I was an adolescent in the 1960s and very ignorant about my body and sex, not that I consciously realised on becoming a teenager. I knew I was a female, though unsure when that reality dawned on me. I knew from a young age, albeit as a child, that females had babies emerging from a ‘hole’ at the base of a woman’s body (though I had no idea what that hole was called) and grew breasts for milk; otherwise my information was scant. I had two older sisters, but we never ever discussed sex or our bodies. I knew about periods as a youngster because of their bleeding, a few years later understanding that a man had a penis that was inserted into the female ‘hole’ to make a baby after she started menstruating. Not much else was clear. I attended a mother-daughter night at school at about 10 or 11-years-old, imparting some knowledge about the different anatomy of males and females and about the process of conception. I don’t recall hearing the word ‘vagina’ but instead womb, and I don’t remember whether the expression ‘sexual intercourse’ was discussed or even mentioned (daresay not!) My memory is that it was clinically cold and basically factual without informing me much more about sex than I already knew, though understanding nothing at the same time. It felt embarrassing to be with my mother.
I don’t remember when I first heard the word ‘sex’ itself, but I paid a nocturnal visit as I often did to my parents’ bedroom on one occasion to see a big ‘lump’ in the middle of the bed under the covers hearing some ‘unfamiliar’ noise at the same time. (I sometimes wanted to sleep with my mother in her bed). My parents had two, single beds pushed together. I must have been about four or five years old and I had no idea what was going on, but interestingly, I must have intuitively known to return to my own bedroom without disturbing them. I didn’t attempt to clamber into my mother’s bed, just walked back to my own room. I never asked either my mother or father the next morning about what was going on. Sex was never a topic of discussion in our home when I was a child.
I never touched myself either. I was just seven years-old when I was first ‘attracted’ (or that’s my first memory about it) to a male. My mother took me to my first Aussie Rules football game and I can recall noticing one of the players for Carlton (my mother and father’s team) as he stood out for me. He had dark, wavy hair, dimples (as I had too) and seemed very cute (I can’t even remember what ‘word’ I used in my head; it was just that I noticed him). I have never forgotten his name as I asked my mother who he was. In retrospect, there was no clear insight into what I was thinking or feeling, but I’ve always remembered his name and the fact he ‘appealed’ to me. I had no idea why.
Two years later, when I was nine, two different things happened. I liked one of the boys in my class who sat next to me as part of a system that graded us as joint desk dwellers according to our marks. I remember thinking he was cheeky and funny, though a bit plump as he wore short pants to school. I wore a uniform school dress and was a skinny stick. It was a public school nearby to where I lived in the middle-class suburb of North Kew and although we were Jewish (my mother, Polish and my father, Russian; my parents had ‘run away’ from Eastern Europe as young children with their parents to escape anti-Semitism in the late 1920s), I never attended a Jewish school. Our home was however quasi-orthodox; food was ‘kosher’ and religious high holydays strictly observed with synagogue attendance. My schools friends in my primary years were mostly non-Jewish, attending parties (all-girl affairs) and socialising at their homes as much as they did at mine. At school, the boys and girls had separate playgrounds for recess and lunchtime frolics, a clear gender demarcation also manifest in our sporting endeavours. There was another boy too I sometimes talked to at the tuckshop at recess, though I don’t remember actually thinking anything more than wanting to be friends. I seem to recall first meeting him in the school chess club. Then, my older sister, six years my senior, received a reasonably hard, stuffed kangaroo toy from her female, American pen-friend which she didn’t like or want. She gave it to me. I started cuddling it to sleep in bed at night, until I woke up one morning to find its short, hard tail in my hole inside me. I just took it out without remembering what I thought. It had felt nice and pleasurable, like eating ice-cream or chocolate. Over the next couple of years, I consciously started putting the tail inside me before I fell asleep, though initially, it just happened without me remembering doing it. I had no understanding about this behaviour; except I kept doing it until I thought I was too old to sleep with a stuffed toy. I never told anyone or even thought about it as anything other than it felt good and that’s how I fell asleep.
At 10, I was in Year 6 and life as a female took on a ‘sexual’ dimension for the first time. I kissed a boy in my class (call him Peter) with an open mouth; my introduction to A French Kiss! At least he kissed me and I kissed him back, loving the feeling of tingling it seemed to engender in me. (Why French? I did learn about that later, but knew it was called that; reasons unstated). It was at my male, next door neighbour’s party and I had stayed later than I was allowed. Lying on the carpeted, sitting room floor kissing Peter, my father walked in and yelled at me that it was past my curfew and to come home. He walked out and I followed him. He never said anything about kissing Peter. Indeed, I went on my first ‘date’ with him to the movies the next Saturday afternoon, together with one of his boy-friends and one of my girl-friends. We held hands throughout the movie and he kissed me again in the dark. I don’t recall what he did with his hands when he wasn’t holding mine. I do remember we were both a bit sweaty, for reasons I can only assume. Maybe we were both nervous, even anxious in a way; it was my first ‘formal’ date with a boy and I wasn’t sure what to expect, of myself or him. Kissing him in the dark had my body all-a-tingle again and it felt good. I don’t recall feeling that I wanted anything else (more?) to happen.
The following year at 11, football took over my weekends. I had loved it since my first outing with my mother, but my father, who attended with a male cousin and his two young sons my age, had previously told me I was too young to attend every week. My mother had started working full-time and her weekends were domestic drudgery, often lamenting that her three daughters did not help her enough (I appreciated zilch about her workload at that age). My sisters were at the football with their friends, while I attended games on a regular weekly basis with my father and male cousins. I became obsessed by football (irrespective of fancying even more players, some of which were on opposing teams), with cold, wintry, Saturday afternoons a permanent ‘footy’ fixture in my life, making streamers every morning before we drove to the tribal haunts. The player I had ‘admired’ for no other reason than his attractive appearance four years before (I have no idea whether he was a very good or just an average player) was no longer playing, but my pre-pubescent sexy passion (how fickle I was) turned to new players with great bodies and great faces (as much as I could see them as I was as blind as a bat and already wore glasses), their skills and acumen on the field irrelevant in my fancy. The game itself did take precedence, emotionally excited by the way the players moved so fast chasing and bouncing the ball as they ran and at times scooping it up so adroitly that I could only envy their prowess (I was all fingers and thumbs whenever I tried to do it at home; yes, I had a Sherrin, too, sitting alongside my dolls and frilly lamp). It was so inspiring to watch and I started keeping a scrapbook, sticking in photos torn from newspapers as well as stories about football (Methinks it was seeing their faces close-up in photos that registered as some kind of attraction. I did realise it was all about sex on one level, but that thinking never went further. They were heroes on the field and that’s where I always knew they’d stay, at least at that age).
At 12, I realised I was something of a retard when it came to sex as I had then heard of ‘it’ with two older sisters now dating boys at night (mostly on Saturday’s), introducing me to that world (though we never discussed it; it was absorbed by osmosis), but my factual knowledge hadn’t developed much over the previous few years since the mother-daughter information session. I decided I had to educate myself about it. My mother had a hard copy of the once-banned book ‘Peyton Place’ in the bookshelf and I’m not sure how I knew it was about sex (among other things), but asking her if I could read it. She gave it to me, albeit reluctantly, and while I was enthralled I was upset about the sexual slander and the repressed social mores in the small, fictitious American town.
My memory, diminished now by over 50 years, was that sex for girls who weren’t married was taboo, with malicious town gossip rife about the sexual exploits of the single girl who indulged. I was also aware that this attitude was pervasive in Melbourne as well as England, as my mother regularly bought two, English women’s magazines called Woman and Woman’s Own, both of which had a ‘problem’ page addressed by women to answer sexual’ love and relationship issues for women (men’s names on letters never appeared; males were simply the ‘silent’ studs in females’ lives). As I avidly devoured these ‘problem pages’, it was glaringly obvious that sex for young, unmarried girls was as much of a taboo as it was in Peyton Place. So many of the female ‘advice seekers’ reiterated the same issue: should I or shouldn’t I have sex with him? The answers varied; how long have you been together, do you love him, does he love you etc etc The inextricable link between love and sex was never questioned, even raised, as if that nexus was simply an implicit social and moral norm.
At 13, I started keeping a diary, writing about Peter that “I don’t want this to sound like Peyton Place, but I wish he would kiss me again” as I still saw him at local parties. It seemed that even kissing Peter was somehow a ‘taboo’ somewhere in my head, though I understood enough to realise that it wouldn’t necessarily lead me down the path of perdition.
To enhance my education, I wanted to go and see a movie called ‘Pillow Talk’ starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. I cannot recall how I knew it was about love and sex (maybe I’d read a review in the newspapers which were delivered daily to our house and I always read them for the football et al), asking one of my Jewish girlfriends if she wanted to attend with me. She told me a couple of days later her father wouldn’t allow her to see it because it was ‘unsuitable’ for a girl her age, or words to that effect. She was actually a year older than me and I saw it anyway, now unable to remember who I went with. The film’s narrative was about a young man who had ‘several’ female liaisons, the innuendo being that he was having ‘sex’ with many different women without ‘love’ being pertinent. He then falls in love with a woman who is disgusted at his ‘indulgences’ with these many different females while she is of course, ‘pure’ and waiting to ‘fall in love’ to marry. Inevitably, after shenanigans of a ‘mildly’ sexual kind, it all ends ‘happily ever after’. The film portrayed an old, albeit traditional idea that a man could ‘play around’ with many women for sex, but a woman must refrain till she married; an all-too familiar theme not only in the books I read, but the magazines too. Moreover, the man would, of course, fall in love with this ‘chaste’ woman more than the women he ‘supposedly’ had sex with. This Hollywood movie stayed with me throughout my teens, simultaneously aware that the ‘chaste’ woman actually had an economically successful career (she was an interior decorator which inspired me to think about it for myself, too) and an apartment on her own. She lived independently.
