"A chance to imagine, free from the laughter of boys or men"
September 27, 2018 7:52 AM   Subscribe

MeFi's own Countess Elena reflects on how the sex scenes in Jean M. Auel's The Valley of Horses "depicted something I had never imagined: truly safe sex—respectful, reverent, healthy. Auel envisioned a world in which life was dangerous, but men were not, and a woman could lead a life of adventure with a partner, not for him or against him."
[via mefi projects]
posted by ITheCosmos (61 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

I'd be curious to learn what early lessons, good or bad, about sex and relationships other mefites gleaned from childhood reading.

I still deeply regret that I read, as a curious preteen, Gore Vidal's memoir Palimpsest, which includes a scene of him having contemptuous sex with a past-his-prime Jack Kerouac. I guessed correctly that the book would contain Gay Stuff, but it was definitely not a very affirming experience.
posted by ITheCosmos at 7:57 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]

What a great essay!
posted by Greg Nog at 8:00 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


I'd be curious to learn what early lessons, good or bad, about sex and relationships other mefites gleaned from childhood reading.

not reading but i learned a lot about the grotesque horrors of human reproduction from Alien
posted by poffin boffin at 8:00 AM on September 27 [11 favorites]

It's a good essay and I'm glad to have a counterpoint to the many times I mentally shouted "Good God, Jondalar, her 'nodule' is exactly where it was last time you did this."
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:20 AM on September 27 [31 favorites]

I remember reading soooo many sex scenes in books I got from my mom. She didn't choose those books for me - she got them for herself, but I read them too. The only attempt she made to hinder my consumption of that stuff, was to forbid me taking a book before she was finished with it, and to get mad when I did it anyway. It's only in hindsight that I think about how much of the sex was rape scenes. Clan of the Cave Bear was no more rapey than a dozen other books I read in middle school. Valley of Horses at least featured consent, though by the end the pages and pages of sex scenes just got tedious.

When I was old enough to babysit, I started getting even cheesier bodice rippers from the mother of some kids I babysat - there were sacks full in the spare bedroom of that house, and she said I could take as many as I wanted.

Even though I would have hated it, I look back with side-eye on the way Mom never even tried to discuss this kind of reading with me. Perhaps she kept silent because she didn't want my dad to realize what was in those books.
posted by elizilla at 8:23 AM on September 27 [6 favorites]

Valley of the Horses is terrific sex education - especially for girls and young women. It teaches that a female pleasure during sex is a) supposed to happen, and c) it's the partner's duty to help it happen. My first experiences can be summed up as, 'well, that wasn't much fun.' Not awful, just ... ennnnh. But because of Jean M. Auel, I knew that they were supposed to be fun, and had higher expectations of my partners because of that - also that they be respectful, kind, and see me as an equal. I'm so glad that this is what I found on the bookshelf, instead of a lot of what I've seen elsewhere.

Frankly, any person who wants to have sex with women should ALSO read these books. Not all the techniques will work for everyone, but they teach that you should keep trying and pay attention to your partner.

I would recommend that every parent leave a well-thumbed copy somewhere strategic, just a little hidden, for their kids to find.

Also: the Clan of the Cave Bear is a great novel for completely different reasons, and not so ahistorical as you might think when it comes to recent Neanderthal research (I've been reading some popular paleoanthropology). It's completely fictionalised, of course - the neurological differences and culture are (by necessity) pure speculation - but not completely out of whack with the archaeological evidence. The Neanderthals really did have a remarkable stasis in their technology, as compared to anatomically modern humans. They did eat a lot fewer vegetables or small mammals and fish/seafood than is depicted in the book.
posted by jb at 8:37 AM on September 27 [14 favorites]

I read Portnoy's Complaint at a young age and learned a lot about what not to do.
posted by Seamus at 8:38 AM on September 27 [6 favorites]

The first sex scene in a book that I remember reading was in Gordon Parks' The Learning Tree, when I was about twelve; I think that I disappointed the adult who gave me the book, hoping that I'd gain an understanding of what African-Americans went through in the Jim Crow era, because the scene occurs early in the book and I skimmed over the rest of it hoping for more of the same.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:55 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I'd be curious to learn what early lessons, good or bad, about sex and relationships other mefites gleaned from childhood reading.

I stole my mom's copy of Lace off of her night stand. There was a goldfish involved in one scene. I was really really really confused about how things worked for a really long time.

