Early in my adolescence a phenomenon occurred that affected most of the members of my cohort simultaneously: the sudden awareness that females were different, and there was something interesting about them. I wasn’t sure what it was, but whatever it was, I wanted a piece of it.
With this realization came a sudden awakening of vanity. Suddenly, we wanted to be cool: noticed and admired by people. We wanted to be heroes, and if we couldn’t be that, we wanted to make an impression by demonstrating how much we didn’t care. We mimicked the rebellious sub-cultures of West Side Story; emulated the dress and habits of Steve McQueen and the Marlboro Man with smokes, fast cars and motorbikes, habits that later killed some of us. Some took up surfing; most of us just picked up the talk.
The arbiters of our success were young women, specifically girls our own age or younger, a mysterious sub-species that my peers and I only dimly understood. We knew we were supposed to desire them, and most of us did so fervently. I must admit I was an early covert to this cult of worship, and soon learned that, while they could be unquestionably beautiful and undeniably attractive, they were also sources of great power. A rejection by one could be crushing, especially if it happened in front of others and thus became public. Impressing them was an artform; accolades and secret envy went to those who ‘had a girlfriend’.
Weekend dances, usually held in church halls under the watchful eye of pastors and selected parents, were the apex of this political minefield. There was an inflexible ritual about these. Most of the night would be spent with the sexes in segregation, the males checking out the band or fooling around, the girls on the other side of the hall, aloof and demure. Then, in the last bracket of the night, the boys would make their moves, breaking away from their mates with unnecessarily loud farewells. The girls would watch, conspicuously uninterested, as each suitor approached, callously blunt in their refusal if the candidate did not meet friends’ approval.
A common failing of mine was procrastination: waiting too long – usually until the last song in the band’s final bracket – to make an approach, only to be cut off by some other guy when you were halfway across the floor. Even if you did make it and the target of your advance was still available, the prospect of rejection for me was quite real, for I had the added disadvantage of the scars from my earlier self-immolation, which turned my face into a patchwork of red and white blotches whenever I blushed, which I invariably did. Even if I got away with this while the lights were low, when the dance finished and the lights went on I sometimes discerned a look of shock on the faces of my prospective partner, as if she’d woken up in a horror movie.
The girls in my immediate circle were more familiar, but for the most part too hero-driven or too focused on older boys to be realistic prospects, except for a few who my peers regarded as ‘Scags’ and to whom they ascribed a selection of venereal diseases sufficient to deter even the most lustful adolescent.
During primary school I’d had a few infatuations (including one with my teacher) and had explored some of these to the kissing stage. But the area’s high schools were segregated, both by sex and religion, so there was a limit to how much unregulated social interaction young people could have. Combined with the fact that I had no sisters to act as conduits to other women, this made my exploration of sexual possibilities pretty limited. All in all, it was a pretty lean time.
For all these restrictions, I had a pretty good idea what ought to happen when you “scored” with a girl. My three older brothers talked about it a lot, and there were times when my friends and I were able to successfully spy on them in practice, using a crude but effective periscope which we’d made out of old shaving mirrors and cardboard. Sometimes our chuckles gave us away, but not before we’d picked up a few more clues to help us in our quest to find the Holy Grail. From these and other snippets, my peers and I were able to stitch together a rough picture of the process we’d have to go through when we “scored”, even if the leap from theory to practice seemed momentous and sometimes unbridgeable.
Then I discovered folk music. The ‘Folk Boom’ was in full swing: early Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger; Peter, Paul and Mary; the Mommas and Poppas. I happened to have a guitar and a pretty good voice, and having picked up a few songs from my older brother, I got together with one of the neighbour’s kids and started playing at a few low-key local venues, birthday parties and neighbourhood church functions. (I had no more interest in organised religion then than I do now; but the girls loved it.)
As we got older, our approaches to women became more strategic, with clear sexual goals. There was a plethora of petting, some of it definitely in the heavy category. My friends and I shared exaggerated descriptions of ‘how far we’d got’. There was even a ritual, which I’m glad to say I never got into, of sniffing fingers to verify sexual achievement.
The thing that we reckoned would get the girls’ effluvia pumping was a strong, machoistic self-image, and all the young adolescent males I knew set about building one. The role models we chose – McQueen, Paul Hogan and the Marlboro Man, the guys on the Harleys and in the jeans commercials – saddled us with destructive habits that followed may of us for a significant part of my lives. [The messages are more subtle now, but hasn’t anyone noticed how, in almost every Hollywood movie, a hero or a secondary character lights up a cigarette?]
I had a ‘close call’ with one girl – a groupie of our duo – but was interrupted, almost at the point of consummation, by my mother, who returned unexpectedly from work. In true Presbyterian fashion (or maybe Methodist? – my mother changed denominations regularly), she gave a horrified gasp and beat an indignant retreat to the kitchen. Nothing more was said of the matter, but her silent disapproval was far more brutal than any words. I never saw the girl again.
After what seemed like an interminable period of chastity, the moment finally arrived: with my first steady girlfriend, on a family holiday at a beach up the east coast, pheromones running high. The event, which was consummated in a clearing of long grass, was in every sense of the word an anti-climax: just as I was pulling down her knickers, it started to rain, a few drops at first then a clap of thunder and a sudden cloudburst. Never mind the ‘coupling dogs’ phenomenon; there’s nothing to dampen sexual ardour like a good dose of cold water. Nothing, that is, except premature ejaculation, which shortly followed. When the rain stopped, as quickly and abruptly as it had started, I was attacked by swarms of mosquitoes and sandflies, dense clouds of them descending on my exposed buttocks.
It wasn’t a great start, but it broke the ice. After that we practised regularly at my girlfriend’s house – excitement heightened by the thrill of running the gauntlet of passing her mother’s bedroom doorway – or anywhere else available. It was unquestionably rampant lust that fueled my enthusiasm for these encounters; but the sex was habitual and unfulfilling, and the relationship went on far longer than it should have. It eventually collapsed when I got tangled in a brief affair with someone else, a moment of indiscretion partly arising, I can honestly say, by compassion: the person in question was the girlfriend of a former flatmate who jilted her, after promises of marriage, when he left to return to his home in Ireland.
The significance of this brief encounter, apart from accelerating the process of separation from my long-standing relationship, was that I experienced my first simultaneous orgasm, another station on the path of divine enlightenment. Not only did this banish the spectre of inadequacy that had dogged my earlier experience; it also gave me a yardstick by which to measure the quality of future sexual activity. Having grasped the benefits of satisfying sex, I was keen to understand its prerequisites.
I’ve always been a romantic, and with a couple of forgettable exceptions, I’ve not had much interest in ‘casual’ sex. It seems to me that sex works best when it’s part of something meaningful. I’ve tended to develop strong romantic attachments to people before I have sex with them. I’m a monogamist at heart, albeit a serial one.
I do believe that now, though, with most of my life behind me, I’ve got beyond the risk of sexual misadventure. Nevertheless, I know I’ve got to be to be vigilant within the orbits of women with troubles. It’s not always easy; there seem to be so many of them.
Categories: My Story