by Kassandra Lamb
Do you know why this date, September 4th, is special this year?
There are two things that make it special. One, it is World Sexual Health Day, North America. And to celebrate, the WSHD organization is sponsoring a writing contest. This blog post is an entry in that contest.
(Woot, gettin’ me some Social Security!)
I grew up in the bad old days when boys and young men were allowed, encouraged even, to “sow their wild oats,” while “nice girls” were expected to remain chaste until marriage.
Masturbation was a dirty word, and a mortal sin. Kids were told that their hands would fall off and they would rot in hell for all eternity if they touched themselves “that way.” And an old myth that teenaged acne was caused by masturbation was still believed by some members of the older generation.
I had horrible acne and would occasionally get very strange looks from people over fifty.
It was pre-Roe vs. Wade and if you were underage, birth control–other than condoms–could only be obtained with parental permission, and often only from Planned Parenthood. Some doctors wouldn’t provide birth control, or even information about it, to any single woman, of any age.
If you “got in trouble,” and your father didn’t toss you out of the house, there were only two acceptable alternatives. Either you “had to get married” or you were shipped off to a distant relative’s house or to a home for unwed mothers until the baby was born. Then, of course, you put it up for adoption.
“Nice girls” were not supposed to keep their “illegitimate” babies. It just wasn’t done. The few who bucked this often ended up regretting that decision, and resenting the child. The unwed mother was doomed to a life of low paying jobs, no marriage and a lot of whispering behind her back.
In the early years of my psychotherapy practice (the 1980’s), I worked with a lot of women a decade or two older than myself who were struggling to keep loveless marriages intact. They would sheepishly admit to me that they “had to get married” because their oldest child was conceived out of wedlock.
I also worked with some women who had felt they’d had no other choice but to give up their babies for adoption. Thirty, forty years later, they were still grieving for those children, still wondering where they were and what had happened to them. In some cases, they didn’t even know the gender of the child because they had been discouraged from seeing the baby, or from talking about the whole “ordeal” ever again.
A few of my clients had been pressured by boyfriends or parents into having illegal abortions. Their grief, and guilt, were harder to witness.
No, we aren’t yet in an ideal place regarding sexuality–there are still quite a few vestiges of unhealthy attitudes lingering in North America. And there are some who would like to take us back to the “good old days.”
But in many ways, we have indeed come a long, long way.
Today we have The Pill, a mother keeping her born-out-of-wedlock child doesn’t even merit an eye blink, and cohabitation is considered a respectable preamble, or even alternative, to marriage by a significant portion of the population.
And we have the illustrious #Girlboner blogger and radio host, August McLaughlin, giving women tips for “solo sex” and telling us that orgasms are good for our health–physical and mental, as well as sexual. (And she’s hosting World Sexual Health Day, North America!)
Who’d a thunk it?
It gets frustrating sometimes when we encounter old attitudes, and especially when we run up against those determined to take us backward.
But if you had told my grandmother there would someday be a World Sexual Health Day, she would have gone to the doctor to get the wax removed from her ears, because she would have been sure that she had misheard you.
Today, her granddaughter–now with grandchildren of my own–is proud to celebrate such a day!
Do you think we’ve come a long way? What else still needs to change? Talk to me in the comments. I love hearing from you.
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