That year, I had enrolled in a new, academically selective, co-ed government high school, with Peter attending a different school and my hormones started to herald a whole new agenda for my life. Bored in the classroom, I soon became boy mad; maybe sex mad (perhaps I already was but it stayed in my private psyche) though exactly what sex ‘meant’ apart from kissing was shrouded in a dark secret I had little access to. Writing in my diary again, commenting on a female friend, (call her Carol who was my best friend off and on for about three years), I wrote “she really isn’t interested in boys for the same reasons as I am (sometimes).” I can only surmise what my reasons were (naturally mostly sexual) except that the boys I later developed ‘crushes’ on, I also liked. Throughout my co-ed high school years, up till nearly seventeen, I was preoccupied with boys though the names changed frequently. I was hopelessly ‘attracted’ by a different boy at school on a weekly/monthly basis, though for a couple of years, ‘Peter’ came and went in my life, dismissing him at one stage as “too filthy-minded” (meaning sexually preoccupied as I wrote in my diary: just goes to show how the 60’s taboo was alive and well in my head). Later, I resumed some kind of friendship with him, kissing him again at a party, only to add in my diary “he still is (filthy-minded), but it eventually grows on you.” I’ve got absolutely no idea what I really meant; assuming however that he now wanted to have sex: with me and/or other girls and maybe, albeit unconsciously, I actually liked that ‘filthy-mindedness’ as I’ve termed it, which in simple laymen’s English, was that he wanted more than a kiss. In my own way, I must have wanted more than a kiss, too.
Contradictions and confusion reigned inside me in some ways when I analyse what I wrote as an adolescent, and much of the time, the boys I fancied never felt the same about me. With Peter, it was mutually reciprocal. Indeed, another female friend my age, who I only saw every few months or so as she attended a different school, I’ve mildly criticised as ‘too boy crazy’. One of her friends I met who was previously unknown to me, I’ve referred to ‘as a real tarty type’. I’m not exactly sure what I meant about being too boy crazy considering all the boys I mention in my diary, but I do know what I meant by a tarty type; a young girl who ‘appeared’ as if she was inviting sex. My expression is damning; judging her not just by what she looked like, but because she was flaunting her sexuality. It was repression writ large; albeit unconscious as I had soaked up the shameful 60s social mores about sex and girls (underpinned by a Judaic-Christian religiosity), despite being aware that sex was what I partly wanted too (needed?). There were only occasional boys for a date, feeling ‘out’ of social life generally because I didn’t have a steady boyfriend. A couple of boys who asked me out were either “short, fat and ugly” as I wrote in my diary (I was very aware of looks and still am, too), and/or I just wasn’t interested. It is pertinent that I never went out with a boy just for the sake of ‘a date’; indeed, I preferred to stay home on my own rather than go out with someone I wasn’t interested in (based on what? Looks? I can only assume about myself that I was just as fooled or attracted by appearance as boys were).
There were times I was only too well aware I was not as pretty or attractive as other girls I knew (certainly not ‘traditionally ‘beautiful), but my attitude to myself was also contradictory; albeit on a superficial level. I wrote in my diary that I wanted to be a model (I loved clothes and pored over the pages of all the beautiful models pictured in women’s mags my mother bought) and yet, in my school uniform, bespectacled, befreckled, bebraced and beskinnied, I knew there was a lot left to be desired. Yet, I dressed up for a male friend’s 13th birthday party, donning black, stretchy leggings, a black roll-neck jumper with a tight, clinging leopard-skin vest my mother made me and left my glasses at home on my bedside table; already knowing Dorothy Parker’s ‘infamous’ 1937 humorous dictate that ‘men never make passes at girls who wear glasses’. It’s interesting she writes ‘men’ for males while females are called girls, suggesting a maturity and juvenile distinction respectively. Moreover, her ‘genderising’ implies it is girls (females generally) who should abandon their spectacles to ensure they are sexually attractive to men, nothing at all about men doing likewise. Females needed to be beautiful; for men on the other hand, it’s not even relevant. I’m unsure as to when I first ‘heard’ her famous lines, but I was depressingly aware of how axiomatic they were. I always left my glasses at home on social occasions in those days, despite being unable to appreciate the appearances of many boys (maybe this was a blessing in hindsight). For this party, I also unclipped my shoulder-length, straight, auburn hair so it could swing seductively around my face as I danced at the party, looking in my long, bedroom mirror and ogling myself as sexy (whatever that meant) and fantastic. At the party, I was aware (as much as I could see in front of me) that some of the boys looked at me in a way they hadn’t looked before; moreover, the other girls at the party wore dresses and I knew I stood out. The boys suggested playing a kissing game (Spin The Bottle) and while all the other girls declined, I was the only one who wanted to play. I could sense their ‘disapproval’. Needless to say, we didn’t play.
What’s interesting about that night is that I never dressed in that gear again until I left school. Why? My attention to what I wore was both intense and flippant; sometimes caring to look amazing and at other times not bothering that much; it was as if subconsciously, I was becoming aware that my appearance dictated what boys, and how many boys, actually wanted to know me; dismissing what I thought or was interested in as completely irrelevant. I knew I was bright, succeeding at school and an academic high achiever of sorts (when I bothered to study which wasn’t all that often as I scored good marks without trying too hard. Indeed, at a parent-teacher afternoon at school, my form teacher had told my mother I was ‘very bright’ as I recorded in my diary).
Were brains to be admired, even appreciated, at my tender age? In the explosive best-seller Sex and The Single Girl, written in 1962 by 40-year-old American journalist Helen Gurley Brown, she wrote (following on from Dorothy Parker’s lines): ‘growing up in…(the American middle-class suburbs) as a single girl, pretty was what you were supposed to be if you had a brain in your head…brains, as she penned in a new 2002 edition 50 years later, have (now) become almost as treasured as beauty…almost!’ (I didn’t actually read this book till my late teens: already realising that being bright at 13 wasn’t what boys were interested in and indeed, later confronted the reality that maybe they never would be. Still, it was reassuring to read what she had written as my experience was internationally all-too familiar for young girls).
Although football remained a great passion, perhaps even more so as a game, I spent too many Saturday nights at home by myself and it was depressing. I did think I’d meet a boy eventually who would like me whom I’d like just as much, but ‘waiting’ to meet ‘him’ was trying my patience in a sad and painful way. I still didn’t touch myself or masturbate and while I physically felt some stirrings in my loins, I never did anything except fall asleep feeling that way. Why didn’t I masturbate, particularly considering what I consciously did with my stuffed, kangaroo toy? I simply don’t know as it didn’t occur to me consciously, but Helen Gurley Brown also commented in her book that young girls still learn ‘never to let anybody touch her there; never, never touch herself, and to protect that part of her body as though it were precious jade…a few girls, mercifully, manage to survive this cultural blight…’ No one told me directly not to ‘touch myself’, but I obviously absorbed, albeit unconsciously, the socio-cultural prohibition about masturbation for teenage girls. Moreover, I also wrote in my diary about ‘love’ after seeing an American movie called ‘Gidget, ‘a romance between a young, surfie girl and a handsome, young surfer boy. Talking to Carol, I’ve written at 13, “Carol and I said that we haven’t had that feeling about love, but in a way I think I have, but really only in a childish way. Every time I see someone kiss, I always think of Peter and I”. It’s more than interesting that the movie was about love not sex per se, and I too obviously believed that sex and love were intrinsically linked so that you didn’t have sex without love. What love and sex were really all about I still had no clear idea. It did occur to me that ‘love’ was (could be?) just the socially accepted euphemism for expressing sexual desire with someone by kissing them and wanting more. It took me a few years to clarify that confusing bind, though religious pedants and conservatives still believe love is quintessential for sex.
To augment my knowledge about sex, I also bought more books, one particularly called ‘Young Love’. I read it alone in bed at night, but purposely did not place it in the bookshelf of my bed head on open view as I did with other books I was currently reading. Instead, I hid it in one of my drawers in the chest alongside my bed. I knew my mother wouldn’t approve, though she rarely ventured into my bedroom as I had to clean it myself. However she found it, confronting me about why I was reading ‘such trash’ as she waved it in my face. (I did read heaps of books, mostly great literature bought or borrowed from the library or taken from her bookshelf). I can’t remember what I replied, if I said anything at all, but she gave it back to me, saying I could read it to appreciate the difference between good literature and rubbish. The book focused on a teenage romance and I can’t even remember what it was really about, but it certainly wasn’t good literature and essentially I agreed with her. I returned to some of the classics of English literature which were also about romance and sex, the latter however usually ‘camouflaged’ by the narrative of great, passionate love. Love and sex were still inextricably linked in the prestigious novels I read, including books on our school reading list such as Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Sons and Lovers, adding my own selections of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.
There was no sex education at school in those days and I never discussed the subject with my mother, father or sisters, though my father would try and tell ‘dirty’ jokes (as my mother defined them) occasionally at the dinner table, with her berating him to stop before he could elaborate. I remember wondering about the jokes we weren’t allowed to hear! I never heard them, my mother’s strict, puritanical, moral code all pervasive in our home.
At nearly 14, boys were still close to top of my agenda (football reigned sacrosanct!), but my confidence waned as I started to realise more consciously about appearance, writing in my diary “how can you have confidence (with boys)? I used to be able to talk to boys, I never worried about figures and busts until I realised boys do.” At the same time, I’ve commented very superficially about my ‘liking’ boys based on their appearance too, but somehow, that hypocrisy, albeit contradiction, doesn’t occur to me. I’m quietly, almost subconsciously, criticising boys for their addiction to appearance, yet I’m no different. I’m also aware that Carol is prettier and more attractive than me or so I write, but at the same time I nestled a private fantasy of being a model; contradictions writ supreme. The importance of appearance was another recurring theme in my life, both for myself, males and other females, but was it as a basis of judgement or just an irrelevance? How significant is appearance, not just in sexual relationships, but also platonic friendships, even those of same-sex? It is a question I’ve considered most of my life. However, I also realised Carol and I were so different regarding boys, writing “she likes more quiet reserved boys while I like quite the opposite.”
Appearance wasn’t the definitive factor.
