scrambledporn

how I really learned about sex

My sex education began on an ominous afternoon in the fifth grade when, without warning, the girls and boys were split up and maneuvered into two different rooms to watch a “health film.”

Looking back, it was all very shady. I should have had some misgivings about this so-called “health film,” or been at least a little suspicious about the fact that everyone with a wiener was being marched down to the gymnasium to watch it while we girls stayed behind. But I was too busy having my usual response to the audio-visual cart, which was:

“YAY! A FILM! WHAT’S IT ABOUT? OH, WHO EVEN CARES. THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO GYM CLASS! HOORAY! MAYBE IF I’M LUCKY I’LL GET TO RUN THE PROJECTOR! WHEE! FILM!”

So, completely oblivious to the fact that something unusual was going on, I plopped down on the threadbare carpet, sat criss-cross applesauce, and waited eagerly for the “health film” to start. Which it did.

And innocence, as they say, was lost.

Sex education in the mid-1980’s meant a lot of things, but “a wealth of accurate information about sexual development and self-discovery” was not one of them. There was a lot of hemming and hawing involved, and an abundance of “facts” that had been customized to avoid certain awkward truths. For example:

Fact: Boys start puberty when they experience their first ejaculation.

Awkward Truth: Teaching this requires the schools to address the topic of…

*gasp*

*GASP*

*GASP!*

…masturbation.

1980s Solution: Since talking to kids about masturbation is uncomfortable and yucky, the schools decided to just HEAVILY imply that boys only ejaculate during wet dreams. Because wet dreams are involuntary. They can’t be helped! A pair of boobs just floats by in a dream and whoopsie! Ejaculation. WITH NO PENIS TOUCHING INVOLVED.

Long-term Consequence of the 1980s Solution: No, it’s cool. I mean, some of us girls didn’t realize male masturbation was even a thing until we were like 13, but whatever. We just spent FOUR YEARS under the mistaken and hilarious impression that boys were having wet dreams all over the place, every single night of the year. But no big.

I guess what I’m saying here is that back in those days, with no Internet and more than a buttload of societal hangups, most of us kids didn’t get the straight dope on sex for a really long time. The “health films” were outdated, full of half-truths, and overloaded with complicated medical jargon that meant nothing to us. (Fallopian tubes? Vas deferens? Nocturnal emissions? Please. I zoned out after “vagina.”)

The “birds and the bees” talks we got from our parents were no better—IF we got them at all—and most of them were totally squicky and embarrassing. Here’s an excerpt from mine:

Mom: “So uh… when a man and a woman love each other very much… the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina.”

Me: “UM. GROSS. WHY?”

Mom (stuttering): “Uh… it feels good?”

Me: “WE’RE DONE HERE.”

So what were we children of the 70’s and 80’s supposed to do between fifth grade and whenever our school district finally deemed it appropriate to teach us the real deal? How did we actually learn about sex?

We learned from porn.

OH, I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE KIND OF PORN ON THE INTERNET TODAY. I’m talking softcore stuff. Scrambled porn. Skin mags. Dirty books. I know it all sounds super duper lame, but it’s what was available back then, and its availability was very limited. You think kids go to crazy lengths now to find porn on the Internet? Here’s what my friends and I would do to catch a glimpse of a boob or a mention of a wang:

1. Watch scrambled porn. For the kids in the audience who don’t know what this is, let me explain. Back before digital cable, all premium channels and channels with adult content would be “scrambled” by the cable company. They’d only get “unscrambled” if your Mom or Dad started subscribing to those particular channels, which of course mine never did.

As methods of television encryption go, analog scrambling wasn’t very effective. You could still listen to the audio, and you could still *kind* of see what was going on. Enough to get an idea. Enough to learn some things you didn’t know before. Enough to harvest plenty of wack-off material. And in the end, isn’t that what mattered?

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2. Go through our neighbors’ garbage. I can hear you saying: “OH NO YOU DI’INT.” But oh yes. We did. One particular neighbor of mine had a subscription to both Playboy AND Penthouse, and he’d even class it up occasionally with an erotic novel or two. Seriously? His trash was a treasure trove of porn. My friends and I would root through his garbage, score some skin mag gold, and then spend the rest of the afternoon reading Penthouse letters and giggling over the liberal use of the word “pussy.”

