“Probably 25 percent of the blindness of children is caused by [their parents’] illicit sexual relations,” proclaims The Light On Dark Corners, a Victorian sex guide published at the turn of the century. When the child himself masturbates, of course, that can cause blindness as well. When is the last time one of your sex acts had the power to destroy sight? Probably never you had sex ed. That’s the problem with healthy, balanced knowledge. Guiltlessness bleaches sex drive until it becomes thin and worn . . . until it becomes a thing that people can know and control, something even old people do. And now Surgeon General Satcher is removing the last bit of clandestinity by recommending our schools teach healthy sexuality and masturbation (the same kind of thing that got Elders fired) and acceptance of all lifestyle choices to grades K through 12. “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior” was finally released last Thursday, after being suppressed for more than a year. I should be thrilled. Instead, I find myself in the odd position of tsk-tsk-ing along with the ultra-conservatives (though for different reasons).
“Selling cookbooks at a fat farm.” That’s what Rev. Jerry Falwell calls sex ed. The religious right are insane, but they sure do have the best turns of phrase. “The education czars are teaching ‘gay is okay’ to the children,” he goes on. Of course, gay is okay; and indeed, that sentiment is included in Satcher’s report. (When Rev. Jimmy Swaggart claims, however, that “sex education in our public schools are promoting incest,” we just don’t know what he’s talking about . . . but we’d like to know.) “It seems that every week we hear new horror stories of explicit and even perverse sexual material and instruction being imposed on school children in the name of sex education,” says perennial Republican presidential hopeful Alan Keyes. These maniacs’ fears make the world a much more prurient place than it really is. Hysteria is so imaginative, so colorful. Masturbation, Falwell informs us, is the same as when children “steal and lie and loot and hurt one another.” Sigh. If only my moments alone with the tub faucet were ever that exciting.
Don’t these hysterical reverends know that when you try to keep sex down is precisely when it comes up in the most fascinating ways? My best friend and my husband both grew up in no-sexzone Catholic households, and they are real perverts. My friend at twelve years old was shoving brushes the bristly end up her twat as masturbation. She bit the breasts off Barbies in her solo sex frenzies, then hid them in a bag under the curlers. My husband, at thirteen, masturbated five times a night. Now if they had been taught how to masturbate like normal human beings, if they had been guided to a healthy attitude about it, I doubt my friend would have ever come up with those crazy ideas of how to satisfy herself, and I doubt my husband would’ve spent 5,850 hours of his adolescence humping the pillow in paroxysms of guilt-fueled, exploratory, heady paganism. And neither of them would have such great stories to tell later. Please, Dr. Satcher, don’t rob our children of the chance to do it wrong before they get it right! When I expressed this thought to my husband, he disapproved, saying: “If you knew what a monster I felt like when I masturbated . . . ” I said, “But you’re such an interesting monster.”
The world is so much more exciting when you’re peeking at it from behind spread fingers. In 1909, the Archbishop Farley of New York described theater (normal theater) as “orgies of obscenity.” I think that archbishops (and all strict people) have special eyes. (Can you imagine how hard his heart must’ve pounded when he was forced, for research purposes, to attend a show?) I’ve never been to an orgy of obscenity in my life, even when I’ve attended fuck clubs where there really were orgies. I’ve also been to Nerve parties. All I could see was people having sex, enjoying themselves. If Archbishop Farley was my dad, though, I am certain he would have endowed me with the secret eye that can spot these horrific acts hidden inside seemingly normal sexual transactions. Alas, my real dad was dropping acid and organizing threesomes when he should’ve been warning me.
Satcher’s opponents have it all wrong if they think sex instruction will usher children into “impure” acts. I think rather that it brings them beyond a “pure/impure” mindset and into total self-acceptance prematurely. Sonic Youth had an album titled Confusion Is Sex. They’ve got a point. Today’s (well-educated, offspring of protesters and nudists) purveyors of porn are healthy but blasé. “Should we see Tomb Raider on Saturday, or rent a dirty movie? Both!”