I kissed my second boy, Colin, (there was another in between Peter and Colin at a party but ‘the kiss’ was eminently forgettable) whom I met sometime later during the summer school holidays. He was visiting a friend of his in Melbourne as he lived interstate and was about three years older than me. I always remembered him as I enjoyed The Kiss, also of French derivation, though he started talking about sex and touching me around my thighs and vagina, outside on my clothes in a way Peter never did. It felt good, but that’s as far as it went. I’ve written “I kissed Colin properly. I felt better than when I kissed X (my totally forgettable second boy).” Moreover, as Colin’s male friend in Melbourne was the brother of one of my sister’s close friends, it seems Colin asked my sister: “Who taught your sister how to kiss? That a compliment,” as I penned again in my diary (My sister told me; the first occasion I can recall even talking about such ‘sexual’ matters.) Disappointingly in a way I don’t elaborate in detail about any of this, and in retrospect I’m left to surmise what I was thinking and feeling on many levels. It makes me smile, albeit mockingly at Colin’s thought, that I needed to be ‘taught’ how to kiss; as if kissing is something you learn rather than feel. Yet, I’ve taken it as a ‘compliment’- laying the foundation for my sexual self-discovery over my life. I stuck photos of both Peter and Colin in my diary, and am unsure as why the ‘kiss’ with the boy in between Peter and Colin was so forgettable. Was I just not sexually attracted to him, though the notion of sexual attraction was obfuscated by other issues as we didn’t have much in common. Sexual attraction wasn’t parlance I used; let alone understood at that age. As I can’t really address that issue, maybe kissing X just didn’t make me ‘tingle’ as I did kissing Peter and Colin. It is an issue I thought about for years and still do. Can we ever explain the mysterious why and how of sexual attraction?
I saw Colin a few more times during the holidays and then he returned home, only to receive a letter from him within a few days. All hell broke loose with my mother. She opened the letter before me, telling me in no uncertain terms that I was to have nothing more to do with him. What I recall is her saying: “the letter is all about wanting to sleep with you and you’re not seeing him again”. She gave me the letter to read, but my anger was palpable. I was furious she had opened a private, personal letter addressed to me, recording my reaction in a whole page in my diary. “How could my own mother open MY letter?” I wrote, going on and on about it. It wasn’t about her attitude to his suggestion of sex that fuelled my anger, but her betrayal of my trust. The letter as I read it was about a bed, sex and how he wanted that with me, but I screwed it up and never answered him. Looking back, I knew I didn’t feel the same way about him as I did about Peter, but I’m not sure as to why I didn’t actually see him again or even answer his letter. Maybe some of the 60s puritanical penchant about girls was still imbedded inside me, believing that Colin just wanted ‘sex’ and nothing else. Sadly, Peter just dropped out of my social circuit. I did see Colin again a few months later in Melbourne and all he said to me, quoting my diary: “If I see you when you’re 23, I bet you’ll sleep with me!” I laugh at that now as little did he realise he wouldn’t have had to wait till then.
My mother’s betrayal however lasted for a long time, maybe in some ways, most of my younger life. I never forgot it. I realised she had not trusted me and now, I no longer trusted her, either. It was not a good basis for our relationship over the next few years. Although I was ‘fixated’ on boys and/or sex, I wrote about three males I fancied simultaneously, needless to say all out of my social circle and complete fantasyland. One was a Carlton team footballer, another a folksinger at a local folk cafe I used to patronise and the other a boy at school who I occasionally saw at the football, but never really talked to. The word I used in my diary about these three males is ‘people’ – “I am now wrapped in 3 divine people….” a non-specific gender word that was in my psyche at just 14; a theme I’ve returned to throughout my life, though I have no conscious memory of why I called them ‘people’ not boys or males at that age.
It was at about this time I also started reading some feminist literature. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan was the first book about ‘feminism’ I recall reading, which detailed marriage as an institution for women that too often left them intellectually unstimulated and bored. As full-time housewives and mothers they were often depressed and swallowed valium as a panacea for their ills. During my childhood my mother did not work, but when I was nine, she voiced to my father that she no longer wanted to be a ‘stay at home’ mum. Ennui was everywhere. She told him she wanted to work as a secretary for her father (she had left school at 14 to learn secretarial skills such as typing and shorthand) who was in ‘the rag trade’ (‘smutte’) in Flinders Lane in the city. My father vehemently protested (having more money at home wasn’t then an economic imperative which it became just a couple of years later with the 1961 Credit Squeeze when my father’s own clothing business went bust), but my mother ‘defeated’ his arguments and started working for her father. Most of my girlfriends’ mothers didn’t work. She later told me she believed my father had interpreted her ‘working’ as insulting to his manly pride as the ‘breadwinner’. Not only did I entertain personal contradictions about some issues, my parents’ attitudes were also contradictory, too (Was I unconsciously ‘internalising’ their contradictions as my own?). My father, who my mother told me was disappointed in having three daughters and no son, was nonetheless passionately involved in our education to ensure all three of us had ‘careers’, telling me in my late teens that I should ‘work’ to be ‘economically independent all my life. Contrastingly, my mother envisaged marriage and children as a more suitable destiny for me; albeit with work, but that was of secondary significance. My father’s attitudes were the other way round. Yet, he was anti my mother returning to work. My father was also unhappy about the clothes my mother wore, often donning loose-fitting slacks instead of more feminine dresses; her justification being they were simply more comfortable and warmer in winter. My father objected to her ‘in pants’. I don’t recall seeing most of my mother’s female friends and my girlfriends’ mothers ‘in pants’ either. At that time in Melbourne, women still ‘dressed up’ to visit the city, wearing dresses and suits with hats, gloves and high heels on a Saturday morning shopping spree; indeed, so did I when I ventured into town. Pubs closed at 6 o’clock with my wowserism alive and thriving as in Year 11 in 1965, I penned an argumentative essay in school against extending pub opening hours, believing there would be too many ‘drunken’ men on the streets at night and our safety would be imperilled. My parents never went to a pub and the Jewish people I knew, relatives and friends, didn’t drink. There were no Sunday newspapers, most restaurants and cafes were closed and Melbourne was left to ‘rest in peace’ on Saturday after 12.30pm when most shops closed, only to resurrect its life (for some) at the football in local grounds around suburbia.
Thinking about my mother, I started realising she was partly living Freidan’s ‘American female dream’, but simultaneously rebelling against many feminine norms with the family’s impecunious circumstances dictating that she needed to now work as well as performing all housewife duties. Moreover, her three daughters, fast growing up, were ‘doing their own thing’ more and more, leaving her adrift on her own in what I came to appreciate was an ‘unhappy’ marriage. Freidan writes about this ‘American female dream’: “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered….Each suburban wife struggled with it alone…that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory their own femininity. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights-the independence and the opportunities the old-fashioned feminists fought for…The suburban housewife-she was the dream image of the young American (and Australian I may add) and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world…” Freidan interviewed countless women in America for her book, finding them “unhappy”, including one woman who felt ‘desperate’ while another says ‘I ask myself why I should be so tired’ and another comments ‘I feel empty somehow, incomplete’. Freidan continued: “the chains that bind her (the American suburban housewife) are chains made up of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of incomplete truths and unreal choices. They are not easily seen and not easily shaken off. (I have found) evidence which throws into question the standards of feminine normality, feminine adjustment, feminine fulfilment and feminine maturity by which most women are still trying to live….We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.’” When I read this book, my mother had already started taking amytals; a tranquilliser for depression, knowing she was ‘bored’ with her secretarial ‘career’ as well as discontent in her marriage. In part, she had jettisoned some of those female standards Freidan includes, but still seemed to believe in them at the same time. As I became older, I considered she seemed lost and confused, recognising she was a bright and intelligent woman, extremely well-read and knowledgeable but who was mentally ‘dying’ in intellectually undemanding and unstimulating work. I appreciated she was a woman of a different generation who had different values and attitudes to the ones nurturing inside me and Freidan’s words strongly resonated with me as I later wrote in my diary that I wanted a very different life than that of a suburban housewife with husband and children; albeit with work of a kind, but work that was of no real intellectual challenge or import. Most of my girlfriends’ mothers didn’t work, but Carol’s mother was a ‘beacon’ of light in the dark cavern behind closed doors in suburbia. Carol’s father, a medical GP, had died of a heart attack when I was 11, and Carol’s mother, who had qualified as a physiotherapist but had not worked during her marriage, resumed her occupation to support the family (Carol had two, younger brothers). She established her own physiotherapy practice with another woman thus able to work for herself as her own boss. She occasionally commented she was ‘lucky’ she was in that position to run her own business. I also ‘picked’ up on her career choice as a physio as something I might do as being an independent working woman appealed to me. They also had substantially more money than my family as my mother was a mere secretary and my father was unemployed for a few months after his business collapsed.
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir was next on my reading list, buying it with my own money earned from my summer holiday job. This book really impacted me in so many ways, realising even more about my mother who had started taking me to the theatre, opera and classical music concerts which I loved. I started glimpsing her as a woman totally frustrated intellectually in her 9-5 office employment. My father and I didn’t talk much; if we engaged in conversation, it was usually about sport or politics (which was another passionate interest), though I asked him to teach me to play poker and chess. De Beauvoir wrote about the mother to daughter relationship, suggesting “the daughter is for the mother at once her double and another person, the mother is at once overweeningly affectionate and hostile towards her daughter; she saddles (or tries to, I believe as my mother did) her child with her own destiny; a way of proudly laying claim to her own femininity and also a way of revenging herself. …manifesting a zeal in which arrogance and resentment are mingled; and even a generous mother, who sincerely seeks her child’s welfare, will as a rule think that it is wiser to make a ‘true woman’ of her since society will more readily accept her if this is done.” Much of what I read stayed in my unconscious; only to surface later in my twenties, but I was certainly aware during my adolescence that my mother’s marriage was far from satisfying. She certainly cared about my welfare and was a generous woman, but the conflicts between us about what I wanted for myself and how she thought or believed I should be and later, what ‘job’ I should pursue, intensely increased. Analysing the role of women in a patriarchal world in an historical context, both biologically and psychologically, de Beauvoir wrote so brilliantly about female subservience and oppression that I witnessed not just at home, but revealed in so many other books, plays and poems I read as well as newspaper articles, TV shows and movies I watched. I also appreciated a link between Jewish and female oppression as I was quasi-religious too, appreciating how the Jews had ‘escaped’ the Pharoahs’ oppression in Egypt which was the focus of the Passover festival my parent’s celebrated in our home. There were analogies about how the Jews, persecuted throughout history, had survived, at times, even flourished, and this heritage inspired me as a female who wanted a destiny that ‘escaped’ oppression and allowed me to flourish, too.