(I was at the oldest, ten. After that I stuck to Stephen King for my age inappropriate reading material.)
posted by librarianamy at 8:55 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

Explicitness ahead:

I read some crime novel in which cowgirl was described as "impaling herself". This was not a good thing.

I'm OK now.
posted by wellred at 8:56 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]

I read Auel at about 10-11, because Mom checked the first one out of the library, and also Heinlein's Number of the Beast which I found on my family's 'books someone gave us and we aren't going to read but the gifter will be looking for them' shelf. That had me going back to the library for more Heinlein. The juveniles which my Dad had such nostalgic affection for (probably why someone had given him that gift) seemed childish and boy-oriented so I devoured the sexy adult ones. Those made a big impact on my views of sex and gender relations, even though it would be a decade before I had any such contact myself.

From the age of 9 on, I read 5-6 books a week during the school year, 10-12 during the summer. The bulk was paperbacks from yard sales and thrift stores because the library was too far to walk and mom would only take me when the books were due, so every three weeks even though I finished them all the first week. About 60% scifi and fantasy, 40% historical romance.

Mostly the ideas I got about sex and love really messed me up later because they boiled down to expecting instant overwhelming true love and attraction. Because you know, it's only REAL if you want to die for them as soon as you've looked into their eyes, and also it's totally based on physical appearance, except when in it's in spite of physical appearance and then it's a magical sacrifice to be in love with someone ugly.

So on the one hand, as a weird looking alien two years younger than my classmates, no one was ever going to love me. Then puberty hit and I got instantly fat, so even more unlikely.

On the other hand, the slightest bit of flirt made me think the guy was utterly in love with me. After all, I knew I was completely undesirable (I was flat out told that pretty much daily from up through high school), so if he was flirting then it was twu wuv. That made for some terrible choices in college, I can tell you that.
posted by buildmyworld at 9:06 AM on September 27 [11 favorites]

I don't remember how old I was when I read Wizard's First Rule, probably far too young for it. In addition to being a subjectively terrible fantasy novel, it featured a bunch of S&M-style torture narrated in loving detail. My folks didn't read it beforehand or they would have never let me have the book.

I'm afraid it's warped me for life a little bit. :)
posted by Alensin at 9:12 AM on September 27 [4 favorites]

Oh yay, bookmarked to read with great enjoyment when I'm not at work. Thanks for this link!

I'd be curious to learn what early lessons, good or bad, about sex and relationships other mefites gleaned from childhood reading.

Pretty much everything I learned from childhood reading about sex and love was bad and has meant I have spent much of my adult life aggressively trying to unlearn.

I read a lot of teenage fiction (Sweet Valley and associated knock-offs), covert Mills and Boons, and a lot of age-inappropriate historical bonkbusters (Phillipa Gregory, Susan Howatch, Colleen McCullough, Gary Jennings et al. - sigh, I know, I know, but no one could have wrested those forbidden volumes from my hot little paws) which warped my understanding of sex a great deal. No one in those books seemed to just have happy sex. It was always extremely messed up.

Oh, happy days spent surreptitiously reading filth while always watching out for the door in case someone walked in. I miss those times.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:24 AM on September 27 [5 favorites]

Thanks so much for the link! I'm a huge, huge Earth's Children fan (except for the last book, which is WTF). I've been a fan since COTCB came out. I'm writing an actual fanfic!

What the series did for me was give me a picture of a world where women held power and their main deity, the Great Earth Mother, was someone who looked like me. Not a male god, but an all-powerful Goddess. And this set me on a lifetime spiritual path of Goddess Paganism.

No matter how silly some of the sex scene dialogue might be, and no matter how painfully bad Land of Painted Caves turned out to be, I love the series, will always love them, and thank Jean Auel for her vision of a more egalitarian world, one that shaped me probably more than any other books I've read.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:36 AM on September 27 [6 favorites]

Jilly Cooper's Riders. I think most members of my family went through it. It was not very explicit, although the cover was quite racy for the era.

Seconding also "learning" a certain amount from Robert Crumb and other underground comics, some of which my parents confiscated.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 9:58 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

The first sex scene I ever read was Arthur Dent and Fenchurch in So Long and Thanks for All the Fish which, as far as these things go, was pretty decent. Enthusiastic consent, fun, and a lack of details that could have corrupted (or enlightened, I guess) my young and deeply confused mind.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:10 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]

Frankly, any person who wants to have sex with women should ALSO read these books. Not all the techniques will work for everyone, but they teach that you should keep trying and pay attention to your partner.

