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The Fogged-Up Windows of My Town and Country Minivan

May 4, 2018

Marilyn free sexyI was nineteen the first time a friend of mine – a very alluring and highly sexualized teen – admitted to me how much she hated sex and men. That she did not, in fact, have ten screaming orgasms every time she was with a guy – the way she told everyone, the way she made him believe.

I was genuinely shocked.

She just seemed much better at it all than I was. Fun, flirty, uninhibited. Men of all stripes were in her thrall and she soaked herself in their attention like they were a piping-hot bubble bath. Approaching sex with a voracious appetite and a democratic eye, there wasn’t a party, a bar, an event, where she couldn’t find an eager partner.

Yet all along she had nothing but contempt for the guys, the acts, herself. You would have never known.

As a young woman, I often found myself getting taken aside and told things to. Secrets. Heart of hearts confessions. Maybe this happens to everyone. Or maybe it’s because as a writer type, I take a cold eye to human foibles. I find them fascinating and find myself in almost every scenario.

So, unless someone is overtly cruel, dangerously manipulative, or catastrophically dishonest, I try not to judge.

Marilyn wiki

As an adult, an author, people still tell me things, although I’m not sure if they’re secrets per se. I get a lot of love stories from readers – I do. Some of them so beautiful I can hardly stand it. But not every tale told is a candy and flowers routine, a scented envelope filled with blushingly awkward poetry. Many women and men have written to me about their wasted love, the mistakes they’ve made, how they never learned – often until it was too late – how to care for and be cared for by a lover.

I always try to imagine these people when they were young, and track the course of how they got to such a place of loneliness and despair all these years later.

I remember very well the many roads I could have gone down when I was a budding woman – ones that could have taken me far away from a place where I could intersect with love. As I listen in on my children’s conversations with their peers, I have some idea of how today’s teens could one day find themselves typing up a confessional missive of wistfulness and melancholy for a writer just like me.

Marilyn wiki misfits

As my older kids have entered Middle and High School, I’ve watched some of their friends – girls I’ve known since they were feisty, adorable kindergarteners – defiantly embrace a cheap and communal sexuality. I’ve seen the come-hither photos on their “parent-access” social media platforms, and can only imagine what their “friends-only” accounts have to offer. Those are the ones they don’t share with mom and dad, and are under pseudonyms like “girlfly” and “JuSoLit.”

I don’t look down my nose at them for it; I do understand the seduction of exhibitionism. Young women are especially prone to its charms. It promises instant celebrity and seems downright glamorous, sophisticated. It’s a bam-pow shot of power during a time when a girl is desperate for it and boy is desperate for a girl. And since most of the stigma – perhaps rightly – has been removed from sexuality in our culture, there seems to be no downside. What’s wrong with a girl having a little fun? Dipping her toe into the kind of flagrant sexuality that until recently had only been the domain of boys and really, really bad girls.

Marilyn bed free

But I’m sceptical.

It’s not about the overt reputational hit a girl might experience. That kind of finger-wagging doesn’t really go on much anymore. And when it does, it feels weirdly outdated. Like a visit from the ghost of 19th century schoolmarm. Nobody today wants to be called a slut-shamer, after all. It’s simply not woke.

What it is about are the secrets, the whispers; the deep currents of traditional mores – ones that are perhaps even biologically driven, I don’t know – that run beneath the shimmering surface of cultural trends.

If you’ve never driven around a group of kids for a good length of time, I highly recommend it. They forget you’re there, that you’re even human – and say things that are way out of school. Stories that under normal circumstances they would never want an adult – especially a parent – to hear. My long carpools to this or that game or practice over the years have been a real time-suck, and I love to complain about them. But they’ve also made me privy to a treasure trove of information. And from what I’m hearing, there’s plenty of frustration, disappointment and distaste for the current state of sexual affairs among our young people.

I’ve overheard boys lamenting the fact that they’ve seen the breasts of so many girls in their grade – I’m not kidding here. It takes the mystery away, they say.

Another common topic is the mainstreaming of porn. They observe how their most porn-obsessed friends have all but given up on “real” girls. With a smorgasbord of fetishes and base depictions of sexuality available to them at the touch of a keyboard, sex has taken on a cold and abstract quality that they’re trying to resist. Some of the boys have even sworn off porn altogether, although they do fall off the wagon from time to time.

