Monday, March 29, 2010

How I Learned About Sex

For those of you who missed it, here's my submission for Blaise's How I Learned series:

I got my first lesson about sex in the normal, decent way that everyone of my generation did. I found my dad's stash of Playboy magazines. Dad also had some copies of Penthouse and Hustler but I liked Playboy. I remember particularly Miss June of 1978. She was naive yet wise, playful yet serious, profound yet kittenish. I wanted to be just like her. Unfortunately, I knew even at the age of 9 years old that I'd never be kittenish. Still, the magazines had cartoons and racy jokes that even a 9 year-old could appreciate. I didn't really understand why people didn't keep Playboy out in the living room like National Geographic or Southern Living. Why was it necessary to hide it under your socks at the back of a drawer in your closet where any 9 year old minding his own business was sure to find it?

One of the cable movie channels used to show "shorts" between movies. They hadn't yet figured out that they could stick advertising between films. Usually, there were music videos or little animated features but sometimes they had something called "Aerobicize". From what I could tell, “Aerobicize” had very little to do with exercise or with health. It mostly consisted of scantily clad women rapidly gyrating (or bucking if they happened to be on all fours) to music which sounded kind of Middle Eastern/Techo. You'd recognize it right away if you go into a gay bar after-after hours. There was also a whisky voiced woman who would urge the ladies in the video to "work it out" and "and have fun with it". These were all indications that "Aerobicize" was really about sex but the biggest flag that was the way the women were directed to make drowsy eye contact with the camera and to pant through their heavily lipsticked and pouty, o-shaped mouths.

From these videos, I concluded that sex was an exhausting and repetitive enterprise that involved a lot of sweating and the distinct possibility of injury. As I did not excel in sports, I figured sex was something I could deal with the same way I dealt with gym class. I'd simply throw up and claim that I had a stomach virus.

One of these movie channels had a movie called THE BEASTMASTER in heavy rotation that starred Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts. At the time (and to this day), I was a big fan of Ray Harryhausen. He made movies like 1,000,000 YEARS BC and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Now, Harryhausen didn't really have anything to do with this movie but it was still in the whole "sword and sandals" fantasy vein so, for me, THE BEASTMASTER was "must-see TV" before anybody'd come up with the expression.

The big draw for this movie was Tanya Roberts. She'd recently been in Playboy and was the latest woman to be cast as one of CHARLIE'S ANGELS. Her credentials as a sex symbol were attributed to her athletic body, aquamarine eyes and a profound Bronx accent. She was alright, I suppose, but to me the real sex symbol was Marc Singer. 6'2'', blonde, oiled up and in a loin cloth. Also, he could talk to animals which I thought was a particularly sensitive characteristic.

But none of the guys wanted to talk about Marc Singer. Among my peers, it was all about Tanya Roberts. Now, I'd already realized that I preferred the fellas but it had never occurred to me that I was in any way a minority or that dude on dude action might be considered by others to be "icky". It followed that even if I found a guy I might want to do the slap and tickle with, it was unlikely that the he would feel the same way about me.

At about the same time came the unholy trinity of horror movies: HALLOWEEN in 1978, FRIDAY THE 13TH in 1980, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in 1984. That's roughly between 9 years old and 15 for me. The clear message in all of these movies was, "if you are a teenager and you have sex, somebody is going to kill you." Another message was, "Unless you are Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, or Johnny Depp, doing horror movies is a career-ender."

But the main message in these movies wasn't just "if you have sex, somebody is going to kill you." It was "if you have sex, somebody is going to kill you in the most horrible and unexpected way imaginable". You might be bludgeoned to death, hacked at with a machete, or, in Kevin Bacon's case, get a hunting arrow shoved through your neck. That's a pretty terrifying thing for an 11 year old with an emerging sex drive to deal with.

It seemed that the only news in the early 80's dealing with gayness was about AIDS. The big story that I remember was about a guy who had to go back through his sexual history and call everyone he'd had sex with and let them know that they might be infected. This guy said that he'd be calling over a thousand people. A thousand!

I'd already dealt with the fact that sex could get you killed with the whole slasher-movie thing, but I hadn't counted on the possibility that a special someone from my past, someone I'd shared my body with might call me sometime in the future to tell me that I was one on a list of over a thousand people. I'd have been shattered. Most teenagers have a pretty egocentric view of the world but when I was 15, I actually worked out a mathematical theorem which proved that I was the center of the universe.

Obviously, I also learned a few lessons from practical biology. That is, nocturnal emission and masturbation. I won't go into detail except to say that it was my opinion that sex often required a change of sheets and a shower. I could only imagine the mess two dudes would make.

So, to sum up what I'd gleaned about sex during my formative years: Sex was shameful, exhausting, unlikely, deadly, potentially ego crushing, and messy. It seemed I'd learned a lot about sex over the years and, frankly, I didn't see very much to recommend it.

So, the obvious question is, "How did I get over my fear of having sex?" Well, I had sex! There was this beautiful, blue-eyed, Italian oil painting of a boy who was sweet, smart, funny, and head over heels in love with me so, I had sex!

And it was fun. And I was good at it. And I wasn't ashamed or exhausted. And I liked that it was messy. And I didn't die and my ego didn't take a hit. In fact, I'd never felt better about myself. I'd never felt better about anything, ever! It was awesome!
And, if everything I'd learned about sex was wrong, well, it sure opens an amazing can of worms. Doesn't it?

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