Sunday, 13 April 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where and how people find out about sex. Tongue-Tied Blue’s call for ‘first orgasm’ experiences started me off, because mine is a case of shocking ignorance. I didn’t know what they were. I’d heard the word and I knew the famous line from that children’s book, is it Where Do Babies Come From? Like a sneeze only better. But I couldn’t put any of it together with my female anatomy. I vaguely assumed Sex Happened and at some point it Felt Quite Good. My school’s sex ed class was how not to get AIDS with a side of how not to get pregnant; pleasure never entered the discussion.

So the summer when I was fifteen going on sixteen, my girlfriend and I were fooling around a lot, but I was in control, I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was very very hot but very ... not climactic. And then one night, we weren’t even undressed, I was on top of her on my bedroom floor and it just happened. Amazing, shocking, out-of-left-field convulsive pleasure. So that’s what happens? That’s what my body can do? How about that. Damn.

This was around the same year Ellen’s Kiss happened on television. My mom watched it, a big step for her at the time, but I was at work. Anyway, kiss or no kiss, there weren’t a lot of resources on hand for me to figure out just what two women did in bed together. It wasn’t in the What’s Happening to My Body books, which I had desperately scanned a few years earlier for their reassurance that homosexuality, while perfectly OK, was also rare. (10 percent? That’s not so much. I must be in the 90 percent. Right?)

That same summer I found a book in the attic called something like “The Sensuous Man.” This was strictly about heterosexual sex and filled with giggle-inducing 1970s slang, but it seemed accessible and eminently useful to me. Chapters by body part—what to do with the breasts, how to kiss (no limp tongues!), how to drive a woman to ecstasy. The techniques had also sorts of neato names, including the unforgettable (and unperformable) Velvet Buzzsaw. The description of the clitoris was significantly less enlightening than the Betty Dodson video posted over at Sugarbutch. According to the Sensuous Man, it is a pea-like organ, which might disappear! But don’t worry! Just keep rubbing, or buzzsawing, as the case may be!

Some of the misogyny in “The Sensuous Man” (which, to be fair, claimed to be “pro-Women’s Lib”) was clear to me even then. If your wife showed no interest in sex, for instance, I realized that throwing her down on the floor, calling her rude names, and raping her was probably not going to be a long-term solution. What I didn’t realize was how deeply alienating the whole message of the book would turn out to be. Just step a, and then step b. She’ll like it. They all do.

But that’s not sex, not really. Sex is the intimate communication of two bodies. It’s not remembering a formula for how to bring her to ecstasy with a velvet buzzsaw. It’s watching her face alter with pleasure and listening to her breath change and feeling her move under my touch, listening deeply to her body tell mine: like this, like that, oh please more like that. And letting my own body answer hers.

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