Yeah, I agree - I never read these books, but others in the family did and I flipped through them to find the naughty bits. They gave me a much different - and better - idea of what sex should be like than the other stuff I was reading at the time.
posted by nubs at 10:15 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I only ever read Clan of the Cave Bear and it is seriously blowing my mind to hear that the sequel to a book about Neanderthal rape went on to be regarded as a positive, gentle portrayal of sexuality from a woman's perspective.

I had to double check to make sure I was understanding you were talking about the same author and not just contrasting this book with Auel's work.
posted by straight at 10:24 AM on September 27 [5 favorites]

Came here to say "Lace" and can't believe I've been beaten to it! It definitely gave me a strange perspective but was completely outdone when I discovered filthy filthy Usenet "erotica" in the pre-web days!
posted by some chick at 10:33 AM on September 27 [5 favorites]

I think the one that messed me up the most was reading Robert Anton Wilson in middle school.

There's this concept in Buddhism that each virtue has two enemies — a "far enemy" that's something like its opposite, and a "near enemy" that you get if you aim for the virtue and miss by a hair. Clinging is the near enemy of love. Passivity is the near enemy of equanimity. Pity is the near enemy of compassion.

Well, Robert Anton Wilson's view of sex is the near enemy of sex-positivity. Orgasms for everyone! No judgment or shaming! A wide range of kinks! Gay and trans major characters! Hangup-free polyamory! And yet everything is covered in an oily sheen of I-worked-for-Playboy straight bro logic. Getting turned down is the ultimate humiliation for men, logically impossible for women. Bigger dicks are better dicks. A woman is either a slut or a prude. Lesbians don't exist, except as a comically angry subspecies of prude. Gay men are the ultimate perverts notthattheresanythingwrongwiththat.

And then add a sprinkling of second-hand Timothy Leary. Sex is better high. Prudishness means you're insufficiently spiritually advanced. Good drugs and good sex let you literally reprogram your brain and escape suffering.

It was a weird ride for an 11-year-old — and looking back now, it makes me real glad none of the Wilson-reading dudes I later met in high school and college were interested in me as anything more than a sidekick.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:50 AM on September 27 [25 favorites]

I'm not sure if I read Clan of the Cave Bear or Flowers in the Attic first, though I doubt there is much to choose from there.

I only ever read Clan of the Cave Bear and it is seriously blowing my mind to hear that the sequel to a book about Neanderthal rape went on to be regarded as a positive, gentle portrayal of sexuality from a woman's perspective.

And yet, it really is. There are a lot of issues in the books but they as a whole show lots of positive, consensual sex that the woman enjoys and the man spends effort making sure she enjoys it.
posted by jeather at 10:54 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]

One of the first really graphic sex scenes I encountered, or remember encountering, at something like thirteen or fourteen, was in Mary Gentle’s Grunts!, a satirical fantasy novel about a cliche fantasy world with a cliche Dark Lord versus the forces of Light war going on that is turned in the dark lord’s favor by a bunch of orcs who portal fantasy their way into a collection of modern American military gear and weapons and adopt a modern military organizational structure.

The sex scene involved an female halfling assassin sexing the leader of the orcs, which enough emphasis on the difference in size between the two that at the time I didn’t believe it would be possible (I’ve learned enough to know how naive that was in the last 20 years) and that now makes me think Mary Gentle wishes she could be a halfling.
posted by Caduceus at 11:03 AM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I only ever read Clan of the Cave Bear and it is seriously blowing my mind to hear that the sequel to a book about Neanderthal rape went on to be regarded as a positive, gentle portrayal of sexuality from a woman's perspective.

Clan of the Cave Bear isn't a book about Neanderthal rape. It's a 400 page book in which rape does occur in one brief section which neither glorifies nor glosses it. It's, frankly, a damned sensitive portrayal of the experience of sexual assault from the victim's point of view. The sequels go further to talk about rape as anathema - though the characters are also shown to have a double standard in regards to homo sapiens versus Neanderthals (note: the characters, not the authors).

The rest of Clan of the Cave Bear - the other 396-something pages - are about growing up, mother-daughter relationships, not fitting in, defying traditions and taboos, but then making your own place, love of parents, siblings and children - and lots and lots of botany and hunting. It's a full-fleshed out story, with good and bad people and complex people, and people who let bad things happen because of tradition/authority, and people who don't change easily nonetheless changing somewhat. It's also a book about the shared humanity of two very difference species - and valuing both of those humanities, which is a theme picked up in the sequels.