There was another movie I saw called ‘A New Kind of Love’ with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, a similar theme to ‘Pillow Talk’ with the male character’s ‘sexual’ philandering (and drinking) a behaviour of ‘disgust’ for the female character who also had her own career and economic independence. Suffice to say this movie too ended ‘happily ever after’ when they ‘fall in love’ and get married. I declared my life was never going to be like that as I couldn’t accept the two different standards of sexual behaviour or the ‘fairytale’ ending of happy ever after. I was 15-years-old.
From a sexual perspective, I started understanding my mother was herself ‘screwed’ up, telling me that sex with my father ‘hurt’ and that he ‘forced’ her to have intercourse. (She had a hysterectomy a few years later, once more defying my father’s protestations.) It was not what I should have been told and it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that she appreciated she told me too much, adding my father was ‘against’ the hysterectomy presumably because he thought it would affect her sexual desire. Ignorance was rife in my family. She apologised, even though I realised years before just how mismatched my parents were. I’m only glad I realised about their marriage a long time previously and that her ideas about sex for girls were conservative, if not morally prudish and proscriptive. She had already told me that a girl should be a virgin when she gets married as once you have it, you just keep wanting it all the time. That message was strangely positive about sex with an underlying belief that sex was pleasurable because you wanted it more and more (or that’s how I do remember thinking about what she said). She also told me that my older sister had ‘imparted’ the news to her that she was no longer a virgin, ‘losing’ it to her current boyfriend, adding she did not want to know about me. I never told her. She also said she had ‘a very strong chemical attraction’ to my father at the time of their marriage. Maybe that ‘attraction’ was the raison d’etre for her marrying him; other issues of difference insignificant at the time. Pre-marital sex in the 1930s was even more of a ‘taboo’ than in the 60s for my generation.
There was another reality too I experienced about sex and the ‘pernicious’ social stigma about ‘unmarried’ mothers. To help look after their home; housework, meals, washing and all myriad of domestic duties, Carol’s working mother ‘employed’ pregnant young women with nowhere to go (mostly they had been ‘thrown’ out of their homes by their parents) as ‘cheap’ labour until their baby’s birth which these young women then had adopted. It was an ‘eye-opener’ into another world as there were several, different young women in their twenties living in Carol’s home for a few months. My father occasionally made disparaging comments about these girls; my mother felt sorry for them. It made me very conscious that if I ever did indulge in sex, I had to ensure I never got pregnant.
At the same time as I was receiving many mixed messages about sex, not just from my mother but the pervasive social mores which still persisted in decrying sex for girls who weren’t married, I stopped attending parties. I still fancied one or two boys at school (they weren’t interested in me), but boys were starting to take backstage to my more intellectual pursuits, including reading lots more books and painting and drawing. One Sunday afternoon when I was home alone, I posed naked in front of my long, bedroom mirror to sketch myself as I wanted to look, not the skinny, flat-chested female I was. I ‘borrowed’ my older sister’s anatomy book (she was studying to be a doctor) from her bedroom to enhance my drawing of muscles and body shapes. It occupied me for about two hours until I heard my parent’s car in the driveway, hurriedly dressing and yet again, hiding my drawing where my mother wouldn’t find it. I didn’t show anyone. I was very proud of it, keeping it ‘protected’ in a book and recently framing it to sit on my bathroom shelf. The body I drew had ‘firm tits’, not too big but certainly obvious; the body more rounded and curved than my own. Around the same time, I started haranguing my mother to buy me a ‘padded’ bra to enhance my appearance. She resisted for a few months, telling her I would buy one myself from the money I earned working in a fashion boutique during my school holidays. She finally relented, allowing me to display a more curvaceous image; albeit with ‘falsies’ as they were then called. I often turned sideways in my bedroom mirror to admire my more agreeable ‘female’ shape.
However, another girl I knew at school went to a far greater extreme. I was reasonably tall and skinny, but she was short and a bit pear-shaped. What we shared in common was that she, too, was ‘titless’, often complaining about her lack of bust. Her father was a medical GP and to my shock and horror, she turned up at school one day with this protruding, enormous bust, giving her body a completely distorted image. She ‘confessed’ her father had organised ‘silicone’ injections to augment her breasts, but it had back-fired and now she was ‘too’ big for the rest of her body. She was even unhappier. I was aghast and it was a few years later she went under the surgeon’s scalpel again; albeit to reduce them. She later developed a range of ‘mental health’ issues.
As I eschewed the party circuit, I began contemplating some of life’s big questions about morality, politics and individual liberty pouring over my mother’s philosophy books in her bookshelf. Invited to one of my sister’s friend’s wedding with a friend (read boy), I rang the boy I had been ‘enamoured’ with at school (the one I saw at the football occasionally) to ask him to accompany me, knowing he would probably refuse. He did. It was painful in a way and I attended the wedding with a boy who was the son of my parents’ friends instead. I only remembered this reading my diary again now as I always thought I hadn’t even attended the wedding; revealing the whole event as a complete non-event in my male/female thought system. The boy I fancied didn’t want to know me and that’s what I always remembered. It was quite depressing really, but it was also a good experience as my first real rejection, as previously it was always boys ringing me up for a date on the odd occasions that they did. I had started to reverse the roles without consciously thinking about it. I wasn’t too upset at his indifferent response as I had expected it, what was depressing was that this boy wasn’t interested in me at all. Not having a boyfriend was an issue for me as some of my girlfriends were always going out with different boys and had many boyfriends over those teen years. I don’t think I was jealous as such, writing in my diary about Carol, that while she was out on a Saturday night with a boy and I was home alone yet again, “I was depressed at my own situation”. I got on with life however with football still my fervent passion.
In my final year at high school, age 16, I came across a book that crystallised very succinctly and blatantly the double-standard sexual mores in Australia in the mid-60s. Called “Now You’ll Think I’m Awful”, it was written by a Sydney journalist Sue Rhodes, clarifying how girls who had sex were slammed as ‘sluts’, while the boys having sex were sanctified as ‘studs’. The girls were condemned as ‘awful’ by the boys and other girls, too (if they ever knew), Rhodes arguing there should be no gender difference. By that time, many issues about sex, females and our social milieu were clearer as issues to understand, but confusion reigned nonetheless as to what behaviour to adopt; follow my feelings or current conventional conformity? Helen Gurley Brown wrote in 2002, updating that 1962 first edition of Sex and The Single Girl, that girls no longer “have to feel guilty (sluttish) about participating in and enjoying sex- au contraire, (they)… happily participate…” Times, she believed HAD changed in 50 years, but the 60s were full of decrying girls who ‘did’ as sluts. ‘Nice’ girls didn’t participate!
In the same year, I became platonic friends with two, new boys at school, sharing similar interests in politics and books, all three of us fantasising about being ‘writers’. It was the Vietnam War and we were vehemently anti-Australia’s role in that war, and while I fancied one of the boys, nothing ever happened except lots of conversation about politics. I thought he just didn’t fancy me (I certainly didn’t take the initiative back then), feeling too shy to broach the subject (Maybe I didn’t want any more rejection). While we often talked about the books we were reading, I never talked about the women’s books I read. I didn’t even discuss them with my mother, let alone my sisters. We were not a close-knit family in that way.
Throughout school, girl-friends (mostly Jewish) came and exited from my life quickly and regularly and although we discussed boys sometimes, it was not about sex per se. To this day, I have no idea whether any of my school friends ever masturbated, let alone had intercourse, though one girl-friend referred to a couple of mutual girlfriends in a deprecating and disparaging way, telling me that ‘everyone is talking about them on Saturday night’. What she meant I’m not sure; I didn’t ask and it’s not recorded in my diary, but I’ve inferred she was being nasty and moralistic about some kind of sexual behaviour on their part as I’ve written: she did “not outwardly (call them) cheap, common sluts” but that’s what I think she was implying. I wrote that at 14 without elaborating on it and it’s indeed interesting that this friend didn’t say those words; I’ve just assumed those words by the way she said what she said and her damning tone of voice, remiss as to what they supposedly ‘did’ at the Saturday night party. I didn’t know and I’m unsure as to whether my girlfriend did either. Supposition was the name of the game. Moreover, I’ve also referred to a boy whose party I was invited to as “a bit good looking, but a cissy. He dances and all that, but he isn’t dirty…” and I wasn’t interested in him. ‘Dirty’ was the social euphemism (or maybe just mine as I heard it ad nauseum) for sex/sexy, and I write that word in my diary in those early teen years more than I write ‘sex’. Indeed, Helen Gurley Brown wrote in her 1962 edition that young girls ‘still learn to equate sex with dirtiness from her playmates, her playmates’ parents, her teachers and other benighted adults…all her growing up years she will be exhorted to keep her dress down, her knees crossed, her thoughts pure…’ As I’ve written, I didn’t read her book till I was about 18, but it appears a universal (at least, Australian, American and British) theme about sex and young girls. Moreover, de Beauvoir wrote: “The young man’s erotic impulses only go to confirm his pride in his body: therein he sees the sign of his transcendence and his power. The young girl may succeed in accepting the fact of her desires, but usually they retain a cast of shame. Her whole body is a source of embarrassment.” I was not ‘shamed’ by my skinny body or my private and personal sexual desires; just confused as to what I should/could do with them, my ‘sexual’ feelings seemingly ‘normal’ from other books I’d read. With my ‘padded’ bra, I was no longer embarrassed by being ‘titless’. Girlfriends too were ‘obsessed’ by body image and being too fat, several swallowing zero-calorie ‘biscuit meal replacements’ instead of healthy lunches at school, bemoaning their bodies as ugly and shameful and belittling their beauty (I’d never then heard of anorexia and/or bulimia). I certainly wanted some ‘real tits’, but actually loved being skinny as I could eat what I enjoyed when I enjoyed without putting on weight. Compared to my friends, it was a blessing I cherished. Three or four years later however, my body did start to be somewhat ‘embarrassing’ for me in a way I just never imagined.
