Thanks to the insights provided by Virginia Ironside, which I have shared in Grownups’ Games: Part 1, I feel more confident in my accepting what should not have been the, to me, surprising understanding that the rules to the grownups’ games that Boomer girls followed during the 1960s, were likely far different from what Boomer boys like me may have followed.
While girls my age were being subjected to and learning to deal with what were clearly misogynistic sexual demands of their male peers, I was devoted to the discovery of how to play the grownup’s games despite being initially confounded by bizarre informational detours.
One such detour was what a 13-year-old neighbor told 12-year-old me in 1960, something that he claimed to have overheard 9th graders with DAs and leather jackets discussing in a West Shore Junior High lavatory: “if you’re gonna do it with a girl, you gotta use a rubber.”
“A rubber?” I asked incredulously.
“You know, like a block of rubber!”
“Oh, that,” I responded knowingly despite my being totally clueless.
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 or so years ago for begetting (Note: I had not yet benefitted from an intervention to rid myself of Fundamentalist brainwashing, and I had a minimalist’s understanding regarding how to go about begetting anything), nor could I fathom Doris Day and Rock Hudson using a block of rubber should they ever get around to begetting (I know, I know!), or the absurd procedure for using the block of rubber that my neighbor had incorrectly construed from what he had overheard.
I suspect that most Boomer boys like me began playing grownups’ games in daunting ignorance, which began to be illuminated only after we tripped on a sheet that covered a likely bewildered Boomer girl, who (according to Ms. Ironside) may have been subjected to “an endless round of miserable promiscuity, a time when often it seemed easier and, believe it or not, more polite, to sleep with a man than to chuck him out of your flat.”
There were some few of us who benefitted from the tutelage of older, experienced, young women. For example, I had two college friends who, before they had graduated high school, had decided to hone their skills by visiting prostitutes: a strategy employed by some fathers of previous generations to school their sons both in how to play the grownups’ game and in how to inadvertently spread venereal diseases.
Personally, 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 was never to be a prostitute in my future; of course, it never occurred to me that the “good girls” with whom I had spent time might have had the capacity to transmit the disease.
In junior high, I was eager but terribly bashful about playing the game. In 7th grade, quaint customs like spin the bottle had provided Boomers first opportunities to kiss, and I do believe kissing is something that does blossom with experiential learning (sorry, once a teacher, always a teacher).
During the summer before 8th grade (I came to realize years afterward), I had channeled an extraordinary amount of sexual energy into holding the hand of one particular girl about whom 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 and abysmal ignorance of how to play the grownups’ games. If I had been more knowledgeable, she and I might have had a lot more fun (a boy’s wishful and naive thinking on my part, no doubt), and of course, potentially a lot more trouble down the road.
As we Boomer boys approached and then began high school, slow dancing (e.g. at Mechanicsburg VFW or New Cumberland CYO dances) provided opportunities to learn that girls did not mind discovering a boy’s physiological response to dancing quite close. I also learned to my 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 a boy 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 about forty years ago from an abashed parent who had accidentally discovered that the point of spin-the-bottle for middle school Gen-Xers was heavy petting, so it is likely that Millennials were well into the initial mechanics of the grownups’ games 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 some Millennials reading this post might suppose “petting” is a quaint and archaic term applied to Boomers who are browsing about animal shelters.
But I have digressed, perhaps a practice I learned from my parents who were masters of diverting my attention in the rare event that 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 given their lack of cash to pay for a babysitter, I tagged along on their Friday night dates and was introduced to Hollywood Romance at an impressionable age; hence, the ironic reference to Doris Day and Rock Hudson above. I have long understood the reality of the early to mid 20th century concept of the Battle of the Sexes 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—despite Mother Culture’s whispered efforts to the contrary—that I had never thought of the “opposite sex” as the enemy; instead, I had come to admire and envy their ability to comprehend and apply emotions in interpersonal relationships, their proven competence in mastering responsibilities once thought to be the sole province of men, and their power to convey through intimacy a powerful sense of their acceptance of me as a person. (This last attribute is likely another embarrassing example of wishful thinking on my part.)
At Cedar Cliff High School, across the river from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I hung out with a group of athletes who had steady girlfriends, and at least one of those guys was not shy about secretly getting involved with girls from other high schools. On occasion, I was called upon to accompany him when he took out such a girl who would only agree to go out with him if her girlfriend could come along, which became my raison d’être: the girl’s 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 we would go to what seemed like the last drive-in on earth, and once, my friend and I spent the night with the girls in his parents’ vacant cabin by a lake.
These random and infrequent liaisons occurred during the 18 months prior to my graduation, a period when I was too far gone in booze and private pity to allow for me 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, but he always seemed to be attentive and play the proper gentleman with them. Until I read Virginia Ironside’s insights, I was clueless about what might have motivated those girls to play the grownups’ games, especially with me.
Sometimes the girls who allowed me into their arms during my high school and college years had been a year or three older than me, and with them I had practiced instructions that I had discovered in a little book I found in my mother’s nightstand. The publication was an instructional handbook, if you will, written in the 1940’s for women, and it 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 1960’s was not taught in any health class in which I had been enrolled, there was one other revelation in the little bedside handbook that resonated with me, then and still, as being an essential strategy for a man (or woman) who wants to share with a willing partner the mutual enjoyment that can be derived from playing the grownups’ games:
When a couple makes love, they should never focus on what one can get from the other; rather, one should always focus on what one can do to pleasure the other.
Learning how to play the grown-up games is, for me, not unlike the picture that rock poet Bob Seger painted in Night Moves. The song deeply touches the part of me that is the clueless youth I once was. Despite the likely testosterone-driven overtones and motivations of what Seger describes, there is an acknowledgment in the song that suggests our generation’s initiation into the grownups’ games was not always one-sided. This link will take you to Bob’s video: Night Moves. Use the following link to access the lyrics.
*The quote is from The flip side of the sexual revolution by Virginia Ironside in The Daily Mail, 1/17/2011. (See: The Grownups’ Games: Part 1).
**Boomers understand the term “parking” to refer to making out (kissing and often more) in a vehicle parked in a secluded spot, and sometimes in not-so-secluded spots. At Elizabethtown College in the 1960’s, each night a dozen or more couples could be found “parking” in the Church of the Brethren parking lot adjacent to the college campus.
The images are copyright-free images from Pixabay.