My parents are liberal in most respects, but we never really had the “sex talk.” Sure, I saw “Kinsey” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” in theaters with them. But instead of sitting me down and dishing the deets, they gave me a large picture book from the 1970s which was supposed to explain the facts of life in a fun, non-threatening way.
The book was a cartoon of a family with one child and a “mommy and daddy” who “love each other very much.” Like any 1970s family, they wore bell bottoms, and the son looked like the kid from “The Shining.” Mommy and Daddy were drawn doing regular family activities — playing with their child in the park, getting ice cream, and because they were so in love, taking their clothes off, embracing naked and boning each other. As it was the ’70s, Daddy had a fro, and Mommy had a fro, too, of sorts. The comic made sex seem easy-peasy and always missionary. It only referred to sex as “making love,” and little cartoon hearts exploded around Mommy and Daddy’s converging forms. All of this intense naked hugging led to scientific drawings of a cute, ambitious sperm hopping into an egg, and voila, a baby! The drawings drove home the idea that sex is a natural, normal part of familial life but left out all of the other junk – virginity loss, how to put on a condom, STD paranoia, whip cream usage, how to get someone you want to have sex with to have sex with you, “50 Shades of Grey,” etc. etc.
Since my sexual education derived mostly from this children’s picture book and from the state of South Carolina, there were some gaping holes in what I knew about the birds and the bees. I had to learn the hard way, pun intended. Here are four sexual slip-ups I recall from childhood:
1. The summer before third grade, I went to Jewish Community Center musical theater camp. I’m not Jewish, but my parents briefly considered converting. We went to synagogue, to a stranger’s bat mitzvah, bought a menorah and almost burned down the house making latkes. This is all irrelevant. At camp, I befriended a girl named Mikayla. We were inseparable until we got into an argument over who could sing “Bye Bye Birdie” better. Mikayla was more advanced than me. She floated the idea of French kissing my way, which I interpreted as a sweeter, more meaningful version of regular kissing. One afternoon, I found my dad in his bedroom. I perched next to him on my parents’ bed.
“Daddy,” I said. “Would you French kiss me?”
My father’s eyes widened. “What did you say?” then “Do you know what that is?”
He gently explained the term, and I started crying out of embarrassment.
2. In sixth grade, my English class memorized stems, which are different parts of words and their meanings (“inter” means “between,” “intra” means “within,” “exo” means “outer,” etc.). We graded tests by trading papers with our peers. Once, I switched with Aaron, the class clown who I secretly had a crush on. Our teacher went through the test’s answers, and when she hit “hexa,” which means “six,” Aaron yelled out, “Ms. Wallace! Ms. Wallace! Malia wrote ‘SEX’!” I snatched my test back, certain he was just being a little douche rocket. But, no. I’d clearly written “sex” instead of “six.” Where was my mind? At that point, I thought sex was something you only did to fog up windows, a la “Titanic.”
3. In seventh grade, I went to a pep rally. You know – cheerleaders chanting, everyone screaming their middle-school brains out for a bunch of munchkins in football uniforms. In the midst of the ruckus, I turned to a friend and jokingly shouted, “Man, I’m gonna need VIAGRA!” She looked at me and said, “Did you mean Advil??” to which I said, “Aren’t they the same thing?”
4. And now we arrive at the crown jewel of my sex blunders. In my eighth grade English class, we began reading a “Sherlock Holmes” book out loud. At some point, Sherlock makes a remark, to which Watson (the narrator) responds, “My dear Holmes!” But in the text, the sentence reads:
“My dear Holmes!” I ejaculated.
Upon hearing this word, all the boys in my class snorted, and the girls smirked. My teacher told us to settle down, but she was smiling, and I thought everyone was amused at how random the word “ejaculated” was. Because wasn’t “ejaculated” just a much longer, ridiculously antiquated way of saying “said”? Oh, those Brits! Always one to seize the moment, I turned to my classmates and said loudly, “Yeah – like I’m going to go home and ejaculate tonight.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the class erupted (poor word choice). The boys were hysterical. My teacher gave up quieting them and said, “Well, it just got X-rated in here.” I was mystified and getting that French-kiss-failure feeling in my stomach again. My friend, Stu, paused laughing to say:
“Malia, don’t you know what that means?”
Another boy pulled out a dictionary (yes, a real dictionary, because no one had smart phones yet, or Snapchat for that matter, because if we’d had Snapchat in my middle school years, it’s far more likely I would’ve understood the concept of ejaculation, but I digress), opened it to “ejaculate,” and shoved it my way.
I think you know the definition.
“Oh my God,” I shrieked, covering my face. After class, as I walked down the halls, I could hear my classmates whispering at their lockers as I passed. My friend’s mother picked us up from the car line, and as soon as we got in the van, my friend said, “Mom, GUESS what Malia said in class.” (I don’t remember how she described my slip-up to her conservative Southern mother, but they both laughed, so that’s good?)
The story faded eventually, but every once in a while, it cropped up in someone’s memory. “Dude, remember the time Malia didn’t know about ‘ejaculating’?” Hardy har har. Story’s yours now, world.