By Ron Kokish
Editor’s note: This column contains references to sex and pornography.
Like most children, I asked my mother how babies were made. She told me a doctor cuts a small piece of flesh from the mommy’s thigh and places it in a jar filled with a special liquid, wherein the flesh grows into a baby. My father did not contradict her.
When I later learned the truth and confronted her she said, “Yes, it can be done that way, but that’s not the best way. The jar is much better and that’s how we made you.” I guess sex embarrassed her. Many years later, she acknowledged that she had never liked sex or wanted children. My father, however, did want children (and sex). Having me, and only me, was their compromise.
Eric and I were children of mothers who, having been childhood friends in Vienna, now lived in the same Manhattan neighborhood, raising us like cousins who were as close as brothers. Unbelievably, Eric’s mother was even more neurotic than mine and he still knew no more about sex than I did. Like me, Eric was an only child. We had no older siblings to help educate us.
One afternoon, when I was 11, Eric excitedly asked me to accompany him to the local library. I had been there countless times but this was my first trip without an adult. Eric, who was a year ahead of me in school, had, using advanced research methods taught only to seventh graders, found a way of making babies without using jars. The method was revealed to us from a book on human sexuality shelved in the adult section. Best of all, it was illustrated. Eric and I returned to the book repeatedly that semester. A stern librarian often walked by and glared at us but, thankfully, she did not interrupt our education.
The following year we started a more advanced sex-ed program using a full-on pornography stash Eric discovered in his mother’s dresser. There, in a plain manila envelope, were “French” playing cards, several graphic novels (then called “comic books”), several photographs and short stories. We poured over these many an afternoon, before Eric’s mother returned from work, being careful to replace them just as we had found them — but alas, one day, they were gone.
A year later, I stumbled across the same envelope at a nearby aunt’s home. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I took the envelope home and hid it deep in one of my own dresser drawers. What could my aunt do? Ask around? “Hey family, I seem to have misplaced my porn. Keep your eye out for it, would you?”
By this time, we had learned all there was to be learned from these materials but we still used them for … well, you know what we used them for. A year or two later, the then disintegrating envelope mysteriously disappeared once more. We never saw it again, but it no longer mattered. Our education had advanced to lab experiments. Hopefully, the Viennese ladies extracted many more years of pleasure from it.
You probably know that today, in Garfield County some people want to keep minors from seeing certain books. These people are concerned about children being led astray by what they consider premature knowledge of sensitive material, but my own experience leads me to a different conclusion.
I believe that any form of censorship, no matter how well-intentioned, will make the world worse, not better. My parents, for example, censored my knowledge of human sexuality. They thought I wasn’t ready for it, but, really, it was they who were unready. Fortunately, the public library nullified their efforts.
Suppose though, that our library didn’t have that sex-ed book for us to educate ourselves, but Eric did find the porn stash a year later? That book and the interpersonal values my parents, for all their shortcomings, had taught me helped me to develop, by age 13, an appropriate intellectual and moral framework about pornography.
The envelope included stories about men raping women and women learning to love being raped. Even women who weren’t raped in those stories loved a good roll in the hay, so much that they would do anything for, and put up with anything from, the men who rolled with them. As a teenager, I naturally found those stories very exciting. But, I knew they were just stories. I never thought live girls were like their comic book counterparts, and I was never tempted to act like a comic book rapist.
Later, as a parent, I didn’t hesitate to tell my children the full, uncensored truth about anything, nor did I shelter them from experiences they told me they were ready for. I tried being clear about my beliefs and values, encouraged them to develop their own, and they became fine adults.
I think parents who want to limit their children’s experiences are underestimating their ability to impart their values within their homes. I also think they are kidding themselves if they believe they can, or even ought to, manage their children’s experiences outside their front doors.
Mature Content is a monthly feature from Age-Friendly Carbondale.