Excerpt from Girl Intrepid

Chapter 4: Sexed

September 1953

“Girls don’t think about sex as much as boys.”

If that were true, then I was an anomaly even before reaching puberty. Starting at age ten, I had one crush after another on various boys. For a whole year of weekends, when I was about twelve, Tracy Coudert and I would crawl into his bed in the morning. We would wrap our arms around each other and we would gently and silently rub against one another, fully clothed, for close to an hour. There was no climax. It just felt warm and cozy. After we felt rubbed out, without a word, I would return to my room, which opened onto his, and shut the door. We would dress for the day and meet again downstairs for breakfast without the slightest acknowledgment of our earlier meeting.

In seventh grade, Camilla Cahill brought in an erotic poem, “This is My Beloved,” which she had filched from the bedroom of her sexy twenty-five-year-old half-brother. Although explicit and titillating, the poem was tender and lyrical—a sweet introduction to the joys of romantic love and sex, which were years away.

Marilla and I more than once acted out what we imagined to be the preliminaries to having sex. But I don’t remember either of us finding excitement or satisfaction in these efforts, although her parents got plenty worked up when they retrieved from their local drugstore a packet of photos developed from film we had taken of our flat and hairless bodies in ill-fitting bras stuffed with tissue and white cotton briefs rolled down to pass for G-strings.

Like most preteens and young teenagers (and many adults), I had no idea what to do with the waves of feelings that rolled over me nor how to process them. Although my mother had described the sex act to me (and it had sounded revolting at the time), and we’d had the requisite sex-ed class in sixth grade, sex still seemed remote even as we boys and girls danced cheek to cheek and hip to groin at the Christmas and spring dances that we all attended.

There were three highlights to ninth grade at Brearley. The first was that I had my first article published in The Beaver, Brearley’s literary magazine. It was my spontaneous response to hearing Ursula Oppens, a seventh-grader, play a particular movement from a Beethoven piano sonata at a school assembly. Ursula was brilliant (and is now a well-known concert pianist), and I was thrilled to see my words and name in print. The second highlight was that we had a new English teacher, Mr. Robert Manson Myers. Mr. Myers was Southern, effeminate, and spoke with a light British accent. He wore natty tweed jackets with elbow patches, and tasteful ties, and carried his books in a green cloth bag as was done at Harvard, where, he let us know, he had been teaching. He wore his strawberry blond hair parted on the side with long bangs a l’Anglaise and was constantly flipping his head to keep the hair out of his pale blue eyes. We were reading Chaucer, and he took pains to point out just how sexy The Nun’s Tale was, and as an aside, he told us about the function of the corncobs in Faulkner’s Sanctuary, which he recommended as auxiliary reading. Mr. Myers was the proud author of a humorous treatise on English literature, From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf, which we were sure was both witty and off-color, although none of us had read it. In fact, some of us had little interest in reading anything other than our first piece of pornographic literature—exposure to which was the final highlight of the year.   

Town Bull was brought to school in a paper bag by Ruth Wyler, one of our more brilliant classmates. She found it on the bookshelves of her parents’ library. We believed it to be a Victorian work by Bob Stirling (though “Bob” doesn’t sound very Victorian). It featured Belle, a madam, and her number one stud, Town Bull, whom she called in when one of her patrons or she herself was especially in need of fulfillment. The book described in lusty detail all aspects of Town Bull’s ginormous member and every variation on heterosexual sex imaginable, including “water play.” It treated in detail the frequent need for women to be warmed up by the tongues of prepubescent girls (in training) before succumbing to the thrill of penetration by Town Bull himself. The excitement of this book did not turn me into a porno addict. On the contrary, it was so complete and explicit that nothing I have had occasion to read since comes anywhere near the titillation and tingle of reading those scenes at that age. Passing Town Bull around during English class, while Mr. Myers fluttered about in front of the blackboard, may explain why many of us remember little of what he said, only his delivery.