Toronto
3 min

Finding the heat in mom’s Harlequins

Looking back at learning about sex

I’ve been thinking about my parents having sex, but it’s not what you think. As I settle into a new school year with the children I work for, I am trying to trace my concepts of sex and sexuality, how my ideas were formed about how sex should be, what it should mean and what kind of a role it should play in my life.

Both my parents, when they were acting consciously, were totally repressed. They never talked about sex with my sisters and I. There were no copies of Where Did I Come From. One coughed and the other changed the channel when it came up in movies. Everything I learned consciously about sex I learned in the school yard — what French kissing was, what a boner was, what a virgin was (which, according to our grade six definition, applied to me long after I’d discovered sex).

When they weren’t thinking, my parents were much more honest. They were affectionate and playful. They made sexual jokes at parties. They touched each other often in our presence. I never caught them having sex, but they often kicked us out of the house to “go exploring” for hours at a time (that’s when we’d end up eating icicles and playing truth or dare with Suzie who didn’t need an excuse to take her top off.)

Completely unintentionally, my parents were teaching me about how to have a healthy physical relationship. In a generation where divorce was on the rise, they rarely fought and never handled each other roughly. They kissed, held hands, celebrated and withstood grief through touch and physical affection.

My mother read Harlequin romances sometimes during summer break, between Canadian Living and Watership Down. I used to sneak into her closet to read them, under the guise of getting crayons.

I scanned the pages for “action.” I identified with the boys (actually, the dark, muscular men) and skipped over their descriptions while taking in the women line by line. I acquired favourites, and crept around searching for similar books in the library. I didn’t realize what I was looking for, and didn’t know I wouldn’t find it in Harlequin.

I found it almost by accident. I had no idea what was happening when I had my first orgasm. It felt like it lasted half an hour. I felt like I had left my body and I never wanted to come back. It was like I’d closed my lips around the best thing I’d ever tasted and I didn’t want to swallow it but I also couldn’t bear its disappearance from my tongue.

I should probably talk a bit about masturbation; I’ve never been big on it, and it’s a complicated thing to explain. I don’t remember being taught it was evil. I don’t have any horror stories about being caught, although the fact that I barely did it as a child sort of made null the risk.

The first time my friend Aaron and I talked about my sexuality he asked if I was turned on by my own body. At the time I thought it was a stupid, ignorant question. But as I think more about it I realize it’s a significant question for everyone — and a question that directly affects masturbation. I often hate my body. I have issues with zits and hair and a bunch of other things. All of my fantasies focus on someone else, to the point where sometimes they don’t involve me at all. So it would make sense that the orgasms I have by myself don’t hold a candle to the ones I have with other people. Left to myself, my insecurities sweep in, they override my creativity, they distort the perfectly okay view of my own hands on my pussy. I am still at the point of needing the demonstration of someone else’s love, attraction and respect to come well. Which is something I am working on, slowly.

My parents pretty much never asserted themselves as sexual independently of each other. The one time my mother said something “lustful” about Roch Voisine is ingrained in my memory forever. I was definitely shown that monogamy was a desirable thing, which is why I spent at least two years claiming that it wasn’t for me. They were the most sexually unfulfilling years of my life. I felt superficial and cheap and I got sick of being the only one in the room who was sober. I’m not saying that nonmonogamy has to be that way, but for me it was complicated, someone always got hurt and my personal growth withered — although my drawing skills improved dramatically.

Of course, I am still trying to uncover my roots as a sexual being. I’ve started with my parents because their influence over me is traceable and concrete. My memories of childhood and my early teens, when their presence in my life was most significant, are old enough now to have been reduced in my mind to a limited number of key events. So the task is only in analysis, as I figure everything I’ve retained must mean something. But then again, so does everything I’ve “chosen” to forget, right?