SIDE NOTE: When we were done looking at the busty, big-haired Playmates of the 80’s, we would do our neighborhood a humongous favor and hang all of the centerfolds from tree branches. Right near the street, so you couldn’t miss ‘em. Because we were GIVERS like that. GIVERS.

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3. Read and reread and reread Forever . . . by Judy Blume. If you are a girl who was born in the 70’s, or probably even the 80’s, you’ve read this book. When I was a kid, Forever . . . was one of the most censored books in America, and it was famous for its extremely graphic (and very informative) sexual content. Most parents knew it was completely inappropriate for middle schoolers, but there was always one clueless mom who would say “OH IT’S BY JUDY BLUME IT’S FINE” and buy a copy for her daughter without taking a closer look.

And for that one clueless mom, we were thankful.

There was one—and I mean ONE—incredibly dog-eared copy of Forever . . . that circulated around my junior high school, and the pages with the sex scenes were worn so thin they felt like used Kleenex. The binding was cracked too, and when you opened the book it would flop right open to the part where the two teenage protagonists are just straight up doin’ it on the living room carpet.

Eventually the book got confiscated and girls throughout my school sighed a collective “Awwww” of disappointment, but we never forgot what we read. In particular, we never forgot that one of the main characters nicknamed his penis “Ralph.”

forever-cover

The actual cover of the edition that made its way around my middle school. I’m not sure what a locket has to do with two teenagers fucking their way through their senior year of high school, but whatevs.

Sex education is a whole different ball game these days, and as an uptight Catholic American, I’ll admit I’m not looking forward to having to answer certain questions from my son. Still, I will answer them. Honestly, thoughtfully, and with love. Because anything is better than growing up thinking it was totally normal to hang spooge-stained centerfolds off of tree branches, or that it was common practice to name one’s genitals “Ralph.”

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Photo credits:
“Scrambled cable”: A scrambled version of the 1993 Paramount Pictures logo; Fair use; File: Scrambled cable channel.jpg; Uploaded by Saltine; Uploaded: 29 October 2009 — Modified
“Boy and girl”: Русский: Юноша ухаживает за девушкой; English: A young man courting a girl; Date 18 January 2014; Source http://500px.com/photo/58109660; Author Iulia Pironea; Licensing: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. — Modified
“Judy Blume – Forever . . .“: Vintage 1975 cover of Judy Blume’s novel Forever . . . 

84 thoughts on “how I really learned about sex

  1. Kristine

    There was a spot near the ravine that kids would leave their dirty mags. We all knew where it was and would steal a peek now and then. My dad was the guy with the porn collection – in the house mind you. But he catalogued those babies thinking they would be worth something one day. He has mags dating back to his university days. Wholesome house.
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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      My friend across the street was the one whose Dad had the obsessively catalogued Playboy collection going back to the early 70’s. One time my friend stole one of them and he must have got spooge on it or something because he then had to get rid of it, so he shoved it in our mailbox. I found it when I was getting the mail and you can bet I hid it under my pillow for a few days.

      Reply
  2. Abby

    Ha! I remember the “video” in elementary school as well and still didn’t really understand. Then there was the, “Where Did I Come From?” cartoon illustrated book my best friend had that answered questions and raised so many more. I never did the scrambled porn or Judy Blume thing, but there was a cabinet of old pornos in the bathroom of a rec room up at the trailer park where we had our summer trailer (those from the men who actually lived there all year–enough said.) Those magazines taught me a) more than any sex ed video and b) that old men are really creepy, and young men look nothing like those men in the magazines.
    Abby recently posted…A Good Book and a Big Cup of TeaMy Profile

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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Ooh, your comment made me remember two things: 1) A videotape of softcorn porn that my Dad had taped off of cable at some point, which we found in his closet and watched 100x, and 2) pretending to fall asleep and then getting up really late at night to watch the dirty HBO movies (we actually did have *that* channel for a while.) I remember looking up movies in the movie guide to see if there was nudity, and then I’d be all over them. Stuff like Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds.

