he did…I was on fire. I felt dizzy. I was sweating. I felt a stirring in my snatch…my nipples were pulsating and I just wanted him to kiss me all night…oh yes…give me a blow job, I don’t care! This stuff rocks!!! Yes, go ahead, touch my breast…oh no…don’t…yes…no…well at least try, so I can then say no..but no, I can’t…yes…but noo…and then he stopped. He stopped just like that. He made the decision or so I thought. It wouldn’t be until years later when I learned what premature ejaculation was.
The truth of the matter was that I liked necking, making out, kissing. It felt good. According to my mother women didn’t like sex and it was a duty that you performed when you got married and only when you got married. And here I was saying, “This shit is too cool!”
So, did this make me a boy or a man? Did this make me a sinful woman? Was I now a slut? I mean, I never let him, I wanted to. I thought about it, but I never did. The fact was that I did like it. It felt good and that confused me.
It wasn’t until I got married that disappointment set in. All that necking and making out felt magical and then when I had sex for the first time and it was over, I felt let down. That was it? I even recall being ready for the knife…the stabbing penis with the secret razor blades cutting into me…but they never came. Sure, it was uncomfortable and it hurt, but nothing like Ginsu knives dicing me up.
Within three months of my marriage I was pregnant. Nobody told me about birth control and the Catholic Church was feeding me with more jargon and I was torn. Only have sex for reproduction, Do not practice birth control and no abortions. So, I cheated. I practice the rhythm method, because that was acceptable to the Catholic Church. Keep track of your cycle and stay away from sex during days of ovulation.
But I wanted something more. I wanted reproduction freedom. I wanted to have sex when and where I wanted it and I wanted not to have to worry about getting pregnant. I finally asked my mother about the pill. She confessed that she had been on it for years, but you didn’t talk about it. It wasn’t accepted by the Catholic Church. She gave me a name of a doctor that would prescribe it. In fact, he would prescribe anything, including valium to thousands of women who were sexually frustrated and didn’t know why.
So, now I had it. That tiny pill was an amazingly innovative new form of contraception that prevented unwanted pregnancy.
Now add the dilemma…we fought for reproductive freedom knowing full well we were putting our bodies at risk by allowing ourselves to consume synthetic hormones. So, I opted away from the pill and got a diaphragm. It took away my freedom to copulate at the moment..dulled the spontaneity, but nevertheless kept me from getting pregnant when I didn’t want to.
And there I was clearing off the kitchen table, ready for it all, then excusing myself to insert my diaphragm and then it was over. Where was that feeling I used to get when I was necking and making out? Where was my BANG…my orgasm? Why was I being taken to the ledge of a cliff and instead of being pulled back up being thrown over the edge? I wanted more. I wanted what HE was getting. I recall the first time I brought it up to him and his response was that nice girls don’t talk about those things. Well, this nice girl has the vagina and if you want to make friends with the vagina, then you better treat her right or she is closed for business. Wow! The vagina has power!!! And once I realized my vagina had power the possibilities were endless!
It was then that I went back to my mother. I asked her about oral sex.
“Oh if I knew that you ever engaged in oral sex, you wouldn’t be able to drink out of my coffee cups,” she said.
Okay. But, what if Dad was bitten by a snake on his penis and you had to suck the venom out? Would you do it?” I asked.
She thought for a moment and finally said, “well, that would be a matter of life or death and I would have to do it!”
And it made me think about why she would lie to me, again. Why when I was 11 years old did I burst into bedroom before Saturday morning cartoons and find her kneeling before my father, his penis in her mouth? And why did they chatter amongst themselves while I sat there eating my bowl of Cheerios as if it never happened? Because, my mother wasn’t comfortable with her sexuality and she didn’t want me to be either.
But, then came Roe v. Wade. And most don’t realize that Roe v. Wade has little to do with owning our bodies, and our right to do this or that, but was a ruling that had more to do with the time when a fetus could be considered a human life.
Again, women became divided on the issue. I was neither on one side or the other and I still remain that way. To me it always a matter of common sense.
Aside from forced sex or rape, we have two choices. The first choice is whether to sleep with someone or not. In a consensual relationship it is our choice. Our second choice is whether to protect ourselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Let’s face it…we aren’t dogs that go around sniffing one another’s butts with no control. We have choices to make and if we fail to take responsibility for our own bodies and strike out with our first two choices, then scratch our heads when we end up pregnant, I am not so sure we can be trusted with the third choice. The choice to abort or not. It is not a method of birth control and we can no longer justify the sexual revolution of women and claim it as the right to our own bodies. We have the right to take responsibility for our own bodies in the first two choices.
My own personal arousal comes from attraction based on a connection with a person. Arousal does not make me lose all common sense.
Gratuitous sex neither empowers nor validates us. Responsibility does.
Women of the 1960s often found their sexual liberation unfulfilling. They had to deal with the increased risk of pregnancy. They had to deal with no economic equality or security. Women ended up bearing the costs associated with pregnancy, motherhood, and abortion, and often were forced to turn to welfare to support their families. This is no longer the case. We have choices and when we fail to take responsibility and make the right choice, we can point the finger and blame the penis.
While the new culture seems to be sexualizing young girls much earlier with trends of free sex and no pubic hair and purchased large breasts, we once again need to find balance in our sexual freedom. It seems we take two steps forward and three steps back, never finetuning our rights as women. We need to define and draw the lines between being sexual beings and sexual objects, where anything goes. We need to find the shades of gray in between sexual repression and sexual freedom.
What if we allowed young girls to enjoy their bodies through masturbation? What if we stopped lying to young girls about sex and allowed them to express their feelings about sex, to ask questions, to find answers that are honest, in a safe environment. Let young girls learn what feels good and what doesn’t, and that it’s okay to share that with someone else, and not to accept sexual treatment that doesn’t make them feel good, either physically or emotionally. The virgin versus whore crap doesn’t work anymore. We need to let it go and quit confusing young women and stop letting it rule our sexual identities. We need to educate young women and teach them that they have choices to make about their own bodies and stop shaming them for feelings that are natural. We need to teach them balance and self-respect and above all we need to teach them how to take responsibility for their own lives and sexuality.
Is teaching our daughters to be virgins at marriage really logical? Is teaching them to sleep with whoever they please logical? The answer to both questions is no. The only logical answer is to recognize them as sexual beings and teach them to respect their bodies and teach them to keep them safe.
Diana May-Waldman, born in Cleveland, Ohio, is the author of the poetry collection, A Woman’s Song . Her work has previously appeared in numerous literary magazines. A Woman’s Song, her first collection, details the obstacles that face women in our culture on a daily basis, a culture still very much male-dominated. Her poetry in this book deals with the struggles facing all women and the many facets of being a woman in the world today. The book contains, among others, the poems Penis, Awakening, and Seduction. (See review of her book at Story Circle Book Reviews. Her poetry has also focused, at times, on antiwar themes. May-Waldman was also co-editor (with Mitchell Waldman) of the anthology Wounds of War: Poets for Peace which collects the poetry, essays, interviews, and stories of various authors reflecting their personal experiences with war. A former award winning journalist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, having won awards for Excellence in Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists , May-Waldman is a strong women’s and children’s advocate. She currently lives in Rochester, New York.