One young man expressed sympathy for a girl whose compromising photos made the rounds at school. He noted how it didn’t seem to bother her, but wondered how she was going to find a guy who really cared about her. What’s more, all the other boys in the car agreed with his assessment. As far as genuine girlfriend material goes, this young woman was now kryptonite.

Marilyn clash

The girls are equally confused about their role in all of this, and quite aware that there’s a disconnect between the “You go, girl!” sexuality that’s part of the greater culture and the way they actually feel about sex. There seems to be no middle ground for them anymore, where a girl can take things slowly, get to know herself and her potential boyfriends. According to the talk I hear, our young women often feel stuck between stamping a big, fat NO! on their bodies, or giving away intimacy like it’s a free raffle ticket. That’s a really tough place to be for a teen girl with raging hormones, and I have no idea how I would’ve handled what they have to contend with today.

Now, I’ll tell you what I don’t hear.

I have never, not once, heard a girl frame public and/or casual sexuality as being a source of liberation or real empowerment. Or a boy speak admiringly of a girl who has eroticized herself, earning her the latest teen moniker of THOT (That Ho Over There). And I’ve had every kind of kid in my car – liberal and conservative, church-going and atheist. Gay and straight. From the most “popular” to the downright nerdy.

Marilyn in glasses

I hate to see our girls giving their hearts away to the lowest common denominator. And at a time when their self-image is taking shape and their dreams are so tender and ripe. I hate to see boys thinking that’s all a girl has to offer. Yet wanting so much more.

A teenage heart is malleable, fragile. Like an infant’s skull.

I sit behind the wheel of my minivan imagining myself in their place, swimming with a cultural tide that could’ve hardened me as a young woman. Made me less resilient.

I say all of this not out of prudery. I’ve written hot and raunchy poetry, watched really dirty movies with glee, and have rarely found myself cringing when it comes to sexual content on page, screen or in real life.

It’s not about “the act itself,” as my sweet and southern mother-in-law calls it. What it is about is understanding – on a deeply cultural, biological and emotional level – what sex means in the context of love, living and growing up. That it’s exciting, sublime, funny, and critical to a successful relationship. That it can eat away at your soul if you treat it with recklessness too often.

Marilyn wiki diamonds

It’s not that a girl, or boy, for that matter, has to be an angel. Or that making mistakes will taint and haunt a young person forever and ever. Leave them unredeemable in the eyes of a person who’s looking for someone to truly care about.

There’s a lot to be said about screwing up, and learning from it. But there’s also a lot of crap out there.

From the boring, spirit-crushing nature of partisan politics and media culture, to most feature films, to our one-man PR machines on social media, to Tinder hook-ups. All of these can push us further away from any real examination of who we are and what we are doing. Most of these things will be fleeting, and we’ll look back on them years from now and see them as a phase, a growing pain from a time when the ground felt like it was shifting beneath our feet.

What isn’t a phase, and hasn’t changed since the dawn of man is the vital, burning and relentless role that love plays in our very survival as a species. It is how and why we care for each other. The vehicle through which we populate our lives, our regions, the whole damned earth. The reason we would give our lives for our child, our spouse, even a total stranger. We underestimate its power at our peril. We risk everything in taking it for granted.

But you don’t have to believe me. Just listen to the teens who ride in my minivan.


“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  –Rumi

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  1. there, beneath the surface of the sparkling waters, is the truth. they know this, even if it hasn’t resonated as conscious thought. they may be woke, as they float on the surface, but will not be awakened to the truth until they explore the still waters beneath.

    wow. talk about bad, awkward poetry. couldn’t help myself. your expression of thought is so much better than mine. thanks.

  2. Oh, come on – don’t be so hard on yourself 😉

  3. I think the problem with all of this is that we have a toxic mix of puritanism with the commercial push of sexuality. That risque photos and sexuality still carry prurient/shock value is what drives bad decision-making among all parties. Sex is still treated as some sort of commodity built on supply and demand and not seen, like aging and death, as a natural part of the human experience.
    We’re such a dysfunctional society. I have a teen as well and while I’m not particularly surprised any more, I am irritated by a culture that has so many contradictory, corrosive messages. The conversations I have with my daughter are about as frank as they can be. My own mother is shocked by what we have to talk about now, but she did me no favors by sending me out into the world uninformed.

  4. You’re right, I think the polarization of our society is happening at multiple levels and it’s hard to navigate for adults, let alone young people.

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