If you think the book is "about rape", you may wish to give it a re-read.

As for why I first read the series: I actually started with Clan of the Cave Bear when I was about 10 - and I read it because I flipped it open randomly to the scene where Ayla (the main character) is being confronted about her defiance of taboos against women hunting or touching weapons - and these kinds of taboos have not only existed in the past but continue to exist. That's what grabbed my attention: I would read anything that had a girl or woman doing something she wasn't supposed to do because she was female. And that is much more of what the book is "about" than the rape.
posted by jb at 11:04 AM on September 27 [25 favorites]

I had a much older sibling who was in college when I was eight, and I would occasionally stay with her on weekends. I would read pretty much anything I could find, but boy Delta of Venus left a mark. A weird one.

A lot of the books I found in their house left a mark. Jerzy Kosinski, too.
posted by 41swans at 11:18 AM on September 27

The older I get the more grateful I am that right around when I was getting interested in sex, my mom left Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel books laying around the house. They are sex positive and kink positive and queer positive and boy do I love them, even to this day.
posted by bridgebury at 11:58 AM on September 27 [10 favorites]

The Kushiel books are like the most luxurious chocolates. It’s a bad idea to eat too many at once, but they are very comforting.

Imagine learning about sex reading Laurel Hamilton — you would probably end up with anxieties that you might accidentally have six with a clan of werevampires on the way to the grocery store or cinema.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:18 PM on September 27 [9 favorites]

The Kushiel books are like the most luxurious chocolates. It’s a bad idea to eat too many at once, but they are very comforting.

100 times this. <3
posted by Fizz at 12:41 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

Imagine learning about sex reading Laurel Hamilton

The next graphic sex scene I encountered after Grunts! was the first sex scene in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter books a few years later. Book 3 I think? I don’t remember a sex scene before the first time she bones that vampire, which I’m pretty sure was in the third one.

Come to think of it, when was the first time I read about a person having sex with just another person? Wizard’s First Rule is definitely possible, assuming there was a real sex scene in there and not just the magic S&M torture. I don’t recall anymore because I thought it mostly sucked.
posted by Caduceus at 12:48 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

In the Pern books, if your dragons fuck, you have to fuck too. Have to.

Nobody really looks through the books that get donated to the fifth-grade classroom.

I remember as a fantasy-reading kid seeing the Kushiel books in a catalog and knowing right away that there were a couple levels of "fantasy" going on there, and that I would certainly like to see what it was all about. But I didn't have it in me to ask my parents to order them. I'm sort of pleasantly surprised to hear that they aren't just some Gor shit.
posted by atoxyl at 12:55 PM on September 27 [9 favorites]

Oh, also, I'm not sure if this counts, but I learned about menstruation by reading Carrie.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:16 PM on September 27 [4 favorites]

My older sister won a prize for top Latin student when she graduated from high school. I think she won some other prizes but this particular one was awarded in the form of a gift certificate to a bookstore. It was meant to be spent on post secondary education schoolbooks. She used the award certificate to pick up the first five or six novels in the Gor series.

Previous to that my only exposure to sex literature was reading my dad's Playboy magazines, and various torture scenes in the Tarzan novels, which I found quite erotic. The fantasy world of Gor was pretty darn good, but limited. My middle sister painstakingly wrote out enormous long passages from the book where the slave girl became a slave boy, and we all agreed were a vast improvement.

By the time I encounter "Clan of the Cave Bear" I was in my mid or late teens. It was another book I shared with my sisters. We all thought the first book was great and loathed Ayla's Neanderthal mate, and did not consider the rape scene erotic. We were excited and delighted to pick up the second book in the series, "Valley of the Horses" speculating that it would be about Ayla's son Duroc, since Ayla's story was obviously complete, and Duroc's story could continue the conflict between species/races/cultures.

It was about Jondalar. In our opinion Jondalar was the most boring guy on the Paleolithic earth. It felt like Ayla lost all her agency after she teamed up with Jondalar and all the great inventions that she came up with got really, really old. They set us off sniggering with disbelief. It really felt like reading someone else's wish fulfillment fantasy that it was impossible to identify with. And we were big on wish fulfillment fantasy, so our condemnation says a lot.