As much as I wanted to be accepted by some girls as friends, I was occasionally shy without much confidence in my looks, developing an inferiority complex about my appearance. The contradictions continued throughout those mid teen years. De Beauvoir wrote about this too: “Not to have confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself. “ Certainly, I never lost confidence in my intellectual acumen, but an ‘appearance’ conflict would nestle inside me for many years; another contradiction that only escalated as I got older. At the same time, I could be a ‘bitch’ in my diary but never told anyone about my secret, nasty attitudes, demeaning some girls as ‘fatties’ and another as a ‘pipsqueak’. I was a private bully. (In retrospect, I’m glad cyberspace was still a fantasy to be realised). I also felt rejected at times by girl-friends, with conflict between some of them, not just me. Occasionally, it was over boys, but mostly focused on who your best friend was at the time, changing as it constantly seemed to. I never really felt I shared much in common with my girlfriends as I was addicted to football, politics and interested in sex beyond just my own personal, lustful fantasies and I never had a girlfriend to indulge conversationally with about these passions. I had no idea what my girlfriends were feeling sexually, let alone doing, but at 15 in Year 11, I became ‘best friends’ with a new girl at school from interstate who was my age. Her parents were divorced (the first occasion I met anyone whose parents had actually ‘gone through with it’), and she wasn’t Jewish. We would spend hours on the telephone at home at night after school and she appeared glamorous and sexy in a way I wasn’t. She had ample tits, gorgeous, blonde hair and a very curvaceous body. She told me she had ‘lost’ her virginity at 13 to a boy who was the son of her parents’ friends; he had just seduced her one night when the parents were out. Was it great? I queried. Her response was disappointing; telling me it was OK, but that she didn’t feel sensational or even that ‘turned on’ by it. I was even more perplexed as to what ‘sex’ could really feel like.
She soon had a boyfriend who was studying at university (I can’t recall where she met him), but she would abandon her school uniform in the female toilets at the end of the school day to garb herself in ‘street’ clothes to go and meet him. I didn’t ask her what they did together and she didn’t offer any clues. I was left to imagine what I could, curious but careful not to pry too much. She was the only girlfriend I had or knew who wasn’t a virgin. She departed our school after one year for another interstate location as her mother was remarrying in Sydney. We corresponded for over a year and I did see her again about 18 months later during a trip she made to Melbourne. She seemed changed and pretentious and I no longer warmed to her. It was sad.
When I left school at nearly 17, I enrolled at university without a boyfriend and without any of my school girlfriends attending the same university (they didn’t get the marks I did for Melbourne University). I was on my own to meet new people and welcome new experiences. I first dated a boy from school who I wasn’t friends with during my school days, but we supported the same football team and shared social and political interests. We went to the theatre together on campus but I had “no interest in him romantically” as I wrote in my diary. Of course what I really meant by ‘romantically’ was that I wasn’t sexually attracted to him. There were few other boys to date, but half way through that university year, I left home. My father was more than upset, inviting me for lunch to persuade me to change my mind. It was the first time my father and I had been in a restaurant alone He ‘assumed’ I was leaving home because I wanted to sleep with boys, telling me “if you want to sleep with boys that’s OK, but make sure you don’t get pregnant and ruin your life” (Obviously, the ‘pregnant’ girls at Carol’s home had remained in his mind, though I rarely saw her anymore). It actually wasn’t the reason I wanted to leave, but for him interestingly, it was all about sex. He didn’t mention or ask whether I had a boyfriend, but his attitude to sex was SO morally opposed to my mother’s that I could only feel sad about their marriage and how different they both were. Certainly, he gave me ‘a green light’ for sex, but the social mores were still swilling around in my mind and I wasn’t sure about any of it. Suffice to say I did leave home to live in an all-female residential college at Melbourne University.
I soon met a 24-year-old male student who was a friend of friends living in ‘digs’ in Carlton, the inner suburban salvation for those jettisoning the more middle-class environs of staid and stultifying Melburbia. Enjoying his company and even fancying him, I went out with him a few times before ‘sex’ became the salacious subject it was at that time. It was 1967; hippiedom and hedonism reigned sacrosanct alongside drugs, sex and rock n’roll and this guy wanted to have sex with me. He also tempted me to ‘experiment’ with LSD, but I was stridently anti-drugs (I did have a smoke of marijuana for the first time at the Carlton house, but after just a couple of puffs I wasn’t interested. It did nothing for me as I had already resisted smoking ordinary cigarettes at university when most of my new-found friends were indulging. My friend told me I needed to ‘draw back’ the smoke, but I didn’t even bother). Sex though I welcomed; albeit without drugs, drink or any other chemical stimulants. I believed whatever I was doing must come ‘naturally’ without any need for adjutants. If I didn’t ‘feel’ it, forget it.
My friend and I were in bed naked, petting heavily (the first time I’d so indulged) and while I was certainly enjoying it all, I refused to have intercourse with him. As a virgin, I wanted to lose it in a ‘love’ relationship; even though I really had no idea what love was all about. I was aware that I did not feel about him as I did about Peter, even at 13. I liked the guy, but my virginity seemed something precious I wanted to maintain until I met a guy who really inspired my loving passion (lust was a concept I still couldn’t reckon with); love being my ‘moral’ justification and I wasn’t ‘in love’ with him. After an hour or so trying to ‘convince’ me to let him fuck me, I jumped out of bed and took off naked around his house with him in pursuit (I knew no one else was at home). He caught up with me, whereby I reiterated I didn’t want to have intercourse. Without saying anything more, he assented and said: “OK, I’ll drive you home.” He did. What I’ve written in my diary is far more revealing than what I’ve written now in retrospect as I wrote ‘he tried to rape me’. That’s the sense I made out of his persistent, persuasive behaviour at 17; but he didn’t rape me and I’ve used a word that I believe many females still use too glibly, albeit ignorantly. In reality, he didn’t even try to rape me either; I was delighting in all the petting et al, only saying no to intercourse; everything else allowed for, even encouraged and enjoyed. There was no oral sex and I didn’t even touch his cock; he was touching and playing with my cunt more than I played with him. What sense could he make out of my responses? The reality I understood was I was still adhering to the romantic ideal that love was integral for intercourse but only for that; as if intercourse somehow transcended all other sexual intimacy. It was a twisted 1960s rationale belying what sex was really all about, warped even more by double-standards still extant somewhere in my head. I received a flower and a beautiful note from him a couple of days later at the college, in which he called me ‘a preternatural darling’. I pressed the flower and note into my diary and kept it for decades. I did see him again but we never shared bedtime together. The relationship just ended amicably, unable to recall whether he ended it or I did. It isn’t relevant as not being in love with him was.
There were also a couple of males I fancied at university; one was a tutor who never glanced at me at all and another was a fellow student who paid me no attention either. Still harbouring remnants of an inferiority complex about my looks, I was too shy and inhibited to approach males first; my confidence demanding I knew them in a socially-friendly environment where my personality could outshine my superficial appearance. Love still dominated my psyche (and my body, too), transcribing into my diary a few lines from a D.H. Lawrence novel The Rainbow I was reading: “the business of love was, at the bottom of his soul, the most serious and terrifying of all. He was tormented now with sex desires, his imagination reverted always to lustful scenes….”, adding in my diary; ‘seems to be relevant to me?’ Interestingly, I included a question mark, wondering to what extent it was indeed relevant to me.
Since reading The Feminine Mystique and witnessing the problems in my parents’ marriage, the whole tradition of marriage and children as my destiny went under my mental microscope with increasing frequency. I wrote in my diary at 18 that “I shun the idea of marriage, children, but I imagine all my fears will get me and I, too, will follow the same way; what an ugly thought!” Previously I’ve penned “We are born, milked, weaned, walked in prams, pushed along, educated- then we marry, have kids, they are milked, weaned etc…it is an endless, hopeless circle, and yet, even those who escape, the so-called Bohemians, they too multiply, what is the difference….” While I was questioning the raison’detre about middle-class Melburbia, I did believe strongly that the ‘first time’ of sex should be about love though marriage was indeed irrelevant. Moreover, that first time was focused solely on intercourse (ie losing your virginity) as if that represented everything about sex. I knew that it didn’t from previous ‘sexual’ encounters, contemplating whether intercourse was only the culmination of an intimate sexual relationship; culmination being the operative word for me at that age given my petting and other sexual antics. With my 24-year-old boyfriend at university, we had engaged in so much sex that it was only ‘no’ to intercourse that stopped it from being the ‘first time’. It was confusing in some ways as was intercourse really a ‘culmination’? What did ‘sex’ with another really mean and what did it involve in terms of behaviour? What value or import did intercourse have? Should it have? What was really significant in a mutual sexual encounter? Perusing my diary a month before my eighteenth birthday when I was no longer seeing him, I’ve written ‘It is true that I am still a virgin, but I need loving (or feel that I do) that I ask myself how much longer? Then on the other hand, I say to myself that this is something that matters, that I should regard it as such. I did for a while, after my horrible episode with (him) when he tried to rape me. I felt that here was something that does matter; love matters and sex is something that should be shared between you and someone you care about – love!’ (I underlined the word love). Reading that now, the notion of ‘love’ was certainly ingrained in my head as associated with sex; still an inextricable link that rationally I recognised as nonsense but emotionally could not yet shake free of.
