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Taming the Wild Beast | 2016 | Kest, Who Stole Daniel


The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.  

-Oscar Wilde

The Birds and the Bees

I have no idea how this guy ever had sex...

When I was about the age when I would much rather have been leaping headfirst into piles of leaves, my father waylaid me to have The Talk. I am not sure what possessed him to choose this particular moment. I had not expressed sudden interest in young ladies. My interest had existed since I was at least in kindergarten, sneaking guilty pecks under the jungle gym. Too soon after that, my older brother had discovered and subsequently shared purloined hardcore magazines, but their existence was an open secret in our household; he couldn't have decided I was in need of paternal intervention because I had skimmed Penthouse Forum the same year I read Goosebumps.

I don't know that he ever took my brothers aside for a similar conversation. Given his nervousness in proceeding, asking me if I knew the differences between boys and girl, I would guess at least my older brother had been spared.

I dodged his intention with intellectual technicality. I rattled off a little bit about secondary sexual characteristics, hair where there was no hair before, the artifice of the puberty I would undergo in a few years. He released me to go play because I evidently knew enough for the time being. We both felt relieved I gave him a convenient out.

In the best of circumstances, I couldn't then have articulated the questions to which I might have needed answers. I was still half a decade from having a kiss that counted. I might have wanted sex, but it was as abstract as wanting a paycheck without caring for the work that would go into a job. I knew the rough mechanics of sex from the pilfered magazines-though I was baffled by the woman spreading her ass cheeks, filled with clipart lightning bolts more suggestive of a hemorrhoid ad-and didn't particularly want to do anything like that. I more or less wanted to kiss a girl and somehow thereby achieve orgasm, whatever that might end up being.

Much of my solitary sexual education came from an HBO documentary series titled Real Sex. While the initial appeal was the promise of unclad breasts, they were an anodyne to the aggressive overproduced and coifed porn magazines. The series lived up to its premise, showing actual sexuality: messy, weird, wrinkly, and once involving a clown orgy. It was not French manicures and always primed partners but cuddling and intimacy. While the show wouldn't let serious conversations interfere with boobs and giggling, it taught me that sex was more complex and fun than porn and playground rumors had led me to believe.

It is not as though I believe that pornography took the luster off sex. It is more that porn had almost nothing to do with sex, any more than Cheetos can be considered a meal and not simply an experience in hyper-stimuli. I didn't fall into the straw man argument of trying things from porn any more than I assumed I could morph into a Power Ranger; it was clearly a contrived fantasy world with unique rules and it was not one for which I cared much.

When I subbed, a health teacher told between laughs how she would have the students anonymously put questions in a box with the understanding that she would answer them publicly. Few children abused this opportunity. She told how, awash in gross ignorance of human biology, one student had asked if one could kill the HIV virus by drinking bleach after. Her eyes bugged recounting how she had to tell a room full of teenagers that it would kill their HIV only so much as drinking bleach would kill them.

Though I can recall few moments of ignorance that egregious, I would have benefitted from a nonjudgmental adult answering questions, once I found the proper vocabulary to have them.

In my junior year of high school, I used to pay a weekly visit to the school counselor during my lunch period to talk over my post-traumatic stress from a mugging. (I recall this watered down therapy to be somewhat in vogue among my peer group in high school, though that seems unlikely misremembering in hindsight.) I once reached out to him to assure me that, in essence, I should keep it in my pants when it came to my then girlfriend. Perhaps seeing in me vicarious experience, he advocated that I should bang her well and good-using a condom, of course. I was not satisfied with his answer, in that he didn't give the response I wanted. On the other hand, this man also suggested that I abandon my drug-free lifestyle and try some hallucinogens-making sure to get my psychotropic knowledge from "the good pot" so I didn't have a bad trip-so he may not have been the best font of advice for me.

Though my hands roamed the underclothes of too many young ladies once I started dating, I was as adamant as I was terrified about the prospect of having proper sex. I needed a sexual education well before I attempted anything sexual. I don't just mean middle school sex ed, putting prophylactics on fruit and watching The Miracle of Life. I needed to understand how to be a good lover not simply so I could spare a few women inadequate sex but so I might have waited longer. (I only acceded to sex because my then girlfriend and I could find no one to satisfy the other party despite our frenzied teenage efforts.) I couldn't have accepted the advice I needed from a family member, though my mother did once explain in front of a mortified friend a trick involving tracing the alphabet. I am not sure anything could have derailed or much impeded my raging adolescent hormones, but it would have been nice to have some technique and tenderness, toward myself if not my partners. (After I first fumbled an attempt at sex, I cried for three days because I didn't want to have lost my virginity. Said girlfriend soothed me on the third day by pointing out that this didn't actually count, so I rewarded her by making it count. The genuine attempt inspired in my awe rather than depression.)

I fantasize what I would tell my former iteration if I could transmit advice back through time. What could save that boy from heartache and awkwardness? Once the basics were handled, I would tell him not to invest so much of himself in relationships that were bound to be temporary by their nature, but I know he wouldn't listen. Like the stereotype of a woman, he believed that sex equated to love and so gave himself utterly to women with whom a passing dalliance would have been healthier. A quixotic part of me thinks to tell him to save himself for marriage, but even Amber concedes that she wouldn't have easily slept with a thirty-year-old virgin. The man who waits most of his life to try sex had better either be very religious or asexual, and I am neither. Anything else reads as pathological. Realistically, I wasn't going to wait much longer than falsely believing I was thoroughly in love and, I suppose, about old enough to try sex. I can fault the particulars: by tomboy best friend turned girlfriend, whom I had crushed on intermittently since seventh grade, during a Godzilla movie marathon. First times are built of far less. Had it not been her, it would likely have been the next girl I could convince myself I loved.

If I didn't sleep with my high school girlfriend, I would have been more reluctant about sleeping with the next girl, meaning I would almost certainly have not slept with the next one. Without the cement of sex, I wouldn't have stayed in those relationships when things got rocky because I wouldn't have felt as strong an investment in their success. Without losing my virginity when I did, how I did, with whom I did, I don't know when the next stop on the Sex Train would have been. Much of my life switched to the express once I started doing anything more than occasional heavy petting. I couldn't so easily justify frivolous canoodling that wouldn't result in love and/or sex.

Perhaps sex is simply something I had to stumble into, since I would not allow any force to save me from the ungainliness of the learning experience.

Soon in Xenology: Art.

last watched: The Martian
reading: The Ersatz Elevator
listening: Regina Spektor

Taming the Wild Beast | 2016 | Kest, Who Stole Daniel

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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