I was older than that before I discovered romance novels, one stiflingly hot summer in Toronto, where there was nothing at all to do except lurk inside out of the sun and read second hand 1950's through 1970's. I averaged three a day. Some of them were good stories. Dumb heroine is menaced by a villain who drives her to near madness and utter despair by his misuse. But the last few pages were always a disappointment because she neither died tragically, nor got the gumption to flee from her abuser, but instead gave up and allowed herself to be annihilated. Like the Gor novels, it was pretty easy to just fix them with a few simple editing jobs, like having her puke on the very last page when he proposes marriage instead of falling into his arms.

I think perhaps starting by reading novels with premises of magic - E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis, T.H.White prepared us to understand that there are large portions of books that you accept as unreality even if other factors, sibling rivalry, mutual support, being outcast etc. are based on real human situations. Even the Playboy magazine started with the assumption that women were supposed to enjoy sex and what was the fun for anyone if she didn't? Rape scenes in books were on par with the scene where the hero gets shot, exciting and dramatic and there for the purpose of making me, the reader, angry, the same as when the bad guy murders the hero's mentor or commits any other atrocity.

It was just as easy to understand that some women found that overbearing, misogynistic hero appealing, as it was to understand why Ayla found Jondalar appealing. There's no accounting for tastes... But I am being unfair. I think long before any of us encountered "Valley of the Horses" our romantic and sexual tastes had been set outside of the mainstream.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:28 PM on September 27 [7 favorites]

I remember two, pilfered from my mom:
1. I just read one, uh, foreplay? scene where a man berates a woman for being "ugly" while losing his erection, which he blamed on the cold?, so yay?, they're even now? ughhhhh. Which was suuuuuper in line with my nascent impression of straight relationships being mean, antagonistic and zero-sum. I don't know what this book was, and I have some gross suspicions, so I don't really want to know.

2. was a chess-themed adventure with occasional boning called The Eight. I came across it as an adult, and it was goofy, but I still enjoyed it. Totally missed that the lead's mentor was extra gay. I'd kind of shipped them as a kid. Oops.

Back to COTCB, I don't recall coming across it as a kid. And as an adult, all I heard were the charges of Mary Sue / Gary Stuism, which may be due to the last book, perhaps. This discussion is making me want to check it out, belatedly.
posted by cage and aquarium at 1:33 PM on September 27

Clan of the Cave Bear isn't a book about Neanderthal rape. It's a 400 page book in which rape does occur in one brief section which neither glorifies nor glosses it...
The rest of Clan of the Cave Bear - the other 396-something pages - are about growing up, mother-daughter relationships, not fitting in, defying traditions and taboos, but then making your own place, love of parents, siblings and children - and lots and lots of botany and hunting.

I'm sure that's true. I read it when I was young and the part where she's stuck in that situation with the bad neanderthal was so horrifying that I think it cast a shadow over the rest of the book for me. I'm not sure I even finished it.
posted by straight at 2:36 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

Serious warping and confusion from 9th grade reading of Atlas Shrugged, and later reading Zap comic books (what was it with S Clay Wilson & Pirates?!) and the collected works of De Sade.
Didn't help that 7th grade sweet heart was experiencing circle jerk parties with his wrestling coach & team. Didn't find out about this till 40 yrs later though. Bizarre ripples of unacknowledged dissonance.
So looking forward to exploring sex-positive titles shared here.
posted by Mesaverdian at 2:46 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I thought the last 2 EC books sucked:

Jondalar leering at his now teenage sister when he 1st returns home in The Shelters of Stone...EEEEWWW!!!!

All through the series it's made clear that the Zelandonii are especially repulsed by the clan; when J 1st realizes that Ayla was raised by them and has given birth to a N_/CM child his reaction is disgust.
When he tells his brother in SoS that there are Clan nearby Joharran's response is essentially "hey cool! maybe we can trade with them"

If the Zelandonii consider N/CM's "abominations" and sex with Neanderthals especially disgusting and taboo, (most so of the CM groups)why was Brukevar's mother allowed to go through First Rites?

I asked Auel this when she came to speak at the 92nd st Y 16 years ago and she didn't give me a straight answer.
posted by brujita at 2:55 PM on September 27 [5 favorites]

you might accidentally have six with a clan of werevampires on the way to the grocery store or cinema.

I meant “sex,” but, in later Laurel Hamilton novels, it might happen six times. On the way to the grocery store or the cinema.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:00 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

Halloween Jack, what you learned about was period shaming.
posted by brujita at 3:08 PM on September 27

Thank you all so much! This means a lot to me.

