Ah, sex. What an intriguing and conversation-worthy topic. Known for her bestselling novel Fear of Flying, Erica Jong has put together an anthology of women to openly and honestly write about sex in Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex. Jong's list of contributors is extraordinary, including Karen Abbott, Susie Bright, Eve Ensler, Jennifer Weiner and more. Here's an excerpt from the book, Gail Collins' "Worst Sex."
Read more about Nina Sankovitch's favorite books from her year of reading.
When I was a sophomore in high school, a girl in my class got pregnant and had to get married. There were two things about this that puzzled me. One was that her boyfriend, a student at the Catholic boys high school next door to our Catholic girls high school, was the head of a club called “The Beadniks,” which was dedicated to finding hip ways to encourage young people to say the daily rosary. Saying the rosary involved fifty-six separate prayers, and even in 1962 we knew there was no hip way to do it.
I decided that the whole make-the-rosary-cool idea had been hatched by a teacher without any student input whatsoever, and that the father-to-be had simply been dragooned into posing as president for the yearbook photo. That sort of thing happened all the time. A nun at my school once decided we needed a club called Students for Decent Styles, whose members would go into department stores, try on dresses with spaghetti straps, and then flounce out of the dressing room while announcing loudly that no decent girl would wear such immodest clothing. I never heard that anybody actually undertook such an expedition; in fact it seemed unlikely that Students for Decent Styles had ever had a meeting. Yet there it was in the yearbook, with a picture of a couple of alleged officers admiring a dress with a very high neckline.
But the really inconceivable part of the Beadniks story was that a girl in my class had been having sex. I was possibly one of the least sophisticated teenagers in the United States outside of Amish country, and although I knew the mechanics of how babies were made, I had not yet really come around to imagining that people actually did that kind of thing voluntarily. (This was at about the same time that the entire universe was talking about the fact that Elizabeth Taylor had ditched her husband to run off with Richard Burton. I told myself that it must all have been a terrible misunderstanding.)
I don’t think I was all that untypical, given the time (the prudish early 1960s) and the place (a Catholic high school in Cincinnati). My classmates didn’t seem much more savvy. My mother was the kind of parent who would answer any question, and my friends frequently sent me home with queries about sex, which I tossed her way while we were doing the dishes after supper. Many of them, I remember, centered on homosexuality, since we could absolutely not figure out how that worked at all.
This is supposed to be a book about great sexual experiences, and I am very proud that my generation facilitated quite a few such moments during the “sexual revolution” that began later in the decade. But out of pure contrariness I am going to tell you about the staging ground from which we sprang into rebellion, which in my case not only involved no sex whatsoever, but also a long, ferocious campaign on the part of our teachers to keep girls from ever having carnal relations with anyone except our future husbands. Unless of course we chose to join the convent and dedicate ourselves to perpetual chastity.
Really, it’s a wonder that we are even functioning, let alone talking about orgasms.
"Worst Sex" by Gail Collins, from Sugar in My Bowl edited by Erica Jong. Copyright (c) 2011 by Gail Collins. Reprinted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.