Someone sent me a fisting book. It was very informative/helpful, but it made the ass like a VCR. Programmable. I remember shoving carrots or whatever was lying around up my boyfriend’s ass when I was a teenager because, for some reason never mentioned, he liked it. We never talked about it and I had no idea what I was doing. I never told anyone else about it because it seemed sick. I thought we must be the only people in the world doing this. When I saw the diagrams in the fisting book fifteen years later, the act became prosaic. It became properly do-able. I had been under the impression at the time that we were doing what could not be done, and that’s what made us feel like superheroes/villains.
There will be no more bad guys or superheroes in the sack if Satcher has his way only real people. Back in the fifties, when grown men worried that comic books were making boys want to rape, torture, mutilate, canabailize “and worse,” they were showing respect in their own odd way. They understood the enormity of teen and pre-teen sexuality, the shape-changing quality of it. They alone of all the adults focused on and understood the human geysers that are young boys and girls. And they were so very jealous. Demonstrations of condom application on cucumbers at school are very good, but as a byproduct they remove not only the kids’ ignorance, but also the adults’ fear, jealousy, and twisted respect of youth.
In other words, bringing things into the light means . . . well, it means the thing is no longer in the dark. Before the invention of movies and biology classes (watching farm animals do it didn’t count only humans have souls), the kiss and the fuck could never be flattened into a celluloid strip, could not be explained as evolutionary tools. Sex ed, with its diagrams and measured phrasing, traps the sex act into what it is; while real, live sex is largely what it isn’t. In the heads of people doing things in ignorance, finding their own way, are impressions of what’s happening that go beyond biological function: we’re picturing animal parts, meadows, fear, Satan mixing all these things up with the actual human body beneath us. This skill comes in handy as we (and our spouses) age and fatten. I worry that our young people will never get a chance to know that. Or, rather, to not know.
Of course, you have to know to wear a condom. No sense in getting killed or getting oozy sores. And kids need to be taught how to not get pregnant and not accept date rape. But to be told that masturbation and lifestyle choice is totally okay with these old people, and to be told how to do it well that’s just gross. I remember the Harrimans, Mr. and Mrs., she of chunky owl jewelry and buck teeth, he of balding, dandruffy hair and horrible jokes my history and art teacher, respectively. When I grew up and started attending swingers’ clubs, I realized that the Harrimans are the main type of people indulging in that activity. As a thirty-two-year-old woman, I am willing to accept this, and even see the beauty in it. But thank god my fumblings at fourteen were not improved with remembered masturbation instructions issued from the colorless lips of a Harriman.
Then again, I never had desires and needs and love that could get me disowned, fired or beat to death, so society’s “acceptance” or not is a luxury I can afford to toy with. I asked a friend of mine how it affected him to be thought of by so many as “wrong.” He answered that as a homosexual, he’d always felt (at a low frequency) like he was breathing underwater, or adopted. He said this was a good thing, that isolation and sexual sublimation drive one to create, to keep seeking. And I believe him I mean, isn’t that pretty much what I’ve been saying? But it made me sad. It was like he was trying to put up a good front, to say, “Hey, it doesn’t hurt, really. I can take it.” When people twist all around to avoid internalized rebukes, their creativity forges strange shapes along the convolutions. Now I can see that my interest is a form of eating people’s pain for my own amusement. I remember now that my best friend the one who did that thing with the hairbrush often has discomfort during sex, and she thinks the early, brutal brush attacks might be why. Therein lies the conflict: I know the guilt and the ignorance have to go, but tragedy is so closely tied to passion. Satcher is seeking to divide the two, squashing disease, prejudice, self-hatred, without harming passion. I don’t know, with geyser-like youths, if that careful separation is possible.
Like Satcher, I believe sex should be fun, funny, sweet, wild, wonderful . . . but I also think there’s supposed to be a period in everyone’s life where it’s unmanageable. Whenever your imagination is unhindered by facts, when the older society doesn’t sanction and explain your desires, then you come up with bizarre rites to get you through. Take the tribes in Australia and New Guinea, where until recently, boys would make a slit along the underside of the penis to simulate menstruation. A pathway to infection? Probably. But the meaning-filled life is not without risk. And I bet some feminist tribesmen were created with that practice! Oh you sexy young misinformed (miserable?) weirdos, I’m gonna miss you.