Memories: Growing up During the Sexual Revolution

A Peeping Tom wandered our neighborhood when I was about nine. Once when I was sleeping over Susan Brennan’s house the doorbell rang late at night as we dosed on the couches with the television buzzing the end of the broadcasting day. Drowsily, we pulled the curtains back, too tired to be afraid, and saw the shadow of a man disappear behind a large arborvitae bush. The next morning, over Applejacks, Susan’s mother told us that a ladder from the basement had been found propped up against Susan’s bedroom window.

“A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.”

― Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility

The neighborhood parents used to be fine letting us camp out in backyards under the stars in summer. We were obsessed with criminology and sexual perverts back then. We almost wanted to be spooked by the Peeping Tom. He entered into our collective imagination when we played with our Barbie Dolls. One Ken doll had a lost leg. He became the Peeping Tom in our storylines. Often the sickos in our games would invade one of the Barbie’s homes and go swimming naked in the Barbie pool. The idea of a man sliding naked into a pool left us in hysterics.

When cable TV arrived, it brought soft-core porn into everyone’s household. My parents, just old enough not to buy into the sexual revolution, were quite naive about the invasion. Looking back, our naked swimming pool storyline came directly from a show about two women making out naked in a pool on the Playboy Channel.

My best friend Monique had a screened in patio where we’d spend hours drawing up WANTED signs for fictional criminals. We’d imagine the occasional person walking down our street was a real murderer, a child rapist or at least a Peeping Tom. I remember specifically a criminal we invented called “Jug Milk.” That was the name of the second-rate convenience store down Main Street where we were often sent to buy milk and sometimes Good Humor bars. The milk jugs were glass. I can’t begin to tell you how many times Monique suffered punishment for breaking the jugs on the way home. Anyway, Jug Milk the criminal had big breasts. Her crime had something to do with that but can’t remember what.

My father loved Rock music. He never took the time to really know the words. He made up his own. It honestly never occurred to him that The Rocky Horror Picture Show was not child friendly. He liked the music. We watched the movie as a family. My sisters still tease my mother for saying that she must have been doing the dishes when we watched it. Monique was always over my house because we were besties, but also because my parents were very kind. She watched Rocky Horror too.

“True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.”

― Pope John Paul II

In Monique’s living room hung a huge naked woman on a beach painting. It was not something you’d see in a museum. On our living room wall hung two pictures of cheetahs and tigers and a kitschy naked woman with a seventies shag haircut painting by the TV. My mother says my parents both thought it was pretty. No accounting for taste. 🙂

My father refused to have sex before marriage because he imagined the shame of facing his parents if my mother got pregnant. My mother was down for it. She wanted to quit school and start a family (and get out of my crazy grandmother’s house). Over the course of my childhood, my parents’ advice slowly changed. At first they said “Wait for marriage.” Then they said “Wait for love.”

By high school my father would call out after me when I was going with friends to a party, “Don’t forget to use a condom!”

I wasn’t even close to having sex with anyone at that point, but absolutely everyone my age in the movies was eager to lose their virginity — to anyone. A girl at school had three abortions in her junior year. She also ended her high school experience by having sex with the English teacher at prom. He had a look of one of our patio criminals.

My parents, and all of the parents on our suburban block, loved their children very much. They trusted culture to raise us though. Or maybe it was that they were oblivious to how mass media was changing us all. I remember Gloria Steinem on The Donahue Show. My mother thought she looked cool despite being wary of her politics and beliefs.

Last week I visited our adopted daughter at the residential school she’s at. She wanted to show me her favorite songs on YouTube, yes, the same YouTube that bans dissent. We had to quickly turn off the first video when a male staffer popped into the living area because the women on the screen were so hyper-sexualized that we all turned deep red. I had no idea what M was going to put on, but figured it would be inappropriate since that’s what sexual trauma can sometimes do to a kid. I was also curious how far culture had sunk in the past year since M was home and we’d blocked sick content. There’s no way anyone can convince me exposing kids to porn is liberating. It’s turned something life-affirming into something crass and kind of pathetic.

“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”

― Pope John Paul II

Liberation is not the same thing as truth and beauty. I hope our culture turns back to beauty.

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