When I thought of writing this essay, I believed I would write a lot more about how good Reindeer Moon is. If you only want to read one prehistoric-fiction novel, go with that one. But it's not a mystery as to why that book was never hugely popular in the same way. Young women can enjoy imagining themselves in the world of Auel, but almost no one would want to imagine themselves in the world of Thomas. As I've gotten older, I've gained an understanding of why that simple enjoyment was valuable.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:12 PM on September 27 [10 favorites]

Ayla in general is a quintessential Mary Sue anyway. She’s tall, has naturally wavy blonde hair that falls almost to her waist, a knockout body, and is gorgeous but genuinely believes she’s dog-ugly. She has an encyclopedic memory with almost perfect recall, goes from barely being able to talk to Jondalar to literally becoming fluent overnight after a dream sequence, and has a pet horse, a pet lion and a pet wolf with what seems to be a magical ability to communicate with them. She’s incredibly skilled and apparently a Cro Magnon Millionaire because of all the awesome stuff she handmade over the years of being isolated. Oh, and she’s a VIRGIN but not REALLY because she had sex through no fault whatsoever of her own, so that means Jondalar gets all the fun of being able to initiate a virgin with his unusually large dick but without any of the hassle.

She’s so Mary Sue that they should change the name of the term to being an Ayla.

And don’t get me wrong, I really liked the books (except for the travesty of the last one) but jeez Louise. If these books taught me anything growing up, it was how to pick out an obvious wish-fulfillment fantasy even if I didn’t know the literary term for it.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:10 PM on September 27 [15 favorites]

Oh, and then there’s the part about how Jondalar almost dumped her for hooking up with a black guy. Holy buckets, I haven’t read that book in years (The Mammoth Hunters) and it never once occurred to me to consider the cultural implications of that plot point because in the book, the Mamutoi tribe never made a thing out of Ranec’s skin color and in fact were set up to be an object lesson in diversity for Jondalar, but OMG.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:21 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Judith Krantz yet. She was right up there with Clan of the Cave Bear and Thorn Birds.
posted by matildaben at 4:52 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I’m glad someone beat me to the Pern books - those were my first introduction.
posted by samthemander at 5:26 PM on September 27

Oh, and then there’s the part about how Jondalar almost dumped her for hooking up with a black guy.

It's been a long time since I read that book, but I recall it as they broke up for some reason, so she started hooking up with the new guy while Jondolar has to listen to them getting it on from the other side of the hut. Eventually she hooks back up with Jondolar and is thrilled to rediscover his enormous schlong.

I liked the books when I read them, but found them increasingly repetitive in the details and I never read the last one or two in the series.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:38 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]

I was of the era that Judy Blume's Seventeen was *the* smut book of like, seventh grade. We all read it, and also Flowers In The Attic (et al, all of the VC Andrttews incesty stuff) and a very large stack of cheap paperback romances from Harlequin. There was also Lady Chatterly's Lover (I was bookish) and The Story of O, an entirely innocent-looking white paperback that did give any hint of the spice inside. The Joy of Sex was nonfiction but charmingly illustrated with what looked like watercolors. We didn't have the internet because it was the early eighties. I would have LOVED the internet.
posted by which_chick at 5:44 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

The tribe had a big celebration and Ranec asked Ayla to hook up, which was a normal and accepted part of the whole culture, and Jondalar was jealous and acted like a huge baby about it. He refused to talk to her and started avoiding her, and after trying to resolve things, she was like 🤷‍♀️ “What did I do?” while Ranec was only too happy to console her.

The whole thing is just pretty much like, for an attempt at making an enlightened matriarchal society, there sure is an awful lot of woman-ownership and status around women’s sexual performance still going on.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:47 PM on September 27 [5 favorites]

So I'm just going to list out the most prominent books (and comics) that I got my hands on from elementary school up through Jr. High that I probably shouldn't have. Someone at the local library was REALLY good at purchasing...interesting works back in the mid-eighties.

1) The first 5 or 6 Elfquest anthologies.
2) Camelot 3000
3) The Sleeping Beauty books written by Anne Rice
4) The Lasher books, also by Mrs. Rice

Honestly I'm shocked I managed to have anything like a normal relationship with sex at all.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 6:00 PM on September 27 [4 favorites]

ayla had been socialized to "fulfill a man's needs" when given a signal and she thought Ranec's "i want you, come to my bed" was a command she couldn't refuse.

