There will be time to go back and talk about early childhood, but I’ll start with my first conscious awareness of sex between partners.
I was walking with my friend Carol outside my old Brooklyn elementary school, P.S. 169, when she asked me if I knew how babies were made. I had just devoured a great big greasy slice of pizza and her question made me queasy. I was 11 years old and puberty was making a loud and early entrance in my life. Yet though I was noticing boys more, and was filled with romantic fantasies based on the novels and movies I’d read, the mechanics of baby-making eluded me. I was content to leave it that way. Even then, I knew I didn’t want children. Still, once she raised the subject, curiosity got the better of me. “How?”
I almost threw up when she told me. I felt outraged, even personally insulted when she reported that a man put his thing in a woman’s thing.
She may have even used the right words for those things but at the time, those words were so shameful to me, that I didn’t hear them. All I heard was the impossible: that my kind, handsome father put his disgusting dirty horrible thing into my evil mother’s more disgusting dirty horrible thing.
“No!” I choked, “Not my father!”
It had only been a year since I’d first looked up the word “penis” in a dictionary at my sister’s house. I’d seen the word in a book and had been unable to figure out its meaning. When I asked my normally voluble brother-in-law about it, he turned ten shades of red and handed me the dictionary before running out of the room. His weird reaction only sharpened my interest in penis. Unfortunately, the dictionary shrouded the definition in such baroque medical language that I wasn’t really clear on its meaning until a fifth-grade teacher finally solved the mystery in a biology lesson about fish reproduction.
Obviously, I was not raised sex-positive. My parents instilled a deep fear in me of anything unsanitary, with an emphasis on the germ-infested pit of ordure that was “down there,” and forbidding any discussion whatever of everything below the waist. As my mother would later explain, “Nice people don’t think about that.”
The complete lack of conversation about sexuality or genitals, and the vague dread around the subject, only provoked me to try and fill in the gaps and find out what was so dreadful about it. This, of course, led me to reading and to watching other people’s romantic adventures, and quietly thinking about it for myself. Which naturally led to me having a very different attitude about sex from my family’s, despite my early training to fear and loathe everything related to it.
Once the shock of Carol’s revelation wore off, and despite my initial revulsion at the thought that my parents did something so freakishly unsanitary together, I began to come around. Since that was how you made babies, and since there were children everywhere you went -- I mean, even your own parents and their parents were children once! – it could only mean one thing. Everyone was doing it. Even dead people once did it and now their children and their children’s children were doing it too. They were all fucking. It was amazing!
If everyone did it, if respectable Jewish people like my parents and grandparents did it, perhaps there was more to this fucking thing than I’d ever imagined.