For me, one of the many takeaways from Bridgerton—the Netflix costume drama set during the Regency Era in England (1811-1820)—is a reminder of the time in many of our lives when we were beginning to wonder about essential details of the grown-up games that most of the grown-ups in our lives had neglected to share with us. Perhaps in some variant of how Daphne Bridgerton learns about masturbation’s allure, many of us eventually came to know the pieces and parts of the game before we began to play, despite bizarre informational detours like what a 13-year-old neighbor told 12-year-old me in 1960, something that he had overheard older boys with DAs and leather jackets discussing in a West Shore Junior High lavatory: “if you’re gonna do it with a girl, you know, screwin’ and stuff, you gotta use a block of rubber.”
I had serious doubts about the 13-year-old’s claim given that I knew Adam and Eve had begat Cain and Abel, and I could not imagine that blocks of rubber would have been available 6000 years ago for begetting (Note: I had not yet benefitted from an intervention to get rid of Fundamentalist brainwashing, and I did not have clue one as to how to go about begetting anything), nor could I fathom Doris Day and Rock Hudson using a block of rubber should they ever engage in “you know, screwin’,” (I know, I know!) especially the absurd procedure for using a block of rubber that my neighbor had incorrectly construed from what he had overheard.
Out of plain and simple curiosity, I would love to chat with women my age about what it was they knew about the grown up games before they started to play, and when it was and how they came to know the rules. Frankly, I am clueless about their experiences, and I’m left with opinions based upon the opinions of screenwriters and directors as portrayed on screens (e.g. Bridgerton and When Harry Met Sally). If I am to believe Hollywood et al, all the girls I knew, including those with whom I became involved, knew little about the grown-up games prior to their actual initiations to it. Google “What did girls know in the 60s about sex, and when did they know it?” and what you will find are articles about sexual freedom brought by “the pill” et al. That’s not what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about the skills lovers use to bring about the ultimate physical and emotional goals associated with the grown-up games.
I suspect that many Boomer boys were in similar situations of daunting ignorance that began to be illuminated only after they tripped on a sheet. True, there were some of us who benefitted from the tutelage of older, experienced girls, and I had two friends I met in college who, before they had graduated high school, had decided to hone their skills with prostitutes: a strategy employed by some fathers of previous generations to school their sons in how to play the game and how to inadvertently spread venereal diseases. I was scared to death of VD because around the time I began junior high school, my grandmother Mawie’s second husband began suffering from a horrific and painful manifestation of tertiary syphilis that continued for four years until his death. Mawie was a registered nurse—think: old school but empathetic Nurse Ratched—and she made sure I knew what syphilis was and how one contracted it. There would never be a prostitute in my future; of course, it never occurred to me that “good girls” had the capacity to transmit the disease.
In junior high, I was eager but terribly bashful about playing the game, and during 8th grade, (I came to realize years afterward) I had channeled an extraordinary amount of sexual tension into holding the hand of one particular girl in which I had been head over heels. She sometimes reads my posts and may recall this particular peculiarity of mine, and if she does, I want to apologize here and now for my innocent ignorance of the game. If I had been more knowledgeable, she and I might have had a lot more fun, and of course, a lot more trouble down the road.
In 7th grade, quaint customs like spin the bottle had provided first opportunities to kiss, and I believe kissing is something that does blossom with experiential learning (sorry, once a teacher, always a teacher). As we Boomer boys approached and then began high school, slow dancing at the Mechanicsburg VFW or at New Cumberland CYO dances provided opportunities to learn that girls did not mind discovering a boy’s physiological response to dancing quite close. We learned to our amazement that kissing during walks in the dark or during time alone with a “steady” girl on the sofa in an “unfinished” basement led to petting, which provided opportunities to learn (if we paid attention instead of acting like a buck in rut) what caused our partners to respond eagerly to this or that, and eventually, some of us learned what things might lead to other things.
I wonder, do Millennials even know what petting is? I do recall hearing from a parent about forty years ago that the point of spin-the-bottle for Generation Xers had progressed to heavy petting, so it is likely that Millennials were well into the initial mechanics of the game when they entered middle school; therefore, I’m not wondering about whether that generation is familiar with pre-coital sexual behavior; rather, I simply wonder if they’ve ever heard the word “petting.” I suspect that in the time of Covid, a Millennial might suppose “petting” is a quaint term applied to browsing about animal shelters. As to Generation Z, they’ve grown up with access to porn.
But I have digressed, perhaps a practice I learned from my parents who were masters of diverting my attention whenever the topic of sex arose. From here on, I’m going to venture into a more personal view of my initiation into the game: nothing sensational or titilating; remember, this is me I’m writing about.
My parents were big movie fans during the first two decades of their marriage, and I was introduced to Hollywood Romance at an early age (hence the ironic reference to Doris Day and Rock Hudson above). I understand the reality of the “Battle of the Sexes” concept, because during our developmental years we were force fed media interpretations of it. When I finally grew up (around the age of fifty) I realized I had never seen girls as the enemy: I admired and envied their beauty, their allure, their ability to comprehend and use emotions, and their power to convey through intimacy a powerful sense of their acceptance of me as a person. (The last point may be wishful thinking.)
At Cedar Cliff High School, across the river from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I hung out with a group of athletes who had steady girlfriends, but a very few of those guys were not shy about getting involved with girls from other high schools. On occasion, I was called upon to accompany one of those guys when he took out such a girl who would only agree to go out with him if her girlfriend could come along; hence, my raison d’être: the friend and I were to be chaperones. We never did a very good job of that because the four of us would inevitably go parking, or sometimes in warm weather go to what seemed like the last drive-in on earth, and once, my friend and I spent the night with the girls—in separate bedrooms—while his parents were away for the weekend.
These random liaisons occurred during the 18 months prior to my graduation, a period when I was too far gone in booze and circumstances to allow for having a girlfriend of my own. I remember wondering whether my “friend’s” dalliances with girls from other high schools were more about notching bed posts than actually appreciating the intimacies these girls were willing to share. I can only guess why those girls did share, especially with me. Often they had been a year older than me—in one case, two years older—and I did learn from them as I experimented with what I had read from a little book I found in my mother’s night stand, a book written in the 1940s from the perspective of women, which explained why most men, according to the author, were unable to “fulfill” their partners. In addition to a very important revelation about a woman’s sexual anatomy that in the 1960s was not taught in any health class in which I had been enrolled, there was one other revelation in the little bedside book that resonated with me, then and still, as being an essential strategy for someone who wants to succeed in the grown-up games:
When you make love, never focus on what you can get from your partner; always focus on what you can give.
Learning how to play the grown-up games is, for me, what Bob Seger painted in Night Moves. The song deeply touches the clueless youth I once was. The link will take you to Bob’s recording; the lyrics follow:
I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly renown
She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy
Workin’ on mysteries without any clues
Workin’ on our night moves
Tryin’ to make some front page drive-in news
Workin’ on our night moves
In the summertime
In the sweet summertime
We weren’t in love, oh no, far from it
We weren’t searchin’ for some pie in the sky summit
We were just young and restless and bored
Livin’ by the sword
And we’d steal away every chance we could
To the backroom, to the alley or the trusty woods
I used her, she used me
But neither one cared
We were gettin’ our share
Workin’ on our night moves
Tryin’ to lose the awkward teenage blues
Workin’ on our night moves
And it was summertime
Sweet summertime summertime
And oh the wonder
We felt the lightning
And we waited on the thunder
Waited on the thunder
I awoke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain’t it funny how the night moves
When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in
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