I saw my first hairy vagina while walking alongside Chamblee-Dunwoody road with a friend when I was 10. Someone had evidently either liked, or disliked, a particular page in a smut rag and had thrown it out the window, or it had blown out of his car by mistake. Whatever its source, I was caught by surprise. I had seen my sister’s vagina, of course, but she was only 5. I had not expected there to be hair. It struck me as roughly goat-like.
I hid my surprise. The social contract around sharing illicit knowledge was only just being written for us, or rather, there was a whole new level of illicit stuff that we hadn’t known we should know more about. Sure, we knew about the baseball thing — sex education in Georgia was Little League inspired. I could not picture the point of 3rd base, nor, really, of a home run, other than to understand that it was something I was supposed to want.
Information came to me slowly. Why did that guy laugh when he said that that girl was like a cat in heat? Some girl offered a guy a grape and he thought she was offering him a rape. Even when I looked it up later, it made no sense, and clearly he didn’t understand the word either. Elizabeth so-and-so turned a red light on in her room, and guys drove up, came in and didn’t stay long. A couple was heard to have gone into a broom closet, and the girl walked funny when she came out. The classic description of a blow job as what happens when a girl blows into the guy’s penis and inflates his balls. Little bits of things heard, overheard, retold, the third-hand whispers, the glimpses of things, some true and some not — I filed each away, trying to understand but unwilling to ask directly.
I forged my own understanding, clumsily. For example, my friend and I “practiced” French kissing — quite a lot, in fact — “just in case.” Neither of us knew anything about being gay — had not even heard of that concept — which allowed us to experience things that would have been unthinkable given the prevailing attitudes of that time. It was a quiet negotiation of sexual truth, a first-hand exploration between two friends who were equally clueless, equally curious. There was no authority to say what it was and what it wasn’t. We didn’t talk about it much, but we had an understanding.
I found what I needed, either first hand or from the information pool available through my social channels. It did not come from culture, and the Internet was just a gleam in little Al Gore’s eye. I learned on a “need to know” basis, coming of age slowly, even gently. Sex shops, red light districts, peep shows, behind-the-counter porn — I didn’t need any of that because being sexual with a girl, in any way, was enough. More than enough. I could not have processed all the myriad flavors of ways to be sexual. It would have seemed unhelpful, circus-like, distracting, confusing — but most important, it would have been alien to me. Alien, because completely outside my social context — a big world of scary hairy things with no friendly guidance. Pretty much like the Internet is today.
What is too much sexual information? I guess it depends on how it’s delivered. Anyone can now look up “Ben Wa balls” on the Internet and find out what they are, in great detail. You don’t have to depend on your social circle, don’t have to manage the delicate negotiation of illicit knowledge with a friend, where you want to know but you also want to seem to already know. Is that a loss? Or a relief? It depends on why you need to know. If I happen to think, oh, wouldn’t it be fun to have something vibrating inside my ass all day (or vagina if I’m a woman), I’m going to find out about Ben Wa balls in a sort of natural progression. I might even have a friend who knows. If not — why know about them?
One can certainly make the argument that more information about sex is better than less. After all, when in 11th grade I found myself sliding my hand into my girlfriend’s pants, I didn’t know what I would do when I got there. I suppose no one does. As it turned out, I never got there — I took a wrong turn down her thigh (I was drunk), and then somebody interrupted us to say that our house was on fire — oh, but I digress.
Had I already watched porn videos showing close-ups of vaginas and the mysterious exact location of the clitoris and what to do about it, what then? Would I have felt like a failed lover, fallen short of some expectation coming from outside that actual relationship? Or, maybe worse, had I performed, would that moment have lost its stupid innocence? As it was, I was happy to have even touched her thigh, and we laughed about it, at least a little bit, before we broke up.