I also wonder why mamut couldn't have a name/number ceremony for rydag, when it wasn't something only done at summer meetings
posted by brujita at 6:17 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I was way too young...somewhere in elementary school, mid-60s... when my dad left me in the truck for a few minutes. Bored, I opened the glove compartment and found a paperback called "The Zipper Girls." It was one of those throw-away drug store potboilers from the early sixties. I have no idea why he had it, as it was very unlike him. But I turned to a page and came upon a steamy lesbian scene that has informed my taste in erotica ever since.

Yeah, I was way too young.
posted by lhauser at 7:49 PM on September 27

I meant “sex,” but, in later Laurel Hamilton novels, it might happen six times. On the way to the grocery store or the cinema.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:00 PM on September 27

And every guy would be tall, muscular, gorgeous, with freakishly long hair, and weirdly colored eyes. Women, if any happened to be around would also be tall, georgeous, and heavily muscled. However, you wouldn't fuck them because ewww. They would be allowed to guard you. However, even though you're a tiny person barely able to meet the Disneyland height requirements, you're able to take down 50 supernatural creatures, but all your guards, including women, must be large, muscular, gorgeous, with long hair. Am I repeating myself? I do that a lot. It's amazing how many pages you can churn out with copy and paste. Also, you have no female friends because all women fight over men, are viciously jealous of you, and aren't tall, muscular, gorgeous long-haired men who will kill to fuck you. And you're kinda into bestiality.

Umm, topic! Some weird little super-explicit S&M books that I found under the bed of a friend's parents. Not traumatizing at all. Nope. Totally well-adjusted.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 7:58 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

I guess I was pretty lucky... as a tween dude, we were visiting my grandmother's house and she told me I could choose one book from her bookshelf, and COTCB was the one that looked feasibly interesting to my speculative-fiction-loving tastes. (A short conversation between my mother and grandmother ensued, out of earshot, before my choice was approved, of course.)

Then later on, my reaction upon exposure to actual pornography was Okay, this looks hot for *me*, but I cannot possibly imagine that it's what a woman would want from sex and The Valley of The Horses at least painted an alternative picture.
posted by XMLicious at 8:59 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

I horrified my ex, who had assumed these were boring books his parents read, that nope, chock full of sexytimes.

I do remember rolling my eyes when Ayla discovered the umpteenth thing..using flints, or taming horses, or brain surgery or something..and thinking OH COME ON. One woman did not discover/ invent everything.

I once worked with a woman who named her two cats Jondalar and Ayla, and refrained from asking if the male cat was unusually endowed.

It seems weird to make the guy with an enormous schlong, so big that most women couldn't handle it, your official Ritual Devirginizer. I mean, have pity on the poor girls, sheesh.
posted by emjaybee at 9:23 PM on September 27 [2 favorites]

I'd be curious to learn what early lessons, good or bad, about sex and relationships other mefites gleaned from childhood reading.

Books my Dad had lying around the house that I mostly read way too young:
  • Jean M. Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear series) - this has been thoroughly covered.
  • Piers Anthony (Xanth series, Incarnations of Immortality series, Apprentice Adept series, Virtual Mode, Firefly) - Anthony has some seriously iffy ideas about women & relationships, is waaaaaay too interested in normalizing sexual relationships between adult men and young vulnerable teenage girls, and portrays a fair of bit of sexual coercion. Firefly is an "erotic" horror novel - I recall very few details, just that I found it deeply disturbing.
  • Anne Rice (Mayfair Witches series, The Mummy) - So much rape and incest.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley (Mists of Avalon) - Literally the only distinct thing I remember about this book is that I was really uncomfortable with the sex scene between 13 year old Arthur & his older sister Morgaine.
  • Ann McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern series, The Talents series) - Contempt for homosexuality, idealization of strict gender roles with regards to sexuality & relationships. In one story an adult man "falls in love" with his friends' 12 year old daughter and later begins a sexual relationship with her after she turns 18. Some loving and respectful relationships at least.
  • Robert Heinlein (tons) - These were a weird mix of positive and negative. I came out of reading these with a pretty relaxed attitude towards sex-outside-of-serious-long-term-relationships, homosexuality, and polyamory (in a time & place where that was not yet culturally supported). So that was good at least. Heinlein was pretty sexist though - sometimes in a "benevolent sexist" way, but not always. More incest.
  • Elizabeth A. Lynn (Chronicles of Tornor series) - Incest again, but between adult siblings who didn't grow up together, so not as bad I guess? Very positive portrayals of polyamory and loving homosexual relationships between both men and women.
I'm super glad that as a teen I was never approached sexually by an adult, because the books I'd been reading were definitely not sending the message that any adult man who is pursuing a teenage girl has serious problems and is not a healthy person to be around. I think Heinlein, Lynn and (to a lesser extent) McCaffrey presented the most positive portrayals of sex and relationships that I encountered as a kid, with the first two counteracting McCaffrey's more conservative social politics. But wtf is up with all the incest in 1960s-1980s Sci-Fi/Fantasy?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:19 PM on September 27 [3 favorites]

after ayla dumps ranec he ties the knot with the pale redhead he had charmed and knocked up (when she was supposed to be focused on initiating pubescent boys) the year before.
posted by brujita at 10:25 PM on September 27

