How Music Opened My Eyes to Sex

My introduction to sex came through music I listened to when I was about 10 years old.

When I admitted this to Chloe, her eyes grew wide and she guffawed. “Mom, you were such a loser! That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If anything taught me about sex, it was TV [author’s note: please don’t judge our parenting skills. We’re lax].  Oh, and when my friend in second grade told me babies are made when the penis and the vagina meet.”

Pointer fingers acting as penis and vagina stand-ins for 2nd graders talking about sex

Once I started to mine my brain for memories of how I learned about sex and the function of those all-important body parts, the floodgates opened. My internal time machine transported me back to 1978, the year of my “decade” birthday. By coincidence, 1978 was also a seminal (!) year for my initiation into sex education – thanks to certain songs that ensured I entered puberty slightly more sexually aware than I would have been had I never heard them.


The first time I recall making the connection between music and sex was after I saw the movie “Grease” when it premiered in 1978.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the relationship between Danny and Sandy or Rizzo’s pregnancy scare that intrigued me. It was John Travolta singing “Greased Lightning.”  The lyrics, which included not-so-discreet euphemisms about sex in a car, confounded me. To wit:

    • You know that ain’t no shit, we’ll be getting lots of tit in Greased Lightning
    • You are supreme, the chicks’ll cream for Greased Lightning
    • With new pistons, plugs and shocks I can get off my rocks
    • You know that I ain’t bragging, she’s a real pussy wagon

I knew something was up, but I couldn’t pinpoint what, exactly, about the song made it risqué. It all sounded like pure nonsense with a faint whiff of dirty to me. Do baby birds make ice cream when they’re excited? Is getting off your rocks the same as getting up from a chair? Did Greased Lightning transport cats?

My friend and I performed the entire Grease soundtrack for our families on multiple occasions. I sang Greased Lightning out loud with abandon. I have vague recollections of intentionally muffling the “shit” mention, oblivious to the fact that “shit” was the least of my problems. I don’t recall a single adult trying to censor us. It was the 1970s after all.

Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart

As I write this post, staring out the window above my desk,  I see my younger self sitting at my childhood desk, diligently transcribing the lyrics to Rod Stewart’s hit from 1978.  I repeatedly start and stop the cassette to ensure I’ve accurately written all the words. The song is playing softly – I don’t want my brother or my parents to discover me.  Once my task is done, I dance in the middle of my room, pretend to hold a microphone and sing. I stand as tall as I possibly can in an attempt to seem older and more worldly than my 10 years.

If you want my body and you think I’m sexy
Come on sugar let me know.
If you really need me just reach out and touch me
Come on honey tell me so
Tell me so baby

He’s acting shy, looking for an answer
Come on honey, let’s spend the night together
Now hold on a minute before we go much further
Give me a dime so I can phone my mother

My mom interrupts my fun and calls me for dinner. I hide the notepad with the lyrics in my drawer, underneath a pile of paper. I pray no one finds it.  My cheeks are flushed because I think I’ve done something wrong and I’m afraid I’ll get caught.

The song, a pop music trifle if ever there was one, is so mild by today’s standards – but damn if I wasn’t convinced I was venturing into dangerous territory when I copied those words onto paper all those years ago.

Pre-Columbian Erotic Pottery from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru
Pre-Columbian Erotic Pottery from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru

Young Americans by David Bowie

Once I started paying attention to lyrics – to teach myself more about sex, natch – my music education took off. My tastes became more diverse as I ventured into a new territory I’ll affectionately call “David Bowie Nirvana.” He was my idol during my teen years. I was in awe of his talent.  I loved his style and his storytelling. As a kid who never openly rebelled, he was my secret rebellion. His dreamy eyes, with their irises of different colors, defined ‘sexy’ for me.

Bowie also taught me a little bit about sex through the lyrics of what remains my favorite song ever, “Young Americans.” Although it was released in 1975, I probably didn’t hear it for the first time until my obsession with Bowie began when I was about 12-13 years old.

They pulled in just behind the bridge
He lays her down, he frowns
“Gee my life’s a funny thing, am I still too young?”
He kissed her then and there
She took his ring, took his babies
It took him minutes, took her nowhere
Heaven knows, she’d have taken anything

I often fantasized that Bowie and I were the couple in this stanza (the creepiness of our age difference was not on my radar back then). It didn’t matter that the “act” as described wasn’t sexy at all. The song’s hesitant and cynical narrator struck a chord with me.  And the evocation of the “first time” in all its bumbling awkwardness and abruptness also rang true.

Throughout my teenage years, no mere high school boy could hold a candle to Bowie’s brilliance and charisma. I went stag to my senior prom with some friends, hoping that Changes would be our prom song. Alas, Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi won the day. A crying shame.

