My Side

Back in the early ’60s, several years after my father died, I was a college coed experiencing dating and falling in love.

We young women in that pre birth control pill era were supposed to be virgins on our wedding night. At the very least, we MIGHT have sex with our fiancés. A girl who had sex with a boyfriend was making a mistake. If, God forbid, she had sex with more than one boy, she was a slut.

My bookish group of friends, both in high school and college didn’t talk about sex. It was assumed that our relationships were chaste. We weren’t girls who giggled behind closed doors about “going all the way” or which sexual positions were most satisfying. Boys were in separate dorms.  They were people we dated, not friends with whom we hung out and shared everyday experiences.

My sexual education began with a frank talk from my mother when I started my period. It was accurate but involved hand gestures that left me horrified at the prospect of ever letting a man touch me below the waist. I’m sure that was the intended effect.

When I got to college I went to my biology teacher with my questions. He gave me a booklet with illustrations in a question and answer format. I’m still amazed I had the guts to go to him. But by then I was less naïve and started allowing in the idea that some day I would actually want to have sex. I wanted to know about protection, anal sex, and VD.

Neither of these talks urged me not to “give it away.” No one told me about the powerful urges that sexual desire arouses or that sex was pleasant. No one told me I had value and an ability to give happiness that should be treasured and shared with some extraordinary person.  All I knew was that a mistake would shame my family and me. I knew that girls who got in trouble were sent away.

Eventually that girl was me. Once my virginity was gone, I couldn’t recapture the feeling that a kiss or a little feel would take me through months or even years of a monogamous relationship. I had sex with several boys in my late teens and early twenties.  Ir’s not an uncommon occurrence today. But this was in the pre-pill days, and eventually my stupidity caught up with me.  I got pregnant.

My mother guessed my condition when I began throwing up in the mornings. I finally had to fess up. Arrangements were made. I was sent away to an unwed mother’s home in Cleveland. My family thought I had a summer job in Chicago. Childbirth was never explained. I was alone.  I gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, who were adopted. The process was a horrible experience. You’d think I would have learned.

But no, a few years later when I was in graduate school I got pregnant again.  By now the pill was in use but I wasn’t taking it because I couldn’t acknowledge that I was having sex regularly. Maybe if I denied it, I wouldn’t feel the shame. Or maybe I felt I’d be more careful this time. A single woman getting the pill, even on a college campus, was still a covert operation.  My experience with doctors, all of whom were male, was unpleasant. They were preachy and judgmental, at least from a strong headed young woman’s perspective.

This time my boyfriend and I arranged a back alley abortion. Really. Basically a man in a coat and tie gave me a D and C at a seedy motel. I was sore, bleeding, and smelled like witch hazel but the deed was done This time I learned.  When I began dating the man who would become my first husband, I started taking the Pill.

The decision in my early twenties to give up my babies was a good one for me.  I never felt the regret that some women are said to feel. I knew that for me this was the only way back to my family, a teaching career I had worked hard for and loved, and an eventual planned marriage. I knew I couldn’t raise one baby, much less two, on my own. I didn’t foresee help from my family, the church, or any agency. I’ve never doubted my decision. It was best for me and certainly best for infants who deserved two mature parents to love and support them.  I’d do the same again under the same circumstances.

The illegal abortion is another matter. Let’s face it. I was damned lucky. I could have ended up very sick, infertile, or dead.

Today abortion is still just as controversial as it was in the ’60s. Various state governments are eroding the rights of a woman to choose. They still want control of our bodies. Once again, rich women will have choices while poor ones would be forced to have a back alley abortion like I did or give birth to babies who will not be properly cared for and raised to achieve their potential.

The people who want to take away these rights are not there to help raise the babies who are born. It’s an unfair punishment to women who are abandoned and alone. It is unfair to force this decision on women then leave them and their children facing huge obstacles to overcome. Most won’t make it to full success. We all pay the price.

I’ve been telling my story in recent years because women today haven’t lived through what it is like in those pre-birth-control days. It is far less common today to hear about a woman getting “knocked up.” If an unmarried woman gets pregnant today, it is often because she wants to be. At the very least she has a choice.

Looking back, this is the advice I wish I’d been given in the 1950’s: Respect yourself. You are precious. You are beautiful inside and out. You are here for a purpose. Anybody who tells you otherwise is wrong. Achieve your potential and don’t be sidetracked. Sex is wonderful, but don’t give it away to anyone who asks. Be sure you share it with someone who is worthy of you. That person will wait for you to know your heart.

And here is the advice that today, knowing what I now know, I’d give to the girl becoming a woman I was all those decades ago: You are a young woman who is desirable, intelligent, well educated and friendly.  You have energy, ideas, and goals. Marriage and children may be one of these goals or it may not.  Part of your completeness will be your sexuality as expressed in the physical act of sex. It can be exciting, pleasurable, and fulfilling. But it is always best when it is shared with a person who truly respects you. Learn to know yourself and the qualities you most regard most in others. Find a partner who has them, and your sex life can be glorious.


4 responses to “My Side”

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  1. Noelle says:

    What an amazing, heartfelt and above all, courageous gem this is! I am proud to own up to you!

  2. Karen says:

    Thank you. It’s a better world where people can share their stories.

  3. Vicky says:

    Oh Karen, I had no idea you went through this. You are brave and extraordinarily generous to be willing to talk about it openly and frankly. I hope you have a chance to give variations of this “talk” to many different groups. There is a huge need for it.