      Reply
  3. Linda Roy

    I didn’t read the Judy Blume book, but I did suffer through an excruciating “talk” with my mother. I’m still trying to banish the memory…”Forever”. And I remember those scrambled channels. Nice try, cable company…nice try. I think big awakening came for the members of my high school marching band when we all traveled to Canada to play a football game and we all discovered we could get Skinemax for free. We all watched some stupid soft porn thing called Pizza Pizza. We emerged that weekend much wiser. And the boys probably all ran out of clean socks.
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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      “I’m still trying to banish the memory…”Forever.”” BAHAHAHAHA.

      Oh God, I remember those band trips. One band trip memory I have in particular is of some dude walking around in sweatpants with a really obvious boner. Funnily enough, he was a trombone player, so I guess he was used to awkward things sticking out. So gross.

      Reply
    2. Em

      OMG! I remember Pizza Pizza! First movie I ever saw like that, hanging out with my friend in middle school.
      I never read “Forever” but I read “Are you there God, it’s me Margaret.” Took me longer than it probably should have to figure out what the gal was doing with her washcloth!

      Reply
  4. Gina W.

    Damn girl– we were living parallel lives in the 80’s (except for the going through the neighbor’s trash part). I was one of the lucky girls with a copy of “Forever” very briefly until my Mom must have got wind of the true nature of the story and she confiscated it from me. But not before I had read all the juicy parts. It was too late by that point– what has been read can never be unread! Kids nowadays don’t know how easy they have it with their easy access to porn. Spoiled little shits. 😉

    Reply
  5. Kellie

    It is possible I’ve already told you of my pornography adventures but nothing like making it obvious I’m getting old by constantly repeating stories of my past:

    Spice Channel

    For a few months in 1990 the Spice Channel would become unscrambled (a small little squiggle stayed at the top of the screen) after 11 pm. Many nights of educational programming until the complaints came in, the news station was called, a story was done and Spice became blacked out.

    Reply
    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Oh, the Spice Channel. That was like, the more “hardcore” of the adult channels, if I remember correctly. It was still pretty lame though. (Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying to squint it out.)

      Reply
      1. Kellie

        Exactly! Spice was “like way worse than Playboy”, I can hear my 14 year old self saying. Like I had any idea. 🙂

        Reply
  6. Carrie

    Oh Lord, I was born in 1971, so I know all of what you speak. “Forever” was the book we read in 5th grade behind the lid of our school desks (remember when they ones that you could open?).
    My mom gave me almost the exact same speech, except it was:
    “The man places his penis in the vagina.”
    Me: Is she ok with that? What is she supposed to do then?
    Mom: ummmm, errrr….want a candy bar?
    Me: But it’s 9 am, I’m never allowed to ha…
    Mom: EAT
    😀
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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Oh, yes. I remember those desks. And also the ones that curved around you and had the storage space under the legs 🙂

      Your mom’s awesome. Did you say “Good talk, Mom” afterwards? 😉

      Reply
        1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

          I did this to one of my friends, who had one brother and one sister:

          Me: “Have your parents ever DONE IT?”
          Her: “NO! That’s gross.”
          Me: “YES THEY HAVE AT LEAST THREE TIMES”
          *stalks away like a humongous know-it-all*

          Reply
    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Thank Jesus and/or Baby Jesus for Ms. Blume, the Superfudge series, and her ability to woo certain moms into complete confidence that all of her books were totally acceptable for children!

      Reply
  7. Kristina Walters @ Kris On Fitness

    OMG you sent me right back to high school! I graduated in 1988 so I totally remember the god awful movies for health class, ESPECIALLY the “health film”! You’re right, all of us girls thought that all guys did was have nocturnal emissions! I also loved Judy Bloom! I don’t remember reading Forever but I remember the Ralph part so I must have. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
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  8. Dawn Miller

    I remember that book and had a similar conversation with my father who was quite uncomfortable. My eighth grader has sex education this marking period and he gets the whole shebang and I am not looking forward to it! He has two much younger siblings and here’s hoping he doesn’t give them ‘the talk’ way too early!

    Reply
    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      I can’t imagine having the sex talk with my Dad. That would have been ten times worse. It would have gone like this:

      Dad: “So, uh… sex.”
      Me: “Yeah?”
      Dad: “Sorry, no. No no no no no” *walks away with fingers in his ears still going “no no no”*

      Reply
  9. The Shitastrophy

    My sex talk consisted of my mother telling me pubic hair was for my safety. The End. I never read Forever, and I remember that video – it showed some girl circa 1970 donning some sort of belt contraption when she got her period. I was very confused.

