“No way!” I said, louder than I intended. “You and Frank went all the way?” My sixteen-year-old best friend, Nancy, had just admitted to having first-time sex with her boyfriend.
“Shhh,” she said, closing her bedroom door.
“What was it like?” I whispered, too stunned to wait for confirmation.
It was l965. Sex talk was whispered only to close girlfriends and, even then, only when there were no adults within earshot. The dirty deed, as one friend called it, was a forbidden act reserved for married couples only—unless you were male, then the boys will be boys rule applied.
Growing up in the gender-specific fifties and sixties defined my father as head of the household and the breadwinner who disappeared into the workforce Monday through Friday. My apron-wearing mother wiped noses, cleaned house, cooked meals, polished our shoes, and shared with me her hard-earned words of wisdom including, “you just make men think they’re the boss, honey.” My brothers rode bikes with a playing card attached to the spokes, owned Bee-bee guns, played Little League, and gathered on the school playground during recess for a game of marbles. My sisters and I cut-out paper dolls, ironed my father’s handkerchiefs, watched our brothers play Little League, and wore dresses to school. Girls wearing jeans or any other form of long pants were against the rules, no matter how cold it might be. I knew to address the parents of my friends as Mr. or Mrs. and if I accidentally let a ‘bad’ (curse) word slip out, I was on the receiving end of a stinging lip-thump via my mother’s thumb and index finger.
My expected teen-role during this era was to earn an “A” in Home Economics (I got a “C”), wear a panty girdle (a sixties version of a chastity belt), and to slap boys if they got “fresh.” All of which played an important role in establishing one’s reputation as a good girl. For my teenage brothers, it was auto shop, bullying bookworms (nerds), and getting a girl to “first base” (breast fondling). These conquests earned them admiration and locker-room bragging rights as a bad boy.
My sex education came by way of my mother (sorta) when I was thirteen. She lay soaking under the bubbles in the bathtub while I sat on the closed lid of the toilet. Privacy was hard to come by when you lived in a house with five children, your parents, and one bathroom.
“Do you know how women get pregnant?” my mother asked.
“Yes,” I responded, avoiding eye contact by pretending to admire my freshly painted toenails.
“Do you have any questions?” She asked, putting me in the position of having to decide whether or not I could say words like penis, sexual intercourse, and vagina and not provoke a lip-thump.
“No,” I said, thankful my older brother (when we were eleven and ten) had already explained what going all the way meant…sorta.
“You know how Aunt Norma got pregnant,” my brother had asked, smug over his knowing and my not knowing. “Uncle Harold put his you know what in Aunt Norma’s po-po. So if you want one baby, you do it once; if you want twins you do it twice.” I now knew this explanation wasn’t exactly right-on, but for the moment it was close enough.
After a long silence, my mother put a strong emphasis on the word ‘free’ when she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You know what they say, why buy the cow when the milk’s free?” I assured her I understood with a silent nod and made my exit. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The True Romance magazines my mother kept hidden under her bed took my sex education to the next level and later it was my friend Nancy who, as I mentioned at the start, had first-hand experience. Nancy’s response to my “what was it like?” had been, “Awful. It hurt.” I was mortified. In all of my mother’s romance magazines, there had been vivid descriptions of bliss and dizzying ecstasy. I made a silent vow to join a convent.
“I’m never going to go all the way,” I told my mother, after sharing Nancy’s experience with her.
“It’s only awful if you go all the way in the back seat of a car,” she said, but I didn’t change my mind about becoming a nun until she followed it up with, “and it doesn’t hurt, if you’re married.” I was so relieved!
Because the subject matter was considered taboo, sex education for most of my friends was limited to each other and school rumors. French kissing or occupying a toilet seat after a boy (if it was still warm) was thought to be a pregnancy risk while drinking a can of Mountain Dew before partaking in the dirty deed was a sure-fire means of birth control.
Pregnant teens were considered a bad influence on the other girls so until they gave birth, home-schooling was their only educational choice. When the once popular Nancy left her newborn in the care of her parents and returned to school, she was snubbed by the same girls she had been friends with for years. They feared boys would see them as an easy target if they maintained their friendship with a bad girl. Sadly, they were correct. High school mindset was that any girl who went all the way would thereafter always be ready, willing, and able with anyone, anytime, any place; and so would her friends. When I questioned my mother about the injustice of this ostracism, she said, “The only difference between Nancy and the rest of those girls is she got caught, and they didn’t. If you’re truly her friend, you’ll stand by her.”
When Nancy attempted to re-enroll in her favorite basketball class, she was informed she wouldn’t be able to participate in Physical Education (PE) because she’d had a baby. “It’s too dangerous physically,” Coach said. In spite of her love for the sport, she pretended she didn’t care and worked hard to complete the rest of her required coursework. When graduation day came, I put on my cap and gown and went to ceremonies without her. The school principal had called and informed her parents she was a half unit short of meeting graduation requirements. The missing half unit was for PE.
Years later I convinced Nancy to return to the high school to find out what she needed in order to get her diploma. Without it, her finding much-needed employment was next to impossible. When the new principal reviewed her file and saw she was lacking a half-unit for a PE class, he signed off on her coursework and handed her the diploma. Her bad girl status had no doubt been the underlying reason she was barred from graduation ceremonies.
“Not fair,” I said to my mother. I was furious. Hiring an attorney and suing for discrimination wasn’t an option back then and even if it had of been, it wouldn’t have undone what was already done. Mother’s hard-earned words of wisdom were limited to, “Life isn’t easy. Which is why you shouldn’t be either.”
By the time I entered my twenties, men’s hair grew longer and women’s skirts grew shorter. Then communes popped up and free love challenged the earlier and stricter codes of sexual behavior—the sexual revolution had begun.
Though my sex education in the early sixties was limited to romance magazines, my best friend’s perils, and my mother’s metaphors I will forever be thankful for all three. Without them not only would I not have learned how friendship is only a word—until you give it meaning, but I would have missed seeing the consequences of giving in to hormones at too young of an age. Worst of all, my sex education would have been limited to my older brother’s knowledge and the sexual tittle-tattle of my high school friends…OMG!
By Kathi Hiatt
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