Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Hite of Curiosity

by Annabeth Leong


The summer half my family fled Hawaii, my mother regained the trove of possessions she’d left behind in Denver. Among the family heirlooms and old furniture was a collection of her old books, and that was what drew most of my attention.

I was at the age where I was desperately trying to put together the facts behind the allusions people made to sex. I could say the number 69 with a knowing inflection, but I had no idea what act it signified.

That summer, I came across several books that opened my eyes.

We’d moved into a squalid apartment in a neighborhood of Atlanta marked primarily by white flight and the large empty buildings left in its wake. The previous occupants had left behind a lot of things, including a stack of paperback novels in one of the closets.

I pounced on the novels and quickly made the discovery that many of them contained “good parts.” I was supposed to be unpacking boxes and moving into my new room, but I spent hours with the lower half of my body hidden in the closet, reading and internally pulsing. I hadn’t really worked out how to masturbate to orgasm with reliability. I knew the word orgasm but wasn’t entirely sure what it represented. I’d experienced something that maybe qualified, but I wasn’t 100% confident about what I’d felt. I’d read enough to figure out that sex involved penetration, but simulating that with my fingers enough to come required acrobatic contortions and lots of uninterrupted time. (I didn’t yet have any concept of sex outside heteronormative images of the penis entering the vagina.)

Motivated as I was, it was hard to do that while eluding discovery. Inside, I boiled with plots for what I could do or get that would work better (I didn’t know what a dildo was, but I had dim ideas for how I might make one).

In a fit of shame, though, I threw away all the books. I still regret doing that.

My mother’s old collection, however, came to my rescue.

Among it was The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality (the 1976 edition—which is where I’m pinning my connection to the topic). It had a stark, unassuming cover, and I’m sure it was only the word “sexuality” that drew my attention.

I hadn’t been explicitly forbidden from reading it, but I wouldn’t touch it during the day. Instead, I waited for night to fall and snuck down to find it in its place on the shelf. Huddled there, breathing the dust lingering from the storage unit, turning pages cracked and yellowed with age, I discovered the answers to many of my questions.

In particular, I discovered the clitoris. The book contained a large section on the masturbation techniques women reported using, and that became my instruction manual. Compared to what I’d been doing, giving myself a clitoral orgasm was ludicrously easy. It almost felt unfair.

My other questions were answered, too. I learned about cunnilingus and fellatio and encountered for the first time the idea that turnabout in these matters is fair play. I read my first description of lesbian sex.

I read the book haphazardly, in breathless snatches, aroused by its clinical language perhaps even more than by the “good parts” of the novels I’d found earlier. But I would never have dreamed of throwing this book away. It was so obviously valuable, not only for its practical advice but also for the glimpse it gave me into the feelings women had about sex.

A phrase that, for some reason, sticks in my head to this day is, “I washed, and so should he.” I believe this was a woman lamenting that her partner wouldn’t go down on her, not even when she performed oral sex on him. In retrospect, remembered snippets like this have cropped up many times in my mind over the years.

It wasn’t only that I got a view into the forbidden details I was looking for. I was also introduced to simmering resentments, difficulties of communication, inequities between the sexes, and the idea that sex did not necessarily work like magic (as those novels had pretended it would).

Very little that I’ve read in my life remains as present in my head as The Hite Report. It gave me an education when I needed it, but it also reassured me that adults did not have this sex thing figured out either.

It also makes me wish I’d been there for the seventies. The liberation I felt pulsing in that book’s pages does not appear, to my eye, to have actually come. We may throw the word “clit” around now, and many of the collections of erotic stories may be labeled as “for women,” but in my career as an erotica writer I have to work so hard to feel free enough to say what I mean and how I feel and to present viewpoints outside the mainstream (whether that’s the mainstream of society or the mainstream of erotic literature). The Hite Report made me imagine lots of individual women telling the truth about what sex is like for them and what they want. I still want to live in the world where people can do that.