    Reply
    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Ah, the great sanitary belt. I read about it in “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” and I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about. Only later did I learn that it was because maxi pads didn’t have adhesive back then.

      Reply
  10. Kim

    OMG. I went through sex-ed in the early 90s and what a nightmare that was. I had these books all about puberty and sex. I’m horrified thinking about it now.

    Now I’m starting to wonder how the hell I managed to grow up and be a healthy adult with a reasonably healthy view of sex.

    Reply
  11. Qwerty girl

    I think I got Forever out of some school library or other. I never owned it. I did have a copy of some National Lampoon dirty book–no idea where it came from. My first sex Ed class was at an all girl’s school in 5th grade. The only thing I remember in middle/high school was the scaring the shit out of us about drugs. I think they figured if you didn’t know about sex by 7th grade, you were a hopeless loser who was going to remain a virgin forever so it didn’t matter if you knew or not.

    So if I read this correctly your husband chose a name other than “Ralph” for his…business.
    Qwerty girl recently posted…Not PickyMy Profile

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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      You got it at the LIBRARY!? I’m shocked. And titillated!

      I had a National Lampoon dirty book too, but it was my parents’ and it disappeared PDQ.

      My husband thankfully has not given his business a name, particularly because he is Spanish and it would probably have been something totally disturbing like “Nacho” or “Fernando.”

      Reply
      1. qwertygirl

        I had to have because I know I read it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t borrow it from a friend, and I didn’t own it. My dirty book was my own, acquired I know not how. It had weird stories in it like one that was written by a teenage girl who grew a penis. and strange things like that. I mean, it WAS National Lampoon, after all.

        Oh and did you guys read trashy romances? You know, throbbing manhoods, womanly softnesses, and rivers of ecstasy and that sort of thing? I read a LOT of those, little smut brain that I was. Plus they were readily available, even more so than hardcore teen smut like Forever.

        Probably best about your husbands business. It would make it hard to order bar appetizers or sing ABBA ever again, I would imagine.
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        1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

          I read SO many of my mom’s trashy romances, and I even checked a bunch out from the public library. Those were GREAT because they had a formula so you knew they would all have at least the same amount of sex.

          AND BAHAHAHA ABOUT MY HUSBAND!

          Reply
  12. GFriday

    Ha! I remember my first sex ed lesson was from an episode of the Jeffersons. I had heard of the purpose of penises and vaginas, but since the term used was “sleep together”, I imagined you went to sleep naked and the swimmy sperm would migrate, somehow, to the vagina. Then there was a joke about Lionel getting his girlfriend pregnant, and George ribbing him about something they did “before they went to sleep”. Aha!

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      1. GFriday

        No! I do remember watching an episode of Real People that talked about prostitution, and asking my Mom “What’s a prostitute?” and she said “Someone who gets paid for sex”, and I was beet red like “Oh no, I talked about sex!”

        Reply
  13. Cassandra

    So very much to say here. What to choose? First of all, YES”Forever went through my entire 6th grade class at least twice. Second, my brother (educated in the early 70s) believed until he was 16 (!) that he could get a girl pregnant just by kissing her.

    My son just started “Life Education” last week. I’ve told him he should fell free to ask any questions that he has — to his dad!
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  14. GFriday

    Do you remember when Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) did a sex-ed public service special that kicked of with David Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging”? I still have nightmares.

    Reply
  15. Anne

    I am totally surprised that Jean Auel didn’t make your guys’ list. Valley of Horses was totally our go-to educational material in junior high, ala caveman style. The book was actually stocked by the school library, which in hindsight (especially in the days of banned book lists) blows my mind. But now that I think about it, my school library had Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game too, you know the one about the woman getting stuck in a pair of handcuffs after Gerald gets too freaky for her, and women are taught that they can kill a dude by kicking him too hard in his family treasure? So perhaps my school library was just run by malcontents, free-loving hippies, or extremely broad-minded liberal thinkers.
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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      She may not have made the blog list (I was already over 1000 words!) but she was definitely “on the list,” as was Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, and whoever wrote all the Harlequin novels.