Mike Hammer was my introduction to fictional sex. Nothing stayed with me though. I read James Michener novels around the same time. They did stay with me.
posted by unliteral at 10:45 PM on September 27

Halloween Jack, what you learned about was period shaming.

Well, sure, and a lot about how socially brutal high school is. (Stephen King taught high school English before Carrie was published, and although he doesn't say that he was bullied himself, he has gone back to that well more than once; he's said that he based Carrie White on two of his classmates.) But, before reading the book, I literally didn't know what tampons were for, and had no one that I felt comfortable asking for that sort of information.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:46 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]

Ayla in general is a quintessential Mary Sue anyway

Best description I've heard is that she's the Mitochondrial Eve of Mary Sues.
posted by Catseye at 7:08 AM on September 28 [9 favorites]

I am one of what is probably an extremely small percentage of women who actually did not read either Judy Blume's Seventeen or Flowers In the Attic as a girl. In my case, a single passing comment from the teacher in a Sunday School class when I was twelve had more of an overriding impact on me, making me hyper-aware of the sexy stuff in books and making me want to avoid it, so I sort of just blocked it all out or stopped reading if it was getting too steamy.

The single and sole instance I can recall reading anything in my teens where the characters had sex was in a historical fiction novel about the Medieval "Children's Crusade", which mainly followed a couple boys and a girl who got caught up in the crusade. The boys have a monk traveling with them who's looking out for them, and the girl's older sister comes along to keep an eye on her; the older sister is this fantastically earthy free-love hippie type, and she ends up hooking up with the monk and that gets him to lighten up a little. The sex was consensual - she even ends up being the seducer - and she ended up being my favorite character; before they hooked up, the monk would lecture her about chastity and the scriptures and her attitude was more like, "whatever, dude, I think God also wants us to enjoy ourselves now and then too."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:48 AM on September 28

I read a lot of Cosmopolitan as a tweenage boy.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:28 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]

ayla had been socialized to "fulfill a man's needs" when given a signal and she thought Ranec's "i want you, come to my bed" was a command she couldn't refuse.

Yeah, like this part actually is one of the most memorable from the books and makes me love Auel a little more because she was totally talking straight to me, as a woman who was socialized that men’s desire was my problem. The entire Ranec arc was FUCKING AMAZING, because she felt like Ranec was a nice guy and she didn’t hate him and he wanted to have sex with her so she probably should, and everyone kind of wanted them to get married so maybe she should, and then she’s like “hey no, actually I can do what I want and if what I want is to run off with the Zelandonii with an awesome penis who I care more about I can just do it.” And meanwhile Jondalar is having to learn to deal with his jealous feels - which, his jealousy is always presented as a freakish thing he needs to learn to deal with, it’s why he got exiled in the first place. And he had to be like “no, you sleeping with Ranec is no one’s problem but mine, and I still love you and want to be with you and that other stuff is not important.”

Which - as a girl growing up in the 80s and 90s that was insanely fucking radical, and god bless her for it.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on September 28 [8 favorites]

Oh man I remember being a tween/early teen reading Valley of the Horses hiding under my friend's bed at her house while she rolled her eyes at my naïveté and kept an eye out for her parents walking in on our salacious books.

I feel like VotH and X-Files fanfic (Hello, mid/late 90s adolescence) really set me up unusually in my literature-based sex ed with a whole lot of erotica written by women for women. My mom read a lot of bodice rippers and I certainly flipped through them looking for the good parts but they never really did it for me - I liked the fanfic universes and VotH type stuff. It's like how so many teenage boys get weird ideas about how things should be from hardcore porn, except in reverse.
posted by olinerd at 12:54 PM on September 28 [2 favorites]

As an impressionable youth I read Fanny Hill, which has a surprising amount of female empowerment. Plus it’s funny. Recommended.
posted by kinnakeet at 2:21 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]

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