|Shirley Kassman and
I originally published this on Mother’s Day, 2013. I’m bringing it back on Mother’s Day, 2017.
Let’s do something different here for Mother’s Day: Looking back, how did your mother’s teachings about sexuality affect how you matured, interacted in relationships, saw yourself as a sexual being, enjoyed your sexuality?
I was born in 1943. When I came of age, my mother, Shirley Leshan Kassman, taught me nothing about sex other than a little about menstruation. The birds-and-bees talk was left to my obstetrician/ gynecologist father, who gave me a pamphlet about how women got pregnant accompanied by “ask me if you have any questions.”
senior year high school
Sure, I had questions. No, my parents weren’t the ones I asked. Since my father regularly saw girls my age who were “in trouble,” as unplanned pregnancy was called at the time, his point of view was decidedly and strictly a “don’t do it!” warning.
So when I started having sex at 17 with my high school boyfriend, I knew I would be in big trouble if I got discovered (I did, but that’s another story), and I knew nothing about pleasure.
Pleasure — or why anyone would do these strange things with each other — was totally omitted from my sex education. That’s a weird and dangerous omission! When kissing and “petting” got me aroused, I was surprised and thought something was happening to me that didn’t happen to other girls. What to do about that arousal remained a mystery, however.
In those days, no one mentioned the clitoris, not in the laughable “hygiene class” that was supposed to teach sex ed, not in any books I could find, and certainly not in the pamphlet that was supposed to ready me for adult sexuality. I had heard that women could have orgasms (no idea where I learned that), but how to make that happen? I had no idea — neither did my boyfriend.
I have two chapters in Naked at Our Age called “Unlearning Our Upbringing” — one with women’s stories, one with men’s stories. They’re poignant, provocative, compelling. At a certain point we either look at our upbringing and realize it doesn’t serve us any more, and we change — or we don’t.
I hope you’ll add your comments and share your own experience. You don’t have to use your real name (choose a first name of your choice instead of “anonymous”), but please tell us your real age so we can see how the era in which we were raised affected what we were taught about sex.
(A much shorter version of this post was published on Mother’s Day 2011.)