      I didn’t read Gerald’s Game until I was in high school, I don’t think. But I did read The Shining when I was fairly young and was traumatized for life. Where the hell was my mother while I was doing this!?

      Reply
  16. ManicMom

    Oh man, Judy Blume. I had a copy under my mattress, right next to Flowers in the Attic.

    Then there was Aerobicise on Showtime, these little four minute shorts of women doing impossibly flexible things in between features, and I swear thinking “somebody is getting off on this,” even though I don’t think I had an inkling about what “getting off on something” meant.
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  17. Liz

    I love this post so much I want to have unprotected sex with it! Haha. I also went to Catholic school and remember the health film and splitting up the classes—such gravitas! Even though they didn’t tell us everything. I had to wait for Flowers in the Attic to figure that out. That was the book all us girls read in 7th grade. Incest is best! Not sure why we (I) missed the boat on Judy Blume. Weird. I suspect my mother’s intervention. BTW, loved your reaction: “WE’RE DONE HERE!” Hilarious.

    Reply
    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Hey guys! I haven’t seen you in a while! Sorry for not being over at your site much lately, been super busy with work and am on behind on blogs BIG TIME. Thanks for coming over and reading. Glad you laughed! And “Fast Times”… I’d forgotten about that one!

      Reply
  18. kdcol

    I had all but forgotten about Forever (and Ralph)! I forgot exactly what grade I was in when I heard that there was a little more to baby-making than stork dropping, but I remember I was playing barbies with my sister (she’s about 2 1/2 years older) and she told me that to make a baby, the man squishes his penis into the woman and I was so disgusted. I didn’t believe her. I guess my mom figured it was time she have a talk with me. She had this book with a picture of a sperm as big as the page so for the longest time, I thought sperm was a snake. (hmm.. that’s probably good birth control right there) I remember the scrambled channels and sneaking in Rated R (!) movies on cable at sleepovers. I don’t think I had access to any skin mags, but I remember skimming through Playgirl at the mall’s bookstore (remember those??) and being baffled at the shaved men. 🙂
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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      PLAYGIRL! I forgot about those! I remember thinking all men had humongous dongs and that erections went straight up in the air, because the models were always lounging back with their penises laying on their bellies, so to me that just looked like…vertical. Oh GOD I WAS SO DUMB

      Reply
  19. Eric

    This was beautiful, and heart-warming and reminded me of my sex-ed class in high school and as one of the “wiener” people, our class was no better. I mean, truth was, I probably spanked it 10 minutes before class but we didn’t brag about it back then like we do now.

    Those parachute pants ended up totally ruined.

    I’mma post you on my homepage as my “blogger of the week”. It’s far to late but well deserved. I’ve been a horrible commenter lately but I’ve been here!

    Much love!
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    1. Sarah (est. 1975)Sarah (est. 1975) Post author

      Well I am just so flattered, Eric. Thank you! As you know, I’ve also been a horrible commenter lately. I am so behind on blogs, even the ones that I regularly support. It’s been quite a busy couple of months! Hopefully I’ll be able to get my shit together soon!

      Reply
  20. Em

    My younger brother would sell his friends “peeks” at my parents’ Joy of Sex book…$0.25 per page…and if he heard anyone on the stairs the price would increase!

    My mom never did have the talk with me – gave me two pamphlets and called it a day.

    I winged it with my very shy and naive 12 year old daughter using a children’s anatomy book. See how the woman is shaped like a hallway? See how the man’s penis looks like it would fill that hallway? I thought she was going to have a stroke! Hilarious stuff, but at least she knows.

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  21. Ben g

    For years I thought I never went through puberty since I’d never had a wet dream. THANKS DISTRICT 300.

    Also, I know exactly which trombonist you’re referring to, and I’m finding it upsetting. Damn you and your blog.

    Reply
  22. sumbody2luv

    I found a book called “Malibu Beach” in my mom’s library when I was in Jr High. Oh the memories! I passed that book along to many friends!

    Reply
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  24. Quirky Chrissy

    My dad has a seriously vintage collection of Playboy magazines.

    Also, the TV in my bedroom was weird and often unscrambled on a regular basis. I got my fair share of free pay per view movies and the occasional porno.

    Also, I learned most of my sex ed from horror movies I got to watch at my next door neighbor’s house.
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