Reportage on sexBy Gilda Cordero-Fernando
Philippine Daily Inquirer
NOTA BENE: I did 28 interviews for this three-part series on sex. It was hard work. I hope the information is of some use to parents, guidance counselors and teachers for the protection of children, as is its intention. Many words and harsh truths from the interviewees may be unpalatable to the queasy. Drink plenty of water and consult your physician immediately.
There could be no more opportune time for this article than now. The cover-up of child molestation and abuse charges against the clergy, the pope’s resignation over impending international charges, the One Billion Rising against women’s abuse have made it so relevant.
Almost unbelievable now how women of my Jurassic generation knew zilch about sex. We didn’t even realize, as Mariel Francisco writes in her book, that “we had three holes down there.” And a lot of the other things.
The unperforated hymen was considered “the most precious gift to give one’s husband on the first night,” which was, inevitably, also the wedding night. Until one learned that a hymen could be torn while biking, riding a horse, climbing a tree or through some accident. And so the biker and the horse rider and the tree climber became terribly anxious whether hers indeed was, and dreaded what her future husband would think if she didn’t bleed. Wrecked hymens, however, are the least of girls’ concerns today.
I refuse to make it my job to express moral judgments in these articles, please! All I offer is my research on sex stuff I gathered from the ranks of the deaf, the blind, the lame, and of young, active deflowered girls. Deflowered, what an old hat word!
It is sheer nostalgia to think, as a colleague of mine expressed it, “You lose all the beauty and mystery of the first night if you had all the information or had experienced it beforehand.” First night today may be first noon or first afternoon (after the last class), and not necessarily on a wedding bed.
The word “boyfriend” has also undergone a sea change. But it has not gotten extinct. In my hallowed past, “boyfriend” or “boyfriends” meant those guys who hung around my house on weekends. They came in groups, and I didn’t know if they came for me or my mama’s delicious cakes, but I knew one or two had a secret (or even a declared) crush on me.
When I became a middling matron, I was proud to be often in the company of young friends. Once they asked me how many boyfriends I had in my salad days. I said, “Five.” There was an impressed silence. It wasn’t until much later I realized that “boyfriend” meant you were sleeping with the guy or guys. (Serves me right).
Well, at least, I wasn’t as bad as some people who had been married for several months without ever finding their way into each other. Or the young bride of a professor, who, in his exasperation at her cluelessness, bought her a sex instruction manual and underlined all the parts she was to learn.
Children had many misconceptions about the creation of a baby. Some of them are, or were:
You can become pregnant by kissing. One interviewee said she covered her eyes whenever she saw kissing on TV. It made her feel embarrassed. When a teacher finally straightened it out, she just couldn’t believe her papa and mama could do such a sinful thing!
You can get pregnant by using the same public toilet as the boys. This was told by a JASMS teacher to students in the ’60s, according to someone who had been in her class.
You can get pregnant by swimming in the same pool as the boys. (I thought, said one wife, sperms come out when a boy urinated). The promoter of the swimming pool fallacy was a ’60s Maryknoll teacher, a spinster, whom her former pupils soon identified. Apparently, this carried on for many years until one progressive American nun, who bothered to do some research, wrote with finality on the blackboard: “Sperms cannot swim in chlorinated water.” Nor in the stream, for that matter; the current would sweep the sperms away.
Another convent school teacher wrote “SEX” in large letters on the classroom blackboard. She then warned the girls that it was a word they must never, never utter.
In a Write-Your-Question-and -Teacher-Will-Answer session, the mentor glanced at the scribbled question, blanched, and refused to answer it. The question, it was found out later, was, “Can you get pregnant through the mouth?” Teacher could simply have said, “No,” and prevented speculations.
Among oldsters, talking about sex was bastus; it was something whispered about, making children conclude that it was “dirty” instead of the beautiful thing that it is. Maybe mothers were reluctant to let their daughters know so much about sex lest they become curious and try it. Mothers were probably trying to manage a balance between the child’s innocence and her safety.
