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True Stories: They Had Sex So I Didn't Have To
A writer comes to terms with the sexual adventures of her parents.
By Molly Jong-Fast
My mother fought for free love and the right to sexual expression. I fight the traffic as I squire my kids up and down Madison Avenue. Both sets of my grandparents had open marriages. I have a closed marriage (that's where you only sleep with the person you are married to). My mother's mother tells stories of sleeping with my grandfather in the woods and smoking "grass." There are not a lot of woods where I live in Manhattan. If it is every generation's job to swing the pendulum back, then I have done mine.
My father's father (Howard Fast) was famous for his communism, Spartacus, and his various exploits with members of the opposite sex around Hollywood. One of my aunts is known at her prep school for being straight then gay and then straight again. A deceased grandaunt of mine was notorious for being one of the most sexually active octogenarians at The Hebrew Home for the Aged. And what of my parents? When I was but a young girl I wandered into my eighty-year-old grandfather's bedroom to find on the bedside table the book Beyond Viagra staring back at me. Yes, the Jongs, and the Fasts may have little in common but their love of freedom, fear of oppression, and their need for lubrication.
Growing up I knew we were weird. It's hard not to suspect you are weird when you have a Chinese last name but are a redheaded Jew. It's hard not to suspect you are weird when you live in a town house with a hot pink door and a dog called Poochini. And then there was the fact that my mother was always wandering around the house totally nude; this could have been a clue, perhaps.
All this railing against familial nakedness begs the question: am I a prude? Well, I dress like the Orthodox (long skirts, no wig), have been held up by Wendy Shalit as a role model, and have been married (to one man) since I was twenty-four. The short answer would be yes. Yes in the eyes of Erica Jong, I am a prude. (Of course Erica Jong did have a threesome with a certain hideous feminist author who could be described as MC Hammer if MC Hammer were a white lesbian. Portia de Rossi she is not. Hell, Andrea Dworkin she is not.)
The truth is my mother and I grew up in different worlds. My mom was born in 1942, in the middle of World War II. My mother grew up in a world where no one talked about sex. Where sex was secretive and sex was racy. She grew up in a world where sex meant marriage. Where women waited to kiss a boy until they were going steady. My mother grew up in a world where a woman couldn't eat dinner alone in a restaurant, lest she look like a prostitute. She came of age in a universe without easily available birth control, without abortion, without options. My mother wore poodle skirts and twins sets, and had a black-and-white TV. She never witnessed a young Britney Spears pulsating in a bikini musing on her virginity (or lack of).
My nymphomaniacal grandparents were perhaps not typical of their generation, and we cannot discount the effect that my nymphomaniacal grandparents must have had on her.
I grew up in a world that was just the opposite. I grew up in a culture obsessed with sex. My childhood was punctuated by salacious New York Post headlines. As a girl I remember watching the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings on CNN. I was sitting in my mom's bedroom, playing with stickers and asking her what a "pube" was.
The 1980s in New York City were a time of contradictions — a time of limousines riding by homeless people, a time of the richest and the poorest as neighbors, living side by side, stealing from the other. The city was boiling with rage, with fear, with crime, and with sex. Sex was everywhere — from sex crimes like the Central Park Jogger case to Donald Trump's divorce from Ivana, to sex clubs like the Vault. Back then pornography was on basic cable (it was on channel J). Sex was everywhere.
Sex was piped into our lives through the media. The library was popular because it housed Tiger Eyes, which was the dirtiest of the Judy Blume oeuvre. From books to TV, my teenagehood was hugely influenced by the musings of Aaron Spelling with his Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. I watched reruns of Three's Company — which was filled with innuendo and sexual hijinks that would have been considered pornographic when my mother was a girl. No matter how unsexy a show was, it seemed they always dedicated at least one or two episodes to teen pregnancy or STDs or date rape or some other "sex"-related theme. There was the usual media schizophrenia about sex, but whether it was promoted or profane the topic was still very much in the forefront.