I BLAME my complete inability to chat nonchalantly about sex and, um, you know, women’s things, on the fact that at school I was never taught how to put a condom on a cucumber.
My “adult” education began when I was just about to go to boarding school. My mother thrust a book in my hand called “You’re A Young Lady Now” which had been produced by Kotex. Things went downhill from there.
At school we had one girls-only lesson given by an embarrassed biology teacher who fixed her eyes on her desk and never once lifted her gaze, while mumbling about girls-only things (see, I can’t even say the word ‘period’ out loud). I didn’t listen that closely as I considered myself something of an expert on the subject, having read “You’re A Young Lady Now” from cover to cover.
As for sex, a couple of years later we were shown a film about the reproductive cycle of a rabbit which included a brief glimpse of two rabbits going like it, well, like rabbits. We were also shown cross section diagrams of a male and female body with all the relevant bits clearly labelled while we tried not to snigger at the word “penis”.
How different it is for young people these days who have sex rammed down their throats, if you’ll pardon the expression, almost from the time they are a foetus. By the time they are 11 they know all the ins and outs of the whole messy business and can even say the word vagina out loud without blushing to the roots of their hair. Thanks to that cucumber and condom, and films that in my day would have been seen only in seedy cinemas in Soho, they know all the mechanics too.
My teenage years, on the other hand, were largely spent in complete ignorance of what these mechanics entailed, having only a hazy idea of men and women’s parts coming briefly together with what I thought was the inevitable consequence – a baby.
So avoiding becoming a fallen woman, one whose father would say, “Never darken my doors again,” was uppermost in my mind when it came to boyfriends.
Although how on earth I thought I could ever become pregnant while wearing clothes that had all the defensive capabilities of Kevlar armour, I don’t know. That stiff coned bra which could have a boy’s eye out at two paces, waist-high knickers with killer elastic and thick patchwork maxi skirt were enough to deter the most hormone-infused adolescent.
Before you start to worry about this uptight, middle-aged woman, spending her life in a state of complete repression, all did later, to my complete surprise and wonder, become satisfyingly clear. As I said at the beginning, I have never quite got over the inability to chat about the theory of the subject but I did finally learn to appreciate the practice.