Stories From the Playground
An Introduction to the Sexual Autobiography
When I was 19 I took a Human Sexuality class that changed my life forever. We were given an assignment to write a sexual autobiography, to look at our lives from birth until present and untangle all the stories along the way that have contributed to the particular expression of sexuality that we are right now. We were asked to look back at the art we grew up with, magazines, shows, music, technology. To remember what our parents, caretakers, and teachers had told us (or not told us), and what we learned from other children. We were asked to explore our first encounters with menstruation, ejaculation, kissing, masturbation, growing body hair, puberty, boobs, balls dropping, first touch, dreams, fantasies... All of it!
We were also told that if we had a particular trauma that we could avoid stories altogether and might seek support. For those of us averse to writing, we were encouraged to draw, sing, dance or create a movie about our sexuality.
At the time I was a procrastinator, but this project grabbed me and I went home and began writing that first day. I was living in San Francisco with clowns, literally friends attending the San Francisco Clown Conservatory, and we didn’t have furniture yet, so much of this early writing was done sitting on the floor on a bath mat in our kitchen furiously typing away. I let myself dive into the shadows of my mind and dig up old memories, cassettes, article clippings, and journals from childhood. The whole project was written in short stories, like snap-shots of my life. I became deeply curious about why I was the way I was in this fun refreshing new way. When this class came to an end I read my stories out loud standing in front of everyone, blushing and laughing, feeling very powerful.
This was my first permission to really look at all these things that I grew up with and see them as unique turning points that molded who I am today. I realized quickly that at 19, having jumped into the world of sex about a year before, I didn’t actually know much about it. So I started asking anyone who would sit still, “What’s the difference between sex, fucking, and making love?” I diligently recorded the answers and created a collage of my old stories, other’s opinions, and inspiring quotes. It helped me discover how I communicate and what I hide, what brings me joy and what I am ashamed of, how I like to be touched and where I reach out to others, how to ask for what I want and be clear about what I don’t like. It gave me permission to explore myself and seek healthy relationships, to learn what it means to embody sexual health. All kids should have this opportunity! And so should you.
I am sharing this to make you laugh and maybe cry and to inspire you to explore yourself, to write or draw your own sexual autobiography. This is also a way to guide our children to explore themselves so they don’t have to bumble through all the dumb shit that we did and have so much bad sex just to discover how to have good sex. What if we guide children to know their bodies, to explore and go towards what feels good for them, so that when the time comes they have respect for their miraculous forms and they know what to ask for. What if we set kids up for good, safe, pleasurable sex because they deserve it. So here goes (all names have been changed and childhood stories are lightly edited to be clearer and funnier):
“Children’s sexuality should be given free rein to develop naturally, nurtured with information, encouragement, and guidance- not denial, shame, or censorship. . . We don’t hesitate to encourage our children to cultivate healthy self-esteem, positive body image, and respect for others, and these same values can provide the foundation for a life full of sexual pleasure.”
-The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, 2002
Stories From the Playground
I got my period the summer after fifth grade while I was in Indianapolis visiting my aunt. We were going to go swimming at a pool, so I had to figure out tampon insertion. My aunt had never tried this. She had always thought that tampons were unappealing and unnatural, so she just didn’t swim when she was menstruating. This was not helpful for me, so I just put it in. We went to the pool and jumped in. When I pulled myself out onto the dry cement, I noticed a tiny phallus dangling in my bikini bottoms. I was mortified and demanded that we go back home, where I read the instructions and discovered that the cardboard covering must be removed.
When I was in third grade my mom discovered painful lumps on my chest. She was really worried. She drove me to the doctor to find out if they needed to be removed. I was eight when I got felt up for the first time. The doctor informed my mom that these lumps were budding breasts. I kept wearing my older brother’s hand-me-down baggy skateboard shirts, hoping no one would notice. By the time I was willing to admit I had breasts and go out to buy a bra I had C-cups.
I must have been about eleven, and I was a soccer player. I hoped that if my shirts were big enough, no one would know that these strange bumps just kept getting bigger. I ran around playing soccer in this giant baggy shirt, no bra, breasts bouncing freely.
When I realized that my breasts were not going to go away and that they kept getting bigger I decided I should get some bras, so at least they would not jiggle so much. Neither my mom or dad wore bras so it didn’t really matter which one took me bra shopping. My dad turned out to be the best bra shopping partner. We would go to Victoria’s Secret when they had sales. I have this great image of my dad saving my place in the line to the dressing rooms, holding dozens of bras, while I kept searching through the store. He would engage with the women in line by him and they would laugh together. It takes a truly confident man to hold his daughter’s spot in a line to try on lingerie.
When I was 11, my 13 year old friend told me that she was so horny she wished she could just make out with a stranger at a movie theatre. Whoever sat next to her. I smiled knowingly and giggled. I had no idea what she was talking about. One time at my house she told me that she wanted us both to get naked and lie on top of each other to feel what sex was like. I was intrigued, so we took off our clothes and lay in my bed with only underwear. I don’t remember if there was any grinding or movement, but I do remember that I had to get up because I felt nauseous.
For my Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ceremony for 13-year-olds, I was given a lot of gifts and cash. One friend gave me a vibrating body massager in the shape of a pig, because pigs were my favorite animal. I loved that thing. It didn’t take long to figure out that certain places felt really good to massage. I also remember feeling embarrassed and sort of ashamed that I enjoyed it so much. I tried to stop using the pig vibrator, but it felt so good.
I don’t remember anyone telling me that masturbation was bad but it definitely seemed like a secret or something to be ashamed of. My family never talked about it at all. Growing up Buddhist we talked about death a lot but I don’t remember ever talking about sex or pleasure.
*This is a good place to start to your own sexual autobiography: think, write, or draw about what it was like for you when your body started changing and when you started discovering sexuality. Were you supported or guided by anyone around you or made fun of or shamed? Were you proud or embarrassed of growing up and changing? What stories do you remember? What helpful information was left out?
I’ll leave you with a few answers from:
What’s the difference between sex, fucking, and making love?
“My first thought is that I don’t think any of those words describe what we do. Sex just sounds so scientific. Fucking seems like a carefree version with no emotions attached, like I wouldn’t describe my parents as fucking even though they’re married and have sex. Making love, I don’t think I’ve experienced yet but it seems a more emotional version of sex.”
“Fucking is an intimate thing but it usually happens less times. Fucking is a thing that you want to do really passionately but you can’t hold onto it. Making love you can only do with someone you’re in love with and you can’t do it at first, it takes a while. Sex is when the relationship gets boring.”
“I think that making love has emotional intimacy with the person you’re with. I think you can have sex, make love, and fuck the same person. It’s very much a personal decision about who you have sex with or fuck or make love. It’s very much about the level of trust that you have with that person.”
The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, Cathy Winks and Anne Semans, Cleis Press, California, 2002