11 comments:

  1. "I still want to live in the world where people can do that."

    You do. Both live in such a world, and tell such truths, Annabeth.

    I think you were fortunate to acquire such a comprehensive and objective manual to guide you into your sexual prime. A lot of women learn what they think they know about sex from novels where the hero stuffs his cock into the heroine and she immediately comes.

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    1. Yeah. Generally speaking, it seems to me people are still so uncomfortable talking about sex—even enlightened, open-minded, progressive, "liberated" people. I'll never forget being told by the owner of a sex-toy store how weird it was to listen to me speak such "filthy" words (when she had arranged to have me do a reading of my work in her shop).

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    2. Thank you for the encouragement, Lisabet. I don't always feel that way, but I'm glad it looks that way to you!

      Jeremy, it is very sad that this sex toy store owner had this reaction...

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  2. It still amazes me at this time in history that we're still squicky about sex. Like Jeremy says, some our peers who have grown up alongside us don't get the sex thing. Not that I claim to have it down pat either. But that's beside the point. I think sex is such a powerful force it scares many people. Scares them right into apathy or abstinence. I read a recent article that many Japanese youths think of sex as a smelly, messy bother.

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    1. I read wild, wild things about what's going on in Japan in Aziz Ansari's recent book, Modern Romance. The government is actually working to encourage people to have sex! That is very weird to me given abstinence only education and such.

      You're totally right about sex being a powerful force...

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  3. The Hite Report! I wonder whatever happened to Sheryl (sp?) Hite, the woman who compiled the report. I think the 1970s also saw the first publication of The Joy of Sex. That was a groundbreaking decade. Annabeth, thank you for reminding us that for a brief time, at least in certain spaces, some people were spreading the word that sex was okay.

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    1. I should definitely check out what else she did. That book had such a huge impact on my life. I wish I'd been in those spaces at that time. It amazes me to read about that time.

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  4. My mother supplied me with books with all the technical information in the fifties, when I was clearly hitting puberty on the early side. She never made me think that sex was unpleasant, but left it to my voracious reading habit to educate me about the fun side. Of course back then most erotic writing was from the perspective of the "male gaze," with women the objects of desire, and that, along with the fact that so many advertisements used sexy females as bait for whatever they were selling, made it seem only natural for women as well as men to be attracted to women. I was surprised to learn later that not all women felt that way. Still am, in fact.

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    1. Ha, this is part of what threw me off about my own sexual orientation. I was told so many times that things were a phase or that I was actually straight that I assumed every woman felt the attractions for women that I did. And, as you say, there are a lot of societal cues that can make it look that way. It is only recently that I started noticing how much I don't think like a straight person...

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  5. One of my favorite sex books from the '70s was Xavier Hollander's "The Happy Hooker." My favorite part was the chapter in which she discussed how proportional men's hands are, in relation to their cocks. Since she was a hooker, she'd seen so many of them that I was in awe, not to mention jealous that she'd figured a way to make tons of money from doing what I enjoyed so much.

    Procedure: you have the man put both of his hands together, then you wrap your own hand around his 4 fingers: the 2 pointer fingers, and the 2 middle fingers. The base of all 4 of those fingers is about how wide his shaft will be. Then you push one of his middle fingers as far down as it will go, put your finger there as a marker, then measure from there up to the tip of that same finger when extended. That's length. And I don't even want to go into how many times I checked that out before I was convinced of its accuracy. In fact, I got so good that I still can glance at a man's hands and get a pretty good idea of what he's got "going on" between the sheets.

    And yes, size does matter, but actually it's girth, more than length, that most women crave...that feeling of being "opened up" by something much bigger than a finger.

    FYI, the first time I had a clitoral orgasm I was a pre-schooler. I don't remember how I did it the first time, but it became my favorite past-time...still is! ;-D

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    1. Wow, this procedure is amazing. I have really learned something today! Thank you, Fiona! :)

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