The Pill was now on the market removing fears of an unwanted pregnancy, but going to the doctor and getting a prescription was a blatant affront to the sexual mores still sullying sex for unmarried girls. To acknowledge I wanted and needed sex, that is, to have intercourse, took another couple of years to accept, tainted as it was with the prevalent social taboos that rendered young girls and sex as mutually exclusive. After the debacle of ‘no’ to intercourse in Carlton, I went on a camping trip for a week with some friends, writing in my diary afterwards: “ I let myself be a bit too amorous with – of all people (again, I’ve referred to a male as ‘people’, not gender specific)- a girlfriend’s younger brother who was only 15. And yet, I was curiously attracted to him. He seemed to be the only one who would not let me push him around- manipulate, as he said. I really liked him, and yet, it was only a few short days and I probably allowed myself a descent of morals, what is wrong with me? Now I see what I have as morals, nothing short of intercourse, the latter reserved for love- that seems fair enough! Is it- the answer maybe one day.” I continued indulging in playing ‘heavy’ petting games in bed with various boyfriends till I was nearly 20, always saying ‘no’ to intercourse. Preoccupied by ‘love’, I penned a poem in my diary: titled “On Love”. I’ve written: ‘There is always time for love, Let it grow, nurture and remain within your heart forever. For without love, we are nothing, Incomplete, empty, useless, Love provides our purpose.’ I also transcribed a poem written by American 60s beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti titled ‘Come Lie With Me and Be My Love’ in my diary too which includes “Come lie with me, All night with me, And have enough of kissing me, And have enough of making love…’, adding: “I must have an obsession with love – Am I perverted or merely madly frustrated -…” It took another couple of years to clarify. Casting my mind back to that time, I was undoubtedly a ‘professional cockteaser’ as the words were in those days, enjoying all sorts of sex play but refusing to let my boyfriends fuck me.
A few days before my 18th birthday, I started full-time work as a cadet journalist on a Melbourne daily newspaper and my world changed dramatically. I had been tossing up a career as a journalist since Year 5 in primary school when my male teacher suggested it after reading an essay I wrote about ‘the classroom.’ I enjoyed writing, meeting people and believed reading, be it newspapers, magazines or books et al, helped stimulate people intellectually to think and analyse arguments and attitudes. An avid reader all my life, I also believed that journalism could ‘enable’ me to work for myself as a freelancer as well as have children if I wanted later as I could work from home. The erratic and unconventional lifestyle greatly appealed too; no ordinary 9-5 job in an office. Thrilled when I obtained the cadetship after writing a letter (in which I stressed that being female should be irrelevant as I was totally cognisant about the 1960s media being almost male-only domains) and being interviewed, my parents were against me accepting it; albeit for very different reasons, yet again. My father argued I wouldn’t complete my degree, claiming I could work as a journalist after I graduated. My mother’s attitudes were moral and alarmist, believing I’d descend into some kind of depraved iniquity in the media with too much drinking, smoking and of course, licentiousness. (She had seen several movies about the male-dominated world of newspapers as I had too). While leaving home at 17 was my first act of real parental defiance, it was easier second-time around to stand my ground, adamant they couldn’t dissuade me. I assured my father I’d complete my degree part-time as I would be working for a morning newspaper, starting work in the afternoon and continuing at night. I could attend university lectures in my own time in the mornings. I had passed my first, full-time university year with second-class honours and moved into ‘digs’ in Carlton with two girlfriends after departing the residential college post-exams. Living in the house for about a month after I began work on the newspaper, I returned to my parents’ home to save money and as our hours were ‘out of sync’ (they both worked 9-5ish), I wouldn’t have to see them that often. It seemed like a sound and practical arrangement. I enrolled at university part-time but my attendance was abysmal as my reporting job transcended all other concerns, taking over my life.
The world (men) of the media grabbed me tightly (there was a huge gender imbalance with the office being 95 per cent male), finding myself in an amicable environment where I could talk to an array of different men of different ages with different roles on the newspaper. Knowing I was bright and intelligent, my confidence only increased as I succeeded in my job. My appearance was a still a significant factor for me. From being a skinny, shapeless, pin-headed, breastless stick just six months before (I had jettisoned the ‘padded’ bra I bought just two years earlier as it was rendered redundant), I sprouted tits and flesh during my three months at the residential college. Confused as to my increased poundage at the time, I expressed my concern to my mother who took me to see her doctor asking me “was I taking The Pill?” No, I told her bluntly. In the same way but for very different reasons, my mother as with my father, thought ‘sex’ underpinned almost everything; my increased weight just another example of my sexual inclinations. (In those early days of The Pill, one possible side effect was to increase weight as I had read; obviously, my mother had read about that, too.) Her doctor, after some basic tests and questions to me, simply ascribed my ‘extra’ flesh to ‘delayed puberty’. I wrestled with a weight problem for the next decade of my life.
My more ‘womanly’ appearance introduced me to a whole new vista on starting work in the media. Males at the newspaper consistently commented on my ‘great tits’. As much as I had wanted some kind of ‘bust’ when I purchased my padded bra at 15, now I was upset at having too much, ‘developing’ from a 14A bra to a 14D. Without being fat or particularly overweight to people who had never previously known me (indeed, I ‘looked’ normal not really skinny), I felt uncomfortable, my ‘new’ appearance contradicting my image of myself and how I actually felt good about my body. Over those first few months at work, I became mixed-up and confused about all the well-intentioned, sexual flattery. On one level, it was pleasing to be regarded as ‘sexy’ (or that’s the sense I made out of it), but on another level, I was annoyed at the men’s interest in my tits when for some of them, nothing else seemed important. I was also embarrassed, ‘hiding’ my tits under a jacket or loose jumpers in winter, though in summer it became impossible to do that. I just laughed off the comments as nonchalantly as I could. “Sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented in 1968, neither the appellation ‘sexist’, though ‘chauvinism’ was around, but these same males were mates of a kind and didn’t behave like Male Chauvinist Pigs (MCPs). Indeed, they encouraged my journalistic endeavours, often helping me enhance my skills and craft. From a particular ‘female’ perspective, it was a difficult time in my life; albeit for very different reasons than a few years before.
The really positive aspect was I was constantly being asked out by lots of other male cadets, many of whom became good mates, becoming popular with boys for the first time since my primary school years. I frolicked sexually with a few of them, still drawing the line at intercourse because I wasn’t ‘in love’ with any of them. Yet, I’m seemingly confused about my ‘crushes’ on different boys I worked with, writing in my diary “And what of all my crushes- one minute somebody means a lot to me- the next he doesn’t seem very important at all”; continuing a few lines down: “It is easy to be a flirt- and I am in some ways – but that’s all. Hands around you are pretty harmless in a crowded room- and that’s where I stay.” There were times I didn’t ‘stay’ in the crowded room, often adjourning to bed after a jocular sexual banter with a guy only to realise I didn’t fancy him at all. I also wrote: “I suppose life would be utterly boring if one couldn’t get interested in the opposite sex, And they are interesting- some anyway.” Despite many dates with male colleagues (some of whom worked on opposition newspapers I met ‘on the road’), my inferiority complex about my looks was still an issue. There were a few other females working on newspapers I also encountered ‘on the road’ who I felt were far better looking and I was envious. The difference at 18-years-old compared to my earlier teen years was that I felt confident with enough self-belief to offset this ‘nagging’ complex. The success of my stories (in some ways) pushed my envy into part of my brain where it didn’t really matter. Succeeding at work was my most important priority; relegating the looks issue into some corner of my psyche where my political passion transcended everything else.
The political nature of the burgeoning women’s movement coincidentally became enmeshed with the student ‘revolutionary’ movement of 1968 across America, France, Germany and Italy et al, (both movements demanding change with greater freedom and equality) with young people (mostly) voicing their discontent and dissatisfaction with the status quo; not just western world governments (particularly America), but also the apparent excesses of corporate capitalism that underpinned many ‘so-called’ democratic countries. It wasn’t just women championing their cause for greater equality of opportunity, pay and socio-political rights, but youth en masse were angrily and passionately united in unison against Big Brother with all sorts of repercussions and ramifications across the western world. In one perspective it was exciting with foment of a New Order (however idealistic and unrealistic) beckoning on the horizon. On another level, violent confrontations erupted too often, with factions of youth ‘warring’ against authority as verity of their dissent.
The Vietnam War became the focus of anti-American student protests across the educated middle-class around the western world and the Australian Government’s introduction of conscription in 1965 to fulfil its commitment to the ANZUS alliance (Australia, New Zealand and United States) for troops to that war only fuelled my political interests even further. Working for a conservative and conventional newspaper that supported Australia’s role in the war against the ‘communists’, I was caught between its world and that of my more ‘leftist’ university young friends who I still saw (albeit occasionally) when I bothered to attend a lecture. At university one day, a girlfriend told me that her boyfriend had a male friend who had been conscripted, but refused to acquiesce to the law, applying as a ‘conscientious objector’ to his call-up. He was not a pacifist, but objected to fighting in the specific Vietnam War. His request for exemption to his conscription was rejected whereby he was ‘imprisoned’ in Holsworthy Jail in NSW for exercising his ‘right to dissent’. Or that’s how I understood and appreciated his political position. My girlfriend told me I could ‘interview’ this young man in jail for a story. I imparted this idea to my boss – the Chief of Staff- only to be turned down flat; albeit without as much as a momentary discussion about the issues of his incarceration. Angry and frustrated at my boss’ dismissal of what I considered an important feature of democracy, I penned a letter to the editor of our main daily newspaper competitor, highlighting that his prison sentence as a conscientious objector ‘flouted’ the essence of our democracy. How different was his incarceration for exercising his ‘right to dissent’ from the communists we were ‘supposedly’ at war against who also denied any ‘right to dissent’ in their regimes (particularly China who were ‘supplying arms et al to the communists in Vietnam)? To my surprise, and I may add, thrill, the letter was published in the Saturday issue of that newspaper. I had signed my name but because I was a student too, I added ‘student’ after my name to distinguish myself from my role as a reporter. I did not work Saturdays (there were no Sunday newspapers) and I was not rostered to work the Sunday after my letter’s publication. On Monday morning after just a couple of minutes sitting at my desk, the Chief of Staff called me to see him. He told me I had to go and see the editor whom I had never previously even spoken to. I replied to the Chief of Staff: ‘it’s about the letter, isn’t it?’ Yes, was all he mumbled. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had worked there for just two months, had achieved a story with my first-ever by-line (my own development of a press release as they were then called) and knew I was already considered a ‘bright’ young cadet.
