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.”
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.
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!