Q Dear Miss Abigail:
My child appears to be having sex. She is only fifteen years old. What shall I do?
A Dear Dickie:
I’ve been just waiting for a chance to use an excerpt from Dr. Edith Hale Swift’s Step by Step in Sex Education, which is written in the form of a play. Mother and Father start explaining the facts of life to their children at a very early age: Bert is “aged two years and a quarter” and Jane is a mere”three months old” when they begin. The narrative continues on throughout their adolescence, ending when Bert and Jane leave for college.
Unfortunately I think this advice is a little too late for you, but we should all admire Mother and Father for opening up those doors of communication. So let’s listen in on an important conversation between Mother and Jane (who is “now about fourteen”). Perhaps you and a loved one could sit down and read their lines outloud. Too bad there is no stage direction.
1947: Step by Step in Sex Education
JANE. Sue’s mother says it’s very thoughtful of you to have all of us go to the early show, and then come home here for some eats.
MOTHER. Has Sue been to the movies with a boyfriend before?
JANE. Once or twice. But she said her mother always makes her come straight home.
MOTHER. Just as you will be doing tonight. There’s nothing much for young folks like you to do at that hour. All you would have to talk about is school, and ball games, and so forth. You’d have that all said in a half an hour. I’ve known boys and girls to sit around in parks and pet just for lack of something better to do.
JANE. But it’s all right to pet, isn’t it? Lots of girls do. They say the boys will drop you if you don’t.
MOTHER. I’d take it as a sign I wasn’t much of a companion if a boy turned me down because he couldn’t hug me all the time. But as to your question, the answer can’t be a blanket yes or no. Everyone who loves likes to be close to his dear one. Real loving makes petting look dishonest. Certainly the girls that you speak of can’t love every Tom, Dick, and Harry they go out with.
JANE. They say it makes them all trembly and queer inside. Why is that?
MOTHER. That’s a long story, but now that you are beginning to “date,” you’d better understand it. Let’s see how many of my questions you can answer. Why do girls like you get interested in boys, and when they get a bid to the movies, spend hours dressing? You didn’t use to care so much how you looked.
JANE. Why ~ because I’m a woman now, and some day I want to have a home of my own. So I have to choose a husband.
MOTHER. Good beginning. Now, how are you to go about choosing?
JANE. That’s easy. Knowing lots and lots of boys.
MOTHER. Which will take a long time. How will you know when you’ve found him?
JANE. I’ll thrill when he touches me, dream about him, pine away when he doesn’t write, get jealous when he goes with other girls ~ oh, I’ll know we were made for each other.
MOTHER. Not so fast! You’ll be thrilling and dreaming and pining over a dozen, perhaps. Why so?
JANE. You said once that we would be pushed into being lovers and would like it, just as we do when we eat to satisfy our hunger.
MOTHER. Then you expect to enjoy loving and being loved?
JANE. Of course. I just can’t wait.
MOTHER. How do you expect to show your love?
JANE. Oh ~ by hugging and kissing.
MOTHER. I notice you didn’t say petting. Why not?
JANE. Because that’s different. You don’t mean anything when you pet. It’s just fun.
MOTHER. I wonder why it’s fun when it’s just pretending.
JANE. As I tell you ~ the girls say they get all excited inside. Why is that?
MOTHER. I expect it’s the way something inside has of saying, “more ~ more.” That’s where trouble comes in. That something doesn’t seem to know whether you have a husband and a home. All it wants is to get two people closer and closer, until ~ well, one takes the other in that union which we call sexual intercourse.
JANE. Is that the way it happened with that May Jacobs who had to leave school, and then had to have her baby adopted?
MOTHER. I imagine so. There are always a good many who lose their heads. You see, our heads build the dreams for the future, and try to remind us what the plan means. But if we get to wanting something very much, our brains become dulled, so that they can’t think or remember. Our feelings and our wants increase until, finally, we take what we crave. That is why it is called, “losing one’s head.”
JANE. But I am sure I can take care of myself.
MOTHER. Perhaps ~ but how can you tell? After all, you’re no smarter than other girls. You’ll want boys to like you; you’ll try to please them; you’ll enjoy their affectionate ways. Under these conditions, things may get out of hand. There is still much to learn about all this. What I want you to understand now is that young boys and girls can hardly care to get serious with each other and so shouldn’t find themselves reduced to petting to fill up the time. We’ll try to plan interesting things for you all to do together. Tonight I’ll have such good snacks that they’ll want to come again.
JANE. David said he hoped you’d have brownies.
MOTHER. Then brownies it shall be.
Source: Swift, Edith Hale. Step by Step in Sex Education. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947
~ pp. 142-45 ~