The editor told me to sit down, proceeding to explain that he had received a ‘memo’ from the Editor-In-Chief of the company to ‘sack’ me, adding “I don’t want to do that.” He then told me directly and pointedly that when you work for one newspaper, you don’t write letters to another. I took him at his word (I had no idea about the veracity of his ‘warning’) but I did add: ‘I don’t think it’s about THE letter, but WHAT I wrote in the letter.’ He didn’t say anything, telling me not to write anymore letters and I walked out of his office. I ‘felt’ like resigning; if this was ‘journalism’ I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in it, returning to my desk to consider my options, but after thinking about it for a few more minutes, decided I’d wait and see what transpired down the track. I was still very ignorant and naive, actually believing the editor about what he’d told me. However, I knew that the newspaper’s Canberra correspondent (who I’d never met) had written a letter that was published in yet another quality opposition newspaper and no one had said anything. I had read this correspondent’s letter, seen his name, and that’s where I obtained my idea for penning my letter in the first place. I didn’t tell the editor that because I thought he might have been right and that somehow, the correspondent’s published letter had passed unnoticed. (It was political too but far less controversial than mine as I inferred the Australian Government was just as ‘undemocratic’ as the communists). I didn’t want to get him into trouble so I stayed silent about it. I did decide not to write any more letters.
The next morning I rocked up to work, sat down at my desk to be ‘summoned’ immediately to the Chief-of-Staff. ‘This is it,’ I thought instantly, ‘I’ve been sacked.’ He told me to go and see the editor again whose secretary ushered me straight into his office. Sitting down, he stunned me completely with ‘an apology’, telling me I had every right to write letters to other newspapers but ‘warning’ me to be careful. I said ‘thank you’ and walked out.
Back at my desk, a young man I’d never seen before approached me. Introducing himself as Mr X, the Canberra correspondent, he was fortuitously in the Melbourne office for work. He asked me if the editor had apologised and I replied he had. Good, he said, then telling me he had heard what had ‘happened’ over my ‘letter’, subsequently ‘confronting’ the editor about my ‘predicament’ in the pub the previous night. He imparted the fact he told the editor about his ‘own’ letter published just a couple of weeks before and no one had said a word. I told him I had read it and that’s where I got my idea from for my letter. Before striding away, he offered some friendly advice:”get out now before it hurts.” I didn’t ask him what he meant; somewhat taken aback by his comment, but I never forgot. I wasn’t sure at that time but the letter ‘incident’ was my introduction to the ‘politics’ of the press that I still reflect on nearly 50 years later. It took me 21 years to start writing letters again to newspapers but my political passions’ albeit about other issues, never went away. However, I got ‘scorched’ again just a few weeks later; this time by young women I supported politically, socially and economically.
At university one day, I espied a pamphlet advertising a meeting in a couple of days of women’s lib students about equal pay to be addressed by a woman who had attracted publicity in the press for her aggressive campaign for equal pay across the socio-economic spectrum. Her name was Zelda D’Aprano. I suggested to the Chief of Staff that I wanted to cover the meeting for a story. His immediate response was ‘lukewarm’ to say the least (he didn’t just turn me down ‘flat’ as he had about the conscientious objector), so I pointed out to him how important the issue of equal pay for females was, adding I was fortunate that as one of few female cadets, even employees on the newspaper, I received the same salary as my male cadet counterparts. Working women, even apprentices and trainees in most other businesses and industries, had no equal pay. The ‘meeting’ was ‘newsworthy’, I insisted. He quietly agreed to let me ‘cover’ it, adding one proviso: ‘Take a photographer and get him (all photographers on the newspaper were male) to take a photo of a good-looking, young girl at the meeting and it might get a run,’ or words to that effect. Annoyed as I was with the ‘proviso’, I knew I had to compromise to attend the meeting, acknowledging at the same time that photos of good-looking, young females might ensure the ‘facts’ about equal pay were actually publicised.
The male photographer and I knocked on the glass door of the meeting room in a university building on campus and were confronted by Zelda herself who responded to my knock. I explained quickly who I was and what I wanted to do (leaving out the reference to a photo of a good-looking, female student) to which she replied that it wasn’t her decision, but had to be a collective agreement by the female students, adding that the male photographer must please wait outside. I could enter and address the meeting of students with my request. Suffice to say I blew it big time. Telling them who I was and what I wanted to do, I added the proviso saying: “I need a photo of one or two ‘good looking birds’ to go with the story so it will get published.” Mea culpa as no sooner than finishing my two-minute spiel, I was howled down and shouted at to ‘leave and get out!’ One or two of the students screamed loudly at me ‘we’re NOT birds!’ I departed the room, returning to work sans story. Really, there WAS another story I privately mulled over in my mind; that being that these young female students were intransigent and militantly hostile to any mention of their ‘appearance’ and totally unwilling to compromise as I had to publicise the far more significant story about ‘unequal pay’. It was depressing. I never tried to write another story about women’s lib on campus. I had fallen out with the very young women I believed had a strong, just and genuine cause to fight for; I was on their side, but I’d ‘offended them; even though to me, appearance should have been no more than a superficial and insignificant issue to the Cause. In retrospect, I can’t actually recall whether my boss had used the word ‘bird’ or I just said it myself; but for me, it was a word that was irrelevant. I didn’t care what I was actually called; I wanted my work to speak for itself and language was NOT intrinsically what the women’s rights debate was about for me. Later in my twenties, I reassessed the language issue about women, but after that meeting, I avoided all other women’s lib meetings of whatever kind. The males I worked with accepted me and while I burst forth occasionally in the office and the pub about female ‘issues’, I no longer socialised with other females much; certainly not the strident ‘feminists’ I met on campus.
Appearance, specifically mine however, still played havoc with my sense of self (ad nauseum). Despite my intellectual denial of the importance of appearance, emotionally, even sexually, I was a hypocrite of a kind. This was a recurring conflict for years to come.
When a young, male cadet who I thought was very good-looking, even handsome, asked me out for a date I had to confront my feelings about it all again. Initially, I was surprised that he was at all interested in me, though we had conversed a few times in the office. Liking him as a friendly colleague, I entertained no sexual fantasy about him. A couple of years older than me, I became aware that since my early teens when I was very confident about talking and mixing with boys until the ‘looks’ issue became a dominant negative in my life, this was the first time I had felt so comfortable and confident mixing with boys. I did enjoy some of the sexual flattery too, knowing at the same time my job and work came first. And I seemed to be damn good at it. Our first ‘date’ was really enjoyable; forgetting about my appearance and simply thriving on his company. I ‘dated’ him a few times as well as others, to parties, dinners and occasionally to the movies. Work occupied most of my time. Despite this renewed ‘popularity’, there was another nagging ‘female’ issue for me; not simply about sex per se, but about my sense of self as a female. I could be loud, aggressive, swore sometimes and was ‘earthy’ as I penned in my diary, at times feeling ‘rough around the edges’ compared to another female cadet I became close friends with. She was softly spoken, very thin and far more overtly feminine than I was. It was another damn complex to confront, sometimes thinking that some of the boys I liked really preferred her as she seemed more of a ‘lady’. Reality was that she was reserved, almost aloof, while I was more extrovert and gregarious. Moreover, I still loved football, was passionate about politics and jumped in and out of bed with quite a few of the boys with regular abandon. She shared none of my interests and never made it to bed with any of them, so she told me. Despite superficial differences and interests, we were both young and female, enjoying swapping anecdotes of our experience and our lives.
My sexual merry-go-round continued for more than 12 months, meeting a married man who worked on the rival morning newspaper. Our relationship amounted to conversational indulgences over a drink (often several) after paper bedtime and dinner. He told me he had fallen in love with me, while I felt similarly enamoured. A few years older than me, we shared similar and passionate political interests, talking intensely about journalism and political reportage, meeting him in the press gallery at State Parliament where I worked for three months as a junior reporter. I found him sexy and he regarded me likewise, agreeing to have sex (intercourse) with him, though we had indulged in some serious sex play in taxis and elsewhere after work. When it came to the night he was going to ‘take’ my virginity (I told him I was still a virgin), he opted to take me to a dingy, cheap hotel in the city, taking me just a few seconds to realise that’s all I was worth to him. I didn’t even take my clothes off or let him get to first base, refusing to let him kiss me. I walked out, found myself a taxi and went home (I was still living with my parents). I never forgot that night, resounding all too familiar with the book I’d read at 16 ‘Now You’ll Think I’m Awful’, realising that essentially all he wanted was to ‘fuck’ me without respect or dignity. He certainly wasn’t in love with me as I believed; that shabby hotel room more significant about how he really perceived me. I quickly appreciated I wasn’t in love with him either. That environment wasn’t what I wanted to remember for my ‘first time’. Call it crazy and cock-eyed on my part, but there was still some romantic, sexual fantasy lingering in my head; the room depressingly ‘unromantic’. Privately, I did acknowledge that if he’d taken me to a classy, expensive hotel I would have let him ‘fuck’ me. ‘What was going on in my ‘head?’ At that time, I’m glad he didn’t, that hotel manifesting more about his attitude towards me than my own attitude towards myself. I expected respect, not wanting a sluttish encounter not just for my ‘first time’, but for the rest of my life. Nearly 20, and almost now ‘a professional virgin’, I was still obsessed by love, writing in my diary “love is beautiful, but the pretence of it all is not; a sincere belief is beautiful but life must be built on something tangible, not just illusions of romantic nonsense…” I also reflected about his marital status, writing ‘in all his sincerity, poor him, a marriage incomplete for him because he needed me; quite apart from sexually, surely that too – I don’t understand how he could have even said he loved his wife…” Love was my great imponderable; needing and wanting it without any real understanding of what it involved or meant for me.
