engraving of woman and baby in snowstorm

Yes, We HAVE Come A Long Way, Baby

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.

World Sexual Health Day logoThe other thing that makes Sept 4th special this year is that it is my 62nd birthday.

cake icon

by eyehook.com CC BY 2.5, wiki

(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.

engraving of woman and baby in snowstorm

English engraving, 1804
(but this still happened in 1964)

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.

grandmother and me at a table

My grandmother and me, 1963
(and yes, I was a dorky kid)

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.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

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  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    September 4, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Fab post, Kass! And happy birthday! You were a cute kid, not dorky at all. You should see some of my kid pics 😉

    These are all so true. As much as there was all that “free love” back in the 60s, it wasn’t the mainstream population. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and my mother’s worst nightmare was the fear of me getting pregnant (not that she had anything to worry about; I was a late bloomer in that area, LOL). She would constantly talk to me about how my life would be ruined. I feel so sad for those women who were forced by parents and cultural norms to marry or give up their children.

    In terms of what still needs to change, I am alarmed by the rampant rape culture that still exists out there, particularly on college campuses. I’m an alum of George Washington University, and our own President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg recently made outrageous statements about the subject when he was interviewed on the Diane Rehm show, saying that women should simply drink less at parties so they can pop a guy on the snoot when he “misbehaves.” Here’s a link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/ex-gwu-president-criticized-for-remarks-about-women-drinking-and-sexual-assault/2014/08/29/a1e5f3de-2fa4-11e4-bb9b-997ae96fad33_story.html


    Anyway, thanks for a thoughtful post!

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 4, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Thanks, Kathy! It was kind of a strange time to grow up, wasn’t it? Quite the cultural revolution was going on. But yeah, unfortunately, we still have the throwbacks who don’t get it. Like popping the guy in the snoot is going to stop a rapist. Seriously?

    And I get real tired of women being told how to behave in order to avoid rape. Tips on how to stay safe are fine, but when it slides over into the gal being responsible for controlling the guy’s behavior, nuh uh!

  • Reply
    Shan Jeniah Burton
    September 9, 2014 at 1:25 am

    I love your perspective on this! Yes, there is a long way to go, but we HAVE indeed come a long way, and becoming more and more empowered to make changes. Each time someone speaks out or speaks up, there’s the potential for positive change.

    And the cool thing is that now, with social media and the ability to highlight skewed comments and examine them through a different lens…even the negative attitudes and beliefs can serve to bring new awareness of the things that still could be so much better…

    Congratulations on your honorary mention in the #WSHD Writing Contest! =D

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      September 9, 2014 at 11:14 am

      Thanks, Shan! Congrats back at you for your honorable mention!! I still need to watch the video of the event. So glad you got to go.

      And yes, good point about the negative messages actually raising consciousness now when people scrutinize and react to them on social media.

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