In 1966, when I was eight years old, my mother gave me a little pink book, A Baby is Born. In great detail, and with lots of close-ups and diagrams, it described exactly what a sperm and egg looked like and how they joined together, with subsequent portraits of the developing fetus.
How did the sperm meet the egg to begin with?
"Egg Sex" from Susie Bright's Sexual Reality
The book said simply, "Mommy and Daddy love each other very much. They lie close together and, after performing intercourse, the sperm is on its way to fertilize the egg."
There was no accompanying diagram, so I made what was probably my first earnest attempt to read between the lines of any piece of literature. I gleaned nothing.
Twenty-five years later, I was pregnant, and this time I went out and bought my own collection of pink and blue books bulging with instruction for prospective parents. Of course, there was a great deal to learn about fetal development and breast-feeding techniques, but I couldn't help but check each index under "Sexuality— during and after pregnancy."
All the manuals, from Dr. Spock to the latest yuppie know-it-all, followed an almost identical script: "Mommy and Daddy love each other very much..." Following this vein, the paragraphs on sexuality gave advice that was unexplicit, vague, and almost threatening in their avoidance of the nitty-gritty.
Steeped in a romance-novel notion of marriage, sexual advice to pregnant moms— whether revealed in print or in the strange silences at the doctor's office— gives short shrift to the dramatic changes in women's sexual physiology and desires. Great emphasis is placed on how to cope with the ambivalent husband's feelings towards his wife's body and the burden pregnancy puts on their normal sexual routine.
None of these books was written in the sixties. All of them glow with feminist and holistic approaches to mothering, supporting working moms, refuting the sexist prejudices against breast-feeding, and offering all manner of enlightened positive self-esteem for the mother-to-be.
I began to wonder if anyone knew what went on in women's sexual lives during pregnancy. The most definitive statement the books managed was: Sometimes she's hot, sometimes she's not. This wouldn't be the first time that conventional medicine had nothing to contribute to an understanding of female sexuality.
Meanwhile, my clit started to grow...
Continued in Sexual Reality, "Egg Sex"
Photo: Michael Rosen, 1989