As the weeks continued, I became more and more preoccupied with being a virgin, falling ‘hook, line and sinker’ for a guy I worked with who was seven years older than me and unmarried. He was a drinking companion as so many other men were too after work at the pub across the road from the newspaper office. At closing time, he started offering to drive me home to my parents place as he lived in the same suburb not that far away (before .05 and seatbelts). Outside my home in his car, we’d kiss and passionately embrace, also talking for hours about a myriad of issues and of course, we barracked for the same football team. He didn’t have a girlfriend, telling me about a girl he’d been madly in love with but that it hadn’t worked out. After a couple of months of our ‘friendship’ (he never asked me out for a date), I decided he was the guy I really wanted to lose my virginity to as I’d ‘fallen in love’ with him. ‘Falling in love’ was my euphemism for wanting sex. I just had to find the effrontery to ask him as he never suggested it and where could we go? He lived at home with his parents too, saving money to travel overseas. I did ask him and initially he agreed, to only change his mind a few days later saying ‘it wouldn’t work’. He wasn’t in love with me. It was shattering to say the least, sensitively telling me I would find someone soon who reciprocated my love. He went overseas shortly after that and it was then I decided to go overseas too. Mixed up and bedevilled by too many complex and confusing issues, I wanted to stop the world and get off; at least to a new world where I could unravel some of the confusions nestling in my psyche.
When I departed the newspaper, I was presented with a hand-made, large card with a ‘pen drawing’ by the paper’s cartoonist. Headlined ‘The Promised Land’ in bold, black ink, (I told the editor et al I was going to Israel) it had an ‘unattractive’ photo head shot with a drawing of me in army pants with my legs apart. Looking up at me from below in a ‘trench’ was a soldier cocking his rifle at – you guessed it – my cunt! Inscribed on the card were lots of good wishes from colleagues, but two male colleagues I was friends with had penned short ditties: One read: “There once was a girl from Kew (the suburb I lived in), who filled her vagina with glue, if they paid to get in, she said with a grin, they’ll pay to get out it, too.” This was from a guy in his early 30s who I had often shared a drink with, but never dated. He was of Spanish origin. I laughed when I read it. The other was from a guy in his mid 20s who was married and seemingly conservative, though was always a good mate. He wrote: “There was a girl called Paulyne, who always was obscene, I’ve forgotten the rest which is all for the best, because none of it was any too clean.” I also laughed, but given I never dated that guy either, let alone talked sex with either of them (I did swear and say ‘fuck’ reasonably often), it’s interesting that they both wrote sexual ditties. I was amused but stunned, just another reflection of the sexual preoccupation of so many men I met in that newspaper office. I thought the card was great at the time feeling I was liked by most of the people there and knowing I’d been very successful as a cadet. Still, the references to sex are more than relevant, particularly in what later transpired a decade later in London. It was sad to leave in some ways as I’d been happy at work, but there were so many other issues I needed to sort out I had no reservations about resigning. I looked forward to a new adventure.
My first stop was Bangkok and it was in that seedy city I first saw ‘sex on sale’ in bars; girls as young as 12 or 13-years-old, dressed to ‘kill’ or attract men with money, particularly tired GIs on R & R from Vietnam. It was 1969 with a different kind of war I witnessed in that city; a war against young women, my first encounter with ‘sex slaves’ who’d been sold off by families and friends as part of a cunt conspiracy that enshrined their bodies as a temple of tawdry taste for any man who worshipped with their wallets. It was depressing and sickening; staying a week in the city after a couple of rebuttals to GIs too who told me they were longing for a ‘western’ girl after too many Asian bargirls.
Flying to Israel, I worked on a kibbutz for three months as a volunteer, where sex was also high on the activity agenda. Condoms were available in the laundry among the cleanly-washed clothes for free, with gossip about who was sleeping with who occupying many morning breakfast exchanges across the hot, strong coffee and rye bread in the communal dining-hall. Kibbutzniks would espy who was walking in with whom as the dawn broke, often not their usual partners, but certainly the usual suspects. It wasn’t however malicious gossip; more mundane and factual above all sordid nuances, of comical interest almost, to be bemused by but not besmirched. The underlying attitudes were indeed refreshing; sex was just part of a lifestyle defying western conservatism and repressive conventions; without shame or sully, for females as much as males. Indeed, one 70yearsomething male, Russian émigré told me at his home over a pot of hot, black tea that I too should indulge; it was natural and part of life and it was time to jettison the shackles of my bourgeois background. I was soon ensconced with a boyfriend, an American ex-GI of Vietnam infamy (call him Alan) who I cavorted with, but even in that permissive environment, ‘love’ still lingered in my head about losing my virginity; hard to shake off centuries of sexual repression being female.
One night however, bored on the kibbutz, Alan and I decided to hitch to a nearby Arab village, settling in a cheap cafe and imbibing nearly two bottles of Arak between us. We then took to the backyard garden of the cafe, sexualising on the grass and drunkenly hitching back to the kibbutz, only for me to wake up in my own bed alone in the morning without knowing whether we’d had intercourse or not. I couldn’t remember half the night including being unable to recall even getting back to the kibbutz. Meeting Alan the following morning in the dining-hall, I quietly and discreetly asked him if he remembered what transpired but his mind was as blank as mine. We both remembered enjoying it all and he then said we had to have sex. I really liked him but wasn’t in love with him and while we continued to have a relationship of sorts, I wouldn’t let him fuck me. Virginity, albeit in the guise of love, still reigned sacrosanct in my addled brain. Leaving the kibbutz to stay with an Australian cousin and his wife recently resident in Israel, I played ‘tourist’ around Israel for another couple of months before I jetted off to London; hymen ‘intacta’, though I wasn’t that sure.
I was nearly 20-years-old, and now changed my attitude about my damn virginity. It was time to lose it; love rendered irrelevant and I just had to find the right guy to fuck me. I met him at a party; went out with him after he rang the following week, going back to his apartment after a quick one-only drink at a nearby bar. It was a cold and calculated decision, visiting a doctor for a prescription of The Pill as soon as we’d arranged our date, swallowing my first pill immediately I arrived home from the pharmacy. I was even ignorant about that as I’d only been taking it for about a week before our date and it wouldn’t have even taken effect (not that I knew at the time). I certainly fancied him and he seemed to fancy me, ‘it’ all happening as I hoped. I didn’t tell him I was a virgin, partly because I wasn’t sure, but he didn’t even realise until after the sex when there were spots of blood on his white sheets. I realised too, and partly embarrassed, took off to the toilet, getting back into his bed feeling warm and proud of myself for having gone through with it all. I really liked him and it was a pleasant and enjoyable experience, though I didn’t feel as if I’d had an orgasm though I had no real idea of what ‘that’ felt like. There wasn’t as much foreplay as I’d been indulging in for the past two or so years, but he touched me, kissed me and it felt close and intimate. How did I really feel about the ‘great’ loss of my precious virginity? It was really something of an anti-climax (pardon the pun) as I had enjoyed myself more with the heavy petting I indulged in previously. There had been occasions with fingers up my cunt in the past and while his cock felt good inside, it didn’t feel that much different. I do remember the initial ‘pain’ when my hymen broke, ‘stinging’ for a couple of seconds but soon feeling good.
In some ways, I wondered why I had ‘waited’ so long, realising how warped western social morality was for young girls. I wasn’t sure why it WAS so twisted, but I had read enough ‘feminist’ books by then to appreciate it had to change. I’d been ‘cheating’ myself for too long staying a virgin, though I wondered if I’d had intercourse with Peter or Colin, would I have enjoyed it more. Of course, it was all hypothetical and irrelevant, but the confusion I’d felt in trying to work it out for myself during my teens seemed so unwarranted that I knew society had to confront ‘sex’ in an altogether more open and honest way, certainly for teenage girls. At that time, I didn’t really know how young boys actually felt, except they at least could openly admit wanting sex while females had to deny their sexual needs in a guise of preserving their purity for some ‘Prince Charming’ who would want to marry them. Cinderella ‘lived’ on in too many females well beyond fairytale bed time. It seemed so ridiculous and absurd that females had to start acknowledging their own sexual wants and needs as much as males did. The only book I’d read about teenage sexuality in any explicit detail was J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in The Rye which was on our Year 10 reading list at school but was of course about a male. My Young Love book, although featuring a teenage girl ‘in love’ with a boy was nowhere as revealing or interesting as Salinger’s book, but there seemed no books around that explored teenage female sexuality. Moreover, in Israel at my cousin’s home, I read Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint which was at the time ‘banned’ in Australia because he masturbated into a piece of liver. That was a ‘good read’ too, at least boys could write and explore sexuality while for girls it still appeared infra dig.
The spots of blood on the sheets told their own story, the guy stunned at what he said was ‘my composed surety’ about the night, but there was warmth in bed together and I stayed the night and fell asleep. Returning home the next morning (Saturday), I thought how fortunate I’d been ‘picking up’ a really nice guy as it was an experience, though not ecstatic, to remember with a smile and glow inside me. Then, it all went pear-shaped.
We went out again and I invited him back to my apartment for more sex, climbing on top of him as I’d read a cock can go deeper when a woman is on top and it feels even better. Except that he didn’t even touch my cunt, there was no foreplay and I was dry and unable to get his cock up me. He went limp and told me to forget it. I didn’t have a clue what to do either with myself or with him, accepting it just didn’t work. We stayed in bed talking for a while, until he got dressed and went home. I lay there for hours smoking and thinking about it all, concerned about my dryness and inability to get his cock inside me. He was only a couple of years older than me and I didn’t know how many women he’d had sex with or the extent of his sexual experience. Part of me thought it was my fault and part of me blamed him. Maybe we were both just too inexperienced. He hadn’t even touched my body at all this night, let alone my cunt. I didn’t touch myself either. A few days later, my head really ‘fucked’ it up by ringing him and saying I was in love with him. I genuinely believed and felt I was, still unable to acknowledge it was intrinsically lust and a rampant desire to lose my virginity. It ‘unconsciously’ seemed impermissible for a female in those days, at least for me.
I stayed in London for a few months working, seeing him again, but it was strictly platonic. He started dating a girlfriend of mine instead. I don’t know whether they actually had sex as I didn’t ask either of them as I didn’t want to know, still feeling I was in love with him. I didn’t have sex with another guy in London, even though my married boss, on an Israeli/Jewish magazine I was working for, kept asking me to have a drink with him after work. I never accepted his repeated invitations and never met anyone else I wanted to have sex with. I went back to Australia looking forward to another new chapter in my life. My ‘deflower’ young man and I exchanged addresses and a couple of weeks after I arrived back in Melbourne, I received a letter from him. It was 1970 and times seemed as if they really were a’changing.