The Mechanics of Sex

Lauren was sobbing in the bathroom when I came home from school that day. She was in 6th grade. Since the middle school got out half an hour earlier than the elementary school, I had entered this war zone in medias res. I looked to my mother for some sort of clue as to what was going on. Through fits of laughter Mom tried to calm Lauren down. Lauren just shrieked and wailed louder that her life was over. Lauren had a flair for drama. Lauren had gotten her period.

In my town every 5th grade class attends a sex education program called “Growing Up Feeling Good.” Perhaps they were trying to prepare us for the highly-sexed atmosphere of middle school life. The week prior to Lauren’s crisis I had learned what a period was. Sort of. The teacher told us that our periods marked when we became women and that we should celebrate the glorious day with flowers or a cake. I have the feeling a Carvel cake with the words “Happy First Menstruation” spelled out in gooey pink frosting would have sent my sister over the edge.

The woman who arrived to talk to us about sex came equipped with diagrams. The model of male genitalia was very straightforward; I had a baby brother, I knew what was up. The female model, however, was completely mind boggling. I now know that it was a cross section of the vagina. When I was ten, all I knew was whatever that was a model of, it did not look natural. I couldn’t even focus on the teacher’s clumsy description of sex. I was fixated on trying to wrap my mind around what the hell that female diagram was. I came out of the “Growing Up Feeling Good” lecture with more questions than I had answers. All my peers were so confident in their knowledge that I was too embarrassed to admit my ignorance.

Thank God for Jean M. Auel. When I was eleven, I picked up her book The Valley of Horses. It was all very innocent; like most eleven year old girls, I liked horses. I was not prepared for what I would find. This book was my sex education. All of a sudden words I had previously associated with eating had shocking new connotations. Sure I thought I knew what sex was, but for some reason I had never put it all together. Sure I had heard the whispers and suggestions made by my classmates but they were always so obscure. Auel was frank about sex. Her descriptions were graphic and open. I can’t help thinking now, Jean M. Auel was a bit of a slut.

There is nothing as shocking as the sudden loss of innocence. Kids become wrapped in a blanket of their own ignorance. Movies and television had made us feel like we knew exactly what was going on; we hadn’t a clue. Suddenly, I understood all the innuendos in advertisements and TV shows. All the jokes that previously had been over my head made sense. I came into this knowledge quickly and unexpectedly. It was even more painful because I was ashamed. Did everyone else know this? Was I sick for reading this book? Was I even sicker for wanting to read more?

When you’re eleven years old no one bothers to explain the mechanics of sex. You learn its repercussions and that it is only for adults in a committed relationship. But no one really explains what constitutes sex. The teacher may scientifically assert that ejaculation is the release of sperm, but they never elucidate the orgasm. I don’t want my future children to learn about sex through a smutty piece of literature, but I may not have a choice. Sex is uncomfortable to discuss. My parents sure as hell didn’t want to explain sex to me when I was younger. They thought “Growing Up Feeling Good” was a saving grace. Our society is immersed in sex, so why is it so hard to explain? Perhaps it is because no adult wants to rob a child of their innocence. It wakes them up to the not-so-perfect world around us.