Countless other songs comprised the music chapter of my sex ed curriculum. For old time’s sake, below are a few classics that deserve special mention. In retrospect, that chapter was hella flawed with its overwhelmingly male perspective, but what did I know?

  • Call Me by Blondie (1980)
  • Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed (1972)
  • Emotional Rescue by the Rolling Stones (1980)
  • My Sharona by The Knack (1979)
  • Hot Stuff by Donna Summer (1979)
  • Don’t Stand So Close to Me by The Police (1980)
  • Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp (1982)

The book chapter of my sex ed curriculum, which followed in the early 1980s, proved to be much more edifying. Fodder for a future blog post, perhaps…


Did music open your eyes to sex when you were a child? Don’t be embarrassed, share away!

24 thoughts on “How Music Opened My Eyes to Sex”

  1. Ha ha! I think you and I shared much of the same accidental musical (sex) education! I remember Rod Stewart prancing around in those hot pink (very tight) trousers! An education indeed! 😉

    Thanks for reminding me! 🙂

    Hedgehog x

    1. Yes, those hot pink trousers and the hair! My guess is that many of us who grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s were surreptitiously memorizing words to all of the “dirty” songs. It’s nice to know I wasn’t alone! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Oh my, I loved this post! It made me LOL recalling the first time I listened to my Vanilla Ice tape at 8 years old. Pretty much every song was about sex, and my ears turned red just reading the lyrics. I hid it deep down in a drawer in my desk, convinced it would be taken away if my mom saw it – and I listened to it all the time.

  3. I’m seeing the lyrics to Grease Lightning with new eyes. No wonder the adulds didn’t rebel, they probably didn’t realise what you were singing, haha. David Bowie is such an interesting character. I just watched a documentary about him a couple of weeks ago. Ah, and Rod Stewart…his voice has melted many hearts. Great post!

    1. Hi, Barbara. I saw a Bowie documentary recently as well – on Netflix. Loved it and it brought back so many memories. Thanks so much for stopping by and reading my post – I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    2. I realized as an adult, my mom knew exactly what they were singing as well as she knew it was all going over my head. She figured out when I started to mumble or hum over a line, or cough at a certain word, that I’d figured it out too.

      1. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. When my mom saw this blog post, she seemed to have no memory of any of it. I think she wasn’t paying close enough attention to what we were doing. Then again, she was a young adult in the 1960s – and I doubt any of the lyrics would have shocked her or that she would have been shocked by her children singing them…

  4. I love, love, love this post, Jennifer. I actually wrote a whole novel (Leaving the Beach) about the songs that opened my eyes to sex and a whole lot more. Bowie is heavily featured, as is Jim Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello. And Grease! I’m so glad you brought that up. I saw the movie Grease in 8th grade, and left the theater totally believing that the way to get a guy was to dress in tight clothes (leather, preferably) and have sex. I don’t necessarily think the movie was supposed to have that message, but that was my take from it, and I made many mistakes because of that. A long time ago, I wrote an essay about that, and will try to find it and perhaps will blog about that. In any case, thanks so much for this.

    1. Thanks so much, Mary. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Your novel sounds like it would be right up my alley! Have you published it? If so, I’d love to read it. I think many of us had the same reaction to Grease as you did (I certainly did). You had to smoke, too, to get the guy! I hope you’re able to find your essay and rework it into something for your blog – if you do, please share!

    2. The Mad magazine take on “Grease” has that in the last panel – something about, what’s the message of this movie? That you have to dress like a slut to get the guy!

  5. Great column – I remember all these songs fondly, although I’m three years (I think) younger than you so they all went over my head. I was older and wiser by the time Prince came along.

    A Grease line that went over my head for years: “Where you going, Zuko, to flog your log?”

  6. I was 8 when Michael Jackson’s song Beat It was released. Every time he said ‘funky’ I felt both embarrassed and exhilarated. Like he was saying the real F word, only switching the spelling so my parents wouldn’t notice!

    1. Frankly, I kind of feel the same way now with “Uptown Funk” – my potty mouth brain just automatically defaults to “Uptown Fu*k.” I have to be careful around the girls when it comes on the radio!

  7. Sorry if this posts a second time. Grease, for sure! My best friend’s Mom told her about sex and then of course she told me right away, although she didn’t have it quite right about the anatomy. I think we were about 6 at most. We used to listen to the music from Grease all of the time and we would sing all of those naughty lyrics, although I’m pretty sure we didn’t know what all of the euphemisms meant. Ha ha ha!

      1. Yes, I agree. Kids are still singing “Grease” songs today. My first record I ever bought was “Afternoon Delight.” I don’t remember who sang that one, but I am quite sure I had no clue what that meant. I only realized it recently, thinking about it. Ha ha ha!

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