So when I was in my early teens, it was actually hard getting hold of accurate information about sex.
'You can get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat.'
'If you go in the sea, sperm can climb up your leg.'
'My cousin snogged a boy and got an STD.'
'You need to shake the boy's penis like a ketchup bottle.'
'Apparently they explode if you don't get their sperm out.'
The list of myths about sex was a long one. One of my friend's cried for a week because she'd kissed a boy with braces on his teeth and thought she'd caught Aids because he'd given her particularly savage love bite. There was no Google (which might have actually been a good thing) and it was hard to hit your parents up as it felt so damn awkward. Luckily my Mum was a left-wing, feminist and had a lot of books on the subject. I'm pretty sure she knew I was secretly stealing these books and reading them late at night.
So here's my Top 5...
My Secret Garden: Nancy Friday (1973)
Right if you haven't read this book then you definitely need to. In it, Nancy Friday collects together the anonymous fantasies of hundreds of women. Back when I was fourteen, reading this was like going on a massive drug trip (though I didn't know it at the time, I just felt very flushed and excited). The stories are incredibly explicit, even by today's sex-fatigued standards. I seem to remember there's one fantasy about having sex with a gorilla and there are a lot in there about being dominated/forced to do things you don't want to. This book taught me is that it's perfectly okay to have strange thoughts (and just because you fantasise about things doesn't mean you actually want to try them out). I still recommend it to friends today. It's a massive turn on.
The Joy of Sex: Alex Comfort (1972)
Some people cringe when they talk about the couple in this book. It's basically an illustrated guide to sex and has very honest line drawings so you can see where everything goes. The couple are hairy and the guy looks a bit like the guitar player in Kasabian. What's nice about it is that it's full of emotion too so it doesn't make things look highly athletic or intimidating. They look like the kind of couple who just made a big, yummy lentil stew with vegetables from their allotment and are now getting busy in the potting shed. It taught me that sex isn't about how it looks to the outside world, but instead is more about how it feels. I think they might have tried to re-launch it with an updated, less hairy couple but I prefer the original one.
Everywoman: A Gynaecological Guide to Life: Derek Llewellyn-Jones (republished 1998)
This book isn't really about sex but it's more about understanding your body and in particular your fanny. When you're a teenage girl you can have a love/hate relationship with your nether regions. Maybe you find the whole area disgusting because you've started getting pubic hair. Maybe you've recently got your period. Maybe boys are telling you that you should be ashamed. Well this book taught me about female biology. I grew up in a household which was pretty open but you can't expect your Mum to tell you the difference between your labia and your clitoris hood. This book does just that.
All the Jackie Collins novels (various dates)
I've cheated a bit here as my Mum never owned any Jackie Collins books but these were the texts that were passed around in our all girls school. The pages with the sex scenes in them were dog-eared and well thumbed. The sex was explicit and seemed to be fairly passionate. In some ways it wasn't that useful as it set up expectations that all men would talk dirty and have massive chest wigs and be music producers in Miami... but it was definitely sexy to read at the time. Nowadays Jackie Collins seems quaint compared to the sex we see on TV and the average episode of 'Game of Thrones' but Jackie definitely opened my mind to a few things. I wonder whether teenage girls would still find it shocking now?
Fear of Flying: Erica Jong (1973)
I don't think I actually read the whole thing but I remember hearing about the mention of the 'zipless fuck' which is basically having sex with no emotional motive (i.e. like we think men do more of the time). In the book Jong describes it thus:
'The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not "taking" and the woman is not "giving". No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.'
To a fourteen year old the notion that women could have sex and not be worrying about a) whether the man was in love with them b) whether this would be a long term relationship c) whether their body was too fat d) whether they were doing it right... was super appealing. I'm not sure I've ever experienced a 'zipless fuck' as she describes it here but it was good to read about a world where it might happen.
So there we are. Five books. Five different lessons about sex. Sometimes it's good to go back to the written word and get away from all the visual overstimulation that we receive via our eyeballs. Books create suggestions of erotic scenarios rather than offering up the finished article.
And if you haven't read Nancy Friday get a hold of a copy. It's really very good and a reminder that accessing our fantasies when it comes to sex is no bad thing (even if you don't want to have sex with a gorilla just yet).