Joan Bordow, here! In my first All Ageless column, Sex at 70, I promised that I would talk about sex from my particular perspective, from 18 all the way to 76. So, let’s start at the beginning…

At 18 years old, I was no boundary pusher. I wanted what the tribe wanted—stature, status, upward mobility.  Belonging was everything.

Still, I wanted to have some say.  I wanted power in a world where women had no voice and little power. And I discovered that sex could be used as a bargaining chip for women, a pathway to perceived power. And, if you used that chip well, you could probably have sex with any man in the world, even President Kennedy—that’s how intoxicating and alluring sex was. 

I longed for sex—the secret, the mystery. I longed for exploration. But my mother had pleaded, “Don’t embarrass us. Don’t get a bad reputation.” In my parents’ world, sex was a considerable part of the value women traded for the benefits of marriage. My sex life was connected to their position in society. 

On one hand was the aching compulsion for the new—for sex and pleasure and the adventure of the unknown. On the other was the requirements of the tribe and the belonging offered.

At 18 years old, I was no boundary pusher. I wanted what the tribe wanted—stature, status, upward mobility.  Belonging was everything.

Let me tell you something about those times, before the sexual-feminist-spiritual-psychedelic revolution, before the anti-war movement, and all that defined the counter culture. Classic books were banned in the Land of the Free and replaced by hack potboilers like Peyton Place, which promoted a message that the unmarried girl who had sex, the one having orgasms, the one who liked it, was a slut who came to a bad end. The price for pleasure was death. 

The prevailing paradigm was highly conservative. Much lip service was given to the idea of chastity before marriage. Cheating was rampant. So was lying about it.

It was the Cold War that provided a loophole for me. The U.S. and the Soviet Union surely would destroy one another in nuclear Armageddon. It was not fair that I should die a virgin. Obviously, this argument happened in my head and not with my parents. The summer after my senior year in high school, I had sex for the first time. 

A year later, when I got together with my friend Steven, I found out how much fun sex could be, how creative and nuanced. We would meet at his parents’ house and spend hours in bed, fucking our brains out. I was amazed by what I was learning about what turned me on, what bodies could do. And I had no one to share it with, as I would not risk telling my friends. Like I said, belonging was everything. In those times, there were no “friends with benefits.”

My new friend Susie Bedrick was powerful—sophisticated and gorgeous and years older than me—living in an apartment in New York City, over a grocery store, across the street from Kip’s Bay Plaza. She introduced me to the paradigm-breaking realm of pot smoking. She took me to jazz concerts and to the Newport Jazz Festival. She introduced me to fabulous gay men and to drugs. “I am going to give you two of these pills,” she said. “When you take them, all you’ll want to do is talk and smoke cigarettes.” It was amphetamine. I felt powerful, superhuman, confident for the first time in my life since the age of 6, and eager to converse with anyone about anything.  

I shared this with my friends from high school. All but one dumped me.  When I called my best friend, Eileen, her mother answered and said, “You’re making Eileen too unhappy. Don’t call her again.”

My struggle was between the world offered inside the mainstream, a familiar reality with all the comforts of home—if home had iron bars, cops and a warden—or striking out into a vast, uncertain landscape. The push and pull I experienced was one of leaving the beliefs that constituted my reality, the inherited conversations, for something that was compelling me but was unknown and unexplored. It seemed risky.

And I had sex with jazz musicians and hung out with rock stars and was gifted with paintings and sculptures by artists.

The upheaval of the mid- to late-Sixties, which resulted in the Generation Gap, with the values of the past on one side of the rift and the meme of Questioning Authority on the other, was on a distant horizon, the cracks just beginning to open.

At 19, I wanted a life of celebrity and jazz musicians and rock stars and pop artists. I wanted to feel like I was somebody—that when I acted, stuff happened.

And I had sex with jazz musicians and hung out with rock stars and was gifted with paintings and sculptures by artists.

One night, my friend Wendy and I drove her Alfa Romeo to Philadelphia (to us, having grown up in New York, Philadelphia seemed to be a small town), pulled up at the stage door of a theater and told the door guard, “We’re with the Rolling Stones.” We certainly were not with the Rolling Stones, but we looked like we could have been. And that car. He let us in.  

After some hours of schmoozing and posing, I ended up going back to Manhattan, to the Gotham Hotel on Central Park South, with the manager of the Rolling Stones. In the limousine with us were Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones. In time, backstage at the Ed Sullivan Show (which I had skipped out of my cousin Jay’s bar mitzvah to get to on time) I worked my way up to Brian Jones. Beautiful, golden Brian Jones. 

After a few days in an upscale New York hotel, with thick mattresses and cushy sheets in the bedroom, he asked me if I would pee on him.

And I felt myself to be right near the center of action and influence.

After a few days in an upscale New York hotel, with thick mattresses and cushy sheets in the bedroom, he asked me if I would pee on him. In my life, I had never had such a request. I had never read about such an act. A stranger to kink, this was unimaginable to me. How could you consider doing such a thing in a bed, a particularly cushy and beautiful one? Where would you sleep afterward? How could you allow someone to change the sheets?

We emigrated to the bathtub where I required the auditory enhancement of water pouring from the fully opened spigots in the sink.

This was not to be an act I added to my repertoire.

But in those years, I started the sometimes confusing, sometimes painful, sometimes thrilling activity of sorting through the many covert and overt dialogs I had inherited in the domain of sex and pleasure and intimacy—not just from my mother and father but from their parents and on and on back into the past, from the ethos of the era I was born into, the culture, from the particular episteme—to see if I wanted to continue to repeat those conversations or to create new ones.

It was unnerving.  It was sometimes painful.  It was thrilling.  It was risky.

It was worth it.

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