We Need Bodice-Ripper Sex Ed

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[W]here did you learn about sex?

In my personal pie chart, 10 percent of the credit goes to Mom and Dad, who taught me that sex was for marriage, or at the very least, for a committed, loving, monogamous relationship that would, God willing, occur once I was out of the house.

I’ll credit another 10 percent to sex ed, the junior-high health classes that taught me the names of the body parts and explained what went where in the straight-people intercourse it was assumed we’d all be having. Sex, I learned, was bad news, every act risking pregnancy or disease. Think Coach Carr’s speech in the 2004 movie “Mean Girls” — “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die.”

Which left 80 percent to be filled in by my friends and pop culture: what I heard on the school bus and at sleepover parties, what I saw in movies and heard on the radio, the glimpses I got of dirty magazines, kept behind brown paper wrappers on the high shelves.

But I was a reader, and most of what I knew came from books, starting with the copy of Judy Blume’s “Forever …” that made the rounds of the cafeteria in seventh grade to the dozens of Harlequin romances I devoured to the best sellers by Judith Krantz, Shirley Conran, Jean Auel, Susan Isaacs and Erica Jong that I snagged from my mom’s shelves.

I’ve been thinking about sex education in light of what must, by now, be the most-discussed bad date in history.

By now, you’ve most likely heard about the encounter between an anonymous 23-year-old photographer and the comedian and actor Aziz Ansari. They met at a party, which led to a dinner date, which led to a sexual encounter that she came to deeply regret, she told a reporter, believing Mr. Ansari ignored verbal and nonverbal cues that she wasn’t into what was happening. Now that she has gone public with her account, everyone seems to have an opinion about what she did, what he did and whether talking about gray-zone sex, where the man believes that everything that happened was consensual and the woman feels otherwise, spells the end of the #MeToo movement.

Reading about it all, I realize how lucky I am that so much of my sex ed came from Harlequins.

The literary establishment doesn’t have much love for women’s fiction, whether it’s romance or erotica or popular novels about love and marriage. Romance novels come in for an extra helping of scorn. Critics sneer that they’re all heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods, unrealistic, poorly written and politically incorrect.

But those books, for all their soft-core covers and happily-ever-afters, were quietly and not-so-quietly subversive. They taught readers that sexual pleasure was something women could not just hope for but insist upon. They shaped my interactions with boys and men. They helped make me a feminist.

Because these books were written for and consumed by women, female pleasure was an essential part of every story. Villains were easy to spot: They were the ones who left a woman “burning and unsatisfied.” Shirley Conran’s “Lace” features a heroine telling her feckless husband that she’d used an egg timer to determine how long it took her to achieve orgasm on her own and that she’d be happy to teach him what to do.

At 14, I never looked at hard-boiled eggs the same way again.

The books not only covered blissful sex but also described a whole range of intimate moments, from the awkward to the funny to the very bad, including rape of both the stranger and intimate-partner variety. Beyond the dirty bits, the books I read described the moments before and after the main event, the stuff you don’t see in mainstream movies, where zippers don’t get stuck and teeth don’t bump when you’re kissing; the stuff you don’t see in porn, where almost no time elapses between the repair guy’s arrival and the start of activities that do not involve the clogged kitchen sink.

Objectification doesn’t exist just in porn, of course. “So many men cannot get their heads around the idea that women are not first and foremost sexual objects,” the novelist Jenny Crusie told me. “You don’t get that from porn; you get that from a persistent worldview modeled by the men around you that you’ve been taught to admire.”

I have no idea how much, if any, X-rated material Mr. Ansari or his date consumes. Statistically, we know that modern men and women have access to every kind of explicit material, literally in their pockets. And they’re watching: One recent study found that 79 percent of men and 76 percent of women between 18 and 30 look at pornographic websites at least once each month, while another showed that three out of 10 men in that age group were daily viewers.

Sex might be easy, but relationships are hard. And a 400-page novel can teach you more about them than any X-rated clip. Fiction has time to draw a deeper picture, covering the getting-to-know-you stuff, the starts and stops and circling back that take boy and girl from first date to first kiss to the moment where they’re both naked and hopefully into what’s going to happen next.

“Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants in a sexual relationship,” said Bea Koch, the 28-year-old co-owner (with her 25-year-old sister, Leah) of the Ripped Bodice, a bookstore in Culver City, Calif., that exclusively sells romance titles. “They highlight conversations about consent, birth control and myriad other topics that people generally find difficult to talk about. In some instances, it can be a literal script for how to bring up difficult topics with a partner. They give a road map to people wanting to experiment with their sexuality, or even just get in touch with what they want and need in a sexual relationship.”

Porn, necessarily, cuts to the chase: a little less conversation, a little more action.

Talking’s not sexy, people complain.

But when you don’t know how to ask, when you can’t bring yourself to tell, when you don’t possess the language with which to talk about desire, that’s when you can end up with crossed wires, missed signals, mixed messages, a guy who goes to sleep thinking, “That was fun!” and a girl who goes home crying in an Uber.

If we want men and women equally empowered to form real connections, to talk, honestly and openly about who they are and what they want, there are worse places to start than curling up with a good book.

Complete Article HERE!

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