“A nun in school said boys were easily aroused, and so when you danced you better have on a camison, not just a bra!” said another woman. “You were responsible for the soul of your partner if he fell into sin.” (The camison was as good as a chastity belt?!)
One well-to-do informant, now in her 80s, related, “My husband and I had eight children. My obstetrician, Dr. Jose Villanueva, was getting exasperated with me because every time he said I had to be ligated, I answered, ‘I’ll ask my confessor first.’
“Another pregnancy was already getting very dangerous. At his wits’ end, Dr. Villanueva told me to tell the priest to deliver the eighth child himself because he was very afraid to do so. On his part, the priest said he was harassed, too, because every time he answered the phone it was me asking whether I could already be ligated.”
Useless resource persons
In time, it was decided by mature wives that you don’t have to deliver sex to your partner to keep him happy. And the time finally came for the act to be associated with love.
Anyway, most mothers were still useless resource persons. When pubescent girls got their menses, they were told what to do with the sanitary napkin, but never what menstruation meant.
One 65-year-old interviewee said that her mother was very self-conscious about sexual matters, and as each of her four daughters got into her menarche, she was just provided a book to read.
“As late as the late ’80s, in our Catholic school in Rizal,” said a former pupil, “the teacher closed the door and some of the windows (?), all very mysterious, saying we would be given ‘sex education.’ So we were all ears. But it was the same old biology lecture. You never learned what sex was from any of those lectures.
“It was always paintings of the uterus, vagina, ovulation. Then there was this magnified view of little white tadpoles swimming around in a pool. The actual penetration was always skipped. So we couldn’t figure out the connection and were left thinking that the penis was just for wee-wee.”
“It was from those we called our pokpok classmates in second year that I learned,” said an older matron. “Like one came to school after the first period and I noticed that she had no bra. She said she came from the movies. Her boyfriend didn’t like her to wear a bra and she told me why. But those girls didn’t tell just everyone. Not the sumbongeras who reported skipping class, or the manangs, or the student leaders.”
“I learned about it by hanging out with boys on the sidewalk of our house,” began a restaurant owner. “I was seven. My mestizo playmate, who was 10, said to me, ‘You want to see k___________?” (the Tagalog word for coitus). It sounded so vulgar.”
“‘What’s that?’ I asked. ‘You mean you don’t know?’ he said mockingly. And then he told me all about how it was done. I was so mad at him! ‘My mama and my papa don’t do such a sinful thing!’ I said. ‘So how did you get born?’ he jeered.”
A guidance counselor recounted that she, her two cousins and her younger brother learned about sex by peeping. They were staying in the big ancestral house of her mother in the province. One of the rooms was often rented out to relatives. And the four of them found four gaps on the room’s wall exactly the right height of their eyes. And they knew exactly what time the couple would do it.
Once, while watching, they giggled so loudly because the two looked like horses. Then they got scared and ran away.
Many girls learned from classmates. “I never had any wrong information from teachers,” said a child psychologist. “In fourth year high school, a classmate, who had a boyfriend she was having an intimate relationship with, would tell me about it blow by blow during sewing class. (Oh, those enlightening home economics classes!) And she seemed so happy, no hang-ups at all. She kept singing, ‘You don’t know what you’re missing till you try it,’ and snapping her fingers. And I thought, that’s something to look forward to.”
Next week: the horrors of innocence
P.S. My grandson, Rafael V. Fernando, is running for University Student Councilor in University of the Philippines Diliman Feb. 28 elections. He is in BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, a quota course where they accept no more than 40 every year, is of cum laude standing, and a University student scholar last semester. A consistent leader and handsome, Rafa is also a founding member of the BBB-band “Happy Bertie.”
Electioneering season is open, so please vote for Rafa and I promise never to campaign again (unless another apo runs for something).