The Books That Taught Us About Sex

A comprehensive list from the Persephone Magazine Staff.

Selena: Danielle Steele. Lots and lots of it the summer between fifth and sixth grade. There was some Stephen King in there, too, but I don’t remember his books having any sex in them. Am I getting old, or was there no sex in Stephen King? Also Wifey and Forever by Judy Blume.

Regarding Stephen King, Slay Belle reminded us that a juvenile gang bang features prominently in It. Actually, having group sex with the lone female in their group saves them from the monster. Seriously. That’s the plot point.

Zahra: I accidentally stumbled onto a V.C. Andrews novel that someone left on my teacher’s shelf. I was scarred for life.

April: I’d heard that Lady Chatterley’s Lover had some pretty steamy scenes in it. Being a curious pre-teen, I pulled my mom’s copy off the shelf. I got so bored trying to find the dirty parts! Not long after that, I got my hands on a copy of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. The concept of “the zipless fuck” went way over my head at the time, but it made complete sense to me as an adult. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is still soooo boring. I tried again when I got older, still didn’t make it to the smutty parts.

Slay Belle: I seriously can’t remember the first literary sex encounter, but I do have a couple that are very prominent in my memory. I picked up one of my mother’s novels one day and opened to a random passage. The book was set in the South during slavery, and the “master” was having a “love affair” with one of his slaves, and I think they were arguing about him leaving his wife. He’s so overcome with “love” for her that he “takes her forcefully” (rapes) her and she’s “dry when he starts” but becomes wet because she gives in.

I didn’t understand any of it and was very confused by the whole passage.

SallyJ: I believe my first encounter was Forever by Judy Blume. Somehow my BFF & I found out about it, and I got it from the library. What I remember, more than the actual sex, is learning about “venereal disease,” and the penis named Ralph.

This invited the following commentary from our delightful peanut gallery:

Zahra: Ralph *shudder*. No one forgets Ralph.
Moretta: The ’70s were a bad time for fashion and genitalia-naming.

Moretta: I think it was Go Ask Alice. The protagonist lost her virginity during an acid trip. It wasn’t graphic, but ironically enough, for a book that was supposed to be a cautionary tale, it made drugged-out sex sound so much better than straight sex.

Emma Glitterbomb: I remember reading parts of Forever at 13 and being absolutely SHOCKED that anyone would want to touch a penis.

I read the whole book at 16, when I had my first serious boyfriend, and was really relieved that the desire I was feeling was normal and okay. (Keep in mind I went to Catholic school and was getting the opposite message there.)

I reread Forever last year, at 33. Still question why anyone would name his penis Ralph.

Liza: It wasn’t the first, but for some reason Summer Sisters sticks with me. I mean, it was definitely the first time I’d read about platonic bffs scissoring.

Cue commentary:

Emma Glitterbomb: OMG SUMMER SISTERS. I’d just graduated high school when that was released and I’d never read about that either. Though I felt like Caitlin always had a thing for Vix, so it wasn’t entirely platonic on her end. I remember thinking, dude, I never did that with my friends! Was I supposed to?

QueSarahSarah: I think it was a Nora Roberts book (though I’m not 100% sure). Rich dude has a one night stand with girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She gets knocked up. Sham shotgun wedding ensues. As they are going through divorce proceedings, they realize they are actually in looooooovvvvvveeee.

SaraH: Christopher Pike books had sex, right? It was probably there that I had my first literary encounter, though I can’t remember a specific instance. Also the Weetzie Bat books have sex too, right? I remember there being not-straight people in those and feeling like that felt familiar, even though I didn’t know what that meant yet.

Emma Glitterbomb: Christopher Pike books totally had sex in them. A lot of descriptions of cleavage, if I recall. Also in The Last Vampire she wanted to take a bath/Jacuzzi with the guy and I remember being totally weirded out by that because NAKED.

MJ: The first sex scenes I probably read were in Harlequin romances, but the first one I actually remember and that has stuck with me is only a line or two from Stephen King’s Carrie. The guy (played by John Travolta in the movie, can’t remember his name) was planning on having sex and he was going to “send her home bowlegged.” I thought (and kinda still do) that was one of the dirtiest things I’d ever read. I was probably 13- 14ish.

Juniper: It was The Horse Whisperer; at least, that’s the one that is stuck in my memory. The discovery being not just sex (my mother having given me an awesome book on puberty some time before) but SEXY sex. There were orgasms, bodily fluids, log cabins!

Hillary: Pretty sure it was The Clan of the Cave Bear, which I read in seventh grade (and like, took the book with me to read at lunch, which would probably get me in SO much trouble today). I don’t actually remember anything about the sex scenes in that book (probably good, since they were nonconsensual), but my friends and I were SO curious about what the Neanderthal sign language for “let’s fuck” was. The sequels, though… My mom’s paperbacks probably still fall straight open to those sex scenes because I read them so many times.

Nico: I’m honestly not 100% sure. I read a lot of Christopher Pike at a really young age (like… fourth or fifth grade?) but that still doesn’t mean that was the first time I read anything with sexy business in it. I think

Karo: I was probably too good to venture into my mum’s books, so I don’t remember being grossed out by literary sex because I must have been old enough by the time I came across it. But I do remember reading one of those horrible sex-ed “stories” when I was 12 or so. It still freaks me out just to think about it. It was all super clinical, but at the same time trying (and failing) to explain the girl’s inner turmoil. I distinctly remember thinking, “I should not be confronted with this stuff!” I might even have written something to that effect in my diary. Yes, I was a very late bloomer.

Linotte Melodieuse: I first read about it in An Afternoon Walk by Dorothy Eden, which I’m rereading now.

Kaiwhakamarie: The first things I ever read were my stepmom’s Lavyrle Spencer novels. They seemed very sordid and kinky at the time, but I’m sure going back they would be incredibly tame. I used to skim through the books to find the sex scenes when I was a curious 11-year-old. I also read a ton of VC Andrews around that age. Damn, her books are fucked up.

Me (Sally):  I read the Mists of Avalon at 13 and remember a sex scene between two characters where the man is described as tickling the woman’s breasts with his chest hair. I spent the next five years of my life very worried about this possibility — not of sex, but of nipple tickling by chest hair.

So, dear readers, where did you first read a sex scene?

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[E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

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