Sex Ed by Michael De Rosa

There was none. 

I was twelve in 1954 when I figured out the connection between sex and procreation. Before that, there were no fatherly talks on the birds and the bees. Instead, lots of fantastical tales such as cartoons featuring storks carrying precious bundles dropped gently to waiting parents. Misinformation — could you get pregnant from French kissing —but only fragments of reality.  

In grammar school, I learned how to use our local library to research what interested me. What interested me could only be found in the adult section. But I was too young to go in. When I went to the seventh grade, I got the library card that allowed me free rein in the adult section. Never again did I climb the stairs to the children’s room on the second floor.  

No Google, but there was the card catalog, and the Dewey decimal system was my road to the knowledge contained on the library’s shelves. Hygiene books, written at the college level, held the key. They all had a chapter on human reproduction. There were black and white male and female genitalia diagrams within their pages, with all the parts clearly labeled. Many of the male bits and pieces were internal. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to the prostate. However, I did pay attention to the female diagram memorizing all the Latin names for the various parts. There could not have been too many thirteen-year-olds in my neighborhood in Spanish Harlem that knew of the clitoris’ existence and function. There was also information on the various types of venereal diseases and birth control methods such as the diaphragm, pessary, and infibulation.  

Later working at the local library gave me access to material held under the main counter. Here I discovered the “The Book of Health,” an illustrated medical encyclopedia. There were a series of photographs of changes to the human body (male and female) through puberty—interesting. Not so interesting were images of the ravages of venereal disease. One of the librarians saw me reading it and was surprised at my interest. That was the end of that. Over the years, I have wondered if the graphic images were educational, or there to sell more books. In a non-public collection, there were copies of 1950s marriage manuals, but I never had the courage even to take them off the shelf. 

This research gave me an adult understanding of the anatomical parts of sex and birth control. But my education was not complete. For practical details, I turned to literature.  

The title of a novel and its dust jacket —”The Wind in His Fists”— caught my eye. I expected a tale of high adventure, and it did not disappoint. It was also a revelation; books had sex in them that had nothing to do with science. Within the first few pages, the hero had seduced a girl, left the farm, and was on the road to adventure. That is all that I remember of the plot. I checked out the book and devoured its 300+ plus pages in less than two days. You can buy the paperback on Amazon. The listing describes it as “…the lusty saga of an Irish renegade….” From here, I moved on to the classics: Rabelais (unfortunately the Everyman Library bowdlerized edition), Ovid, Casanova, and whatever else came to my attention. 

Did you know that Casanova pulled off one of the great jailbreaks of all time? He managed to escape from Piombi, an escape-proof prison, in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Digging thru floorboards, he got out of his cell, went across the Palace, and then calmly out via the golden staircase. See the 2005 movie with Heath Ledger for further details.    

We did not have Harry Potter growing up, but we did have steamy “Peyton Place” and its sequel. They were the first novels I read that had explicit sex scenes. I wasn’t the only teenager that discovered them. Just as with Harry Potter, school friends, who hardly ever picked up a book not assigned in class, became avid readers. If you didn’t want to bother reading the whole book, friends would tell you where the good parts were.  

Cheap paperback versions of some of the books by Havelock Ellis (early sexologist) were readily available. Besides interesting information, they referenced other books. Books that I tracked down, and they, in turn, led to other sources. What in the future, as a research scientist, I would call leading references. Through them, I learned about the works of Henry Miller that only became available in the US in 1961.  

As you can see, when it came to sex, I was both self-taught and classically trained. Yet to be learned: there is a difference between theory and practice and, more importantly, “faint heart ne’er won fair lady.” Or as Shrek (the Musical) sang: “You gotta make a move, and don’t be afraid!” 

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