April 2003 - How do you spell S-E-X?

Editor's Note

When I was 13 or 14, a new book appeared on the shelf in our living room, tucked between Horsemanship 101 and Watership Down. Because it was entitled Woman’s Body: An Owner’s Manual, I assumed it was my mother’s (although why my mother would need to learn about the female body after three kids and a lifetime of raising farm animals was a question I never thought to ask). Something in the title told me that the book was for grownups only — which of course meant I dove right into it every time my parents left the house.

Although I can’t remember the specifics of what I learned from that book, I do remember the overall feelings it instilled in me: My body, as well all the things it does and wants to do, is normal, natural and necessary; sex is a good thing; women have lots of choices, and it doesn’t matter what they choose as long as it is safe and pleasurable. My mother had taught me some of those things, too, of course, but to read it in a book somehow made it even more true.

I must have thumbed through the book (or at least the sexuality-oriented parts of it) at least a hundred times that year, always keeping one eye toward the driveway in case my parents drove in.

It wasn’t until I turned 30, more than 15 years later, that I read a cartoon where the mother had “accidentally” left out a sex book for her daughter to read…and…oh, I get it. All that time, not only had my mother known that I was glued to Woman’s Body every chance I got — she had purposefully placed it on our bookshelf, creating a safe place for me to learn.

Perhaps my mother’s foresight allowed me to grow into a young woman who is open-minded about sex, who can write about, talk about and explore it, with few qualms or concerns. Or perhaps it is the generation I was born into — this wave of feminism that fights for sexual rights by buying vibrators, carrying around copies of The Clitoral Truth, and having discussions that begin with “Did you see the Vagina Monologues this week?”

But while the women of my generation have our own feminist-sex cry (“Sex is fun, sex is great! Let’s go home and masturbate!”), our yells sometimes peter out as we try to figure out how not to enjoy our sexuality too much (lest we be labeled a slut); how to feel sexy in our skin while watching Victoria’s Secret commercials that supposedly define what sexy is (and, baby, those thighs aren’t it); and how to be pissed off about bad porn, while admitting that we own a few women-friendly videos ourselves.

This struggle is nothing new for a feminist. Every wave has struggled with defining their sexuality in a changing culture. Women who are now hitting their sixties are talking about the fact that the sex they were taught — “Lay back and take it” — is not the sex they wanted or needed (Still Sexy After All these Years, page 22). And every new generation has to work through its own set of concerns: open-minded heterosexual women strive to understand just what lesbian sex means (Corralling the Pink Pony, page 24), feminists try abstinence on for size (Just Saying No, page 28), and twentysomethings worry about whether they can have their sex and their sexual health too (Sex and Guilt and Shame, Oh My! page 18).

So how do feminists spell S-E-X? There are so many ways it’s hard to count. But whether they’re spelling it by saying “no” or by buying their very first vibrator, one thing is certain: it’s a spelling bee that everyone can win.

Stay Nervy,

Shanna Germain, Editor-in-Chief

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ISSN 1536-9897 Copyright 2003 by Independent Publishing Northwest, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.