Metro Weekly

Explicit Literature is Healthier than Adolescent Ignorance

Our society's inhibited ignorant have done an amazing job maintaining discomfort around sexual discussions.

Sen. John Kennedy, Photo: C-SPAN Screenshot

Diving into the new school year, it’s back to homecoming, cafeterias, and study hall. Even the Senate is in on the fun, with Louisiana GOP Sen. John Kennedy reading aloud from books one might find in a decent high school library.

“I pulled out of him and kissed him while he masturbated,” Kennedy read from the pages of All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson.

The occasion was a Sept. 12 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. Kennedy’s chosen passages were very educational, indeed, regarding the performative jackassery of today’s morality police.

While Kennedy’s performance was an encore of the sort of mock-gasp-eliciting readings intruding on various school boards and town halls, his spot in the Senate has given his the highest profile.

Considering that his state, according to USA Facts, is tied with Mississippi and New Mexico for the nation’s lowest literacy rate, you’d think he’d be begging folks to read anything.

There are other considerations when it comes specifically to the sexual components. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, for example, published a study in 2020 titled “Youth STIs: an epidemic fueled by shame.”

Kennedy and his ilk of pearl-clutchers — Note to Young Readers: This is a great moment to offer the fun fact that when a partner with a penis ejaculates upon the collar-bone area of the other partner, this is colloquially referred to as a “pearl necklace.” The more you know! — are sweetly stirring so many of my youthful memories, even if they seem to be doing little to promote youth literacy or sexual health. They are begging me to stroll down a sort of Masturbatory Memory Lane.

When I was in fourth grade, I would return home after school to the newly divorced single-mom apartment that was so unlike what I had known before. It was much smaller than the split-level suburban ranch I’d spent most of my young life in. With Mom’s uncertainty regarding our future, it was also uncomfortably cold in wintertime.

Accordingly, I’d hide out under the blankets in my bedroom, watching old cartoons and the original Adventures of Superman on a tiny black-and-white TV. George Reeves didn’t turn my juvenile crank, but Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen certainly ignited some budding curiosity. So much so that I didn’t quite keep my hands folded under those blankets. Not that I knew what I was doing, exactly. I had heard the word “masturbation,” but at age 9, it meant nothing more to me than some sort of clinical condition, perhaps.

Mom came home one wintry afternoon and barged into my room, worried that I was spending too much time staying warm under the covers and getting fat, and not enough time running around outside playing boy sports or whatever. She yanked away the bedding and my exposed midsection left her startled and me mortified.

A couple days later, Mom already gone to work, I spotted a book obviously left for me on the kitchen table. My mother was doing her best to address the situation intelligently. The book was Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robbins. The subtitle: “The facts of life without any nonsense and with illustrations.”

It was a somewhat enlightening book for a 9-year-old. I don’t believe there was anything about masturbation, so not terribly helpful. No hints on techniques, lubricants… nada. It did mention orgasms, which would still take me some months (weeks?) to discover.

By junior high adolescence, I had masturbation down pat. At least twice daily. Of course, because I was aware this activity was sexual, I wondered if this meant I fell into the category of “sexually active.”

We began sex ed in junior high, but it was essentially generalities of reproduction and a wee bit about puberty. There was an advisement to expect new hair growth. My touch of hypochondria likely began around the time the hair follicles on my crotch began rising. I worried that since I was, after all, sexually active, I was dealing with some kind of spontaneously generated “social disease,” as they were termed circa 1980.

I am grateful that I also had some illustrated literature on the subject from my father. Thanks to a glossy hardcore mini-magazine from the good folks at Swedish Erotica, I had another dude’s photographed junk to examine in fine detail.

The little bumps on his scrotum and base of his penis had hairs sprouting from them. Would this be Phase II for me? The woman in the photos seemed to be in the same situation. Surely, Swedish Erotica management would not have these two perform for the cameras if they were diseased! Then again, maybe that’s precisely why they were paired together…? I worried till the hairs actually sprouted.

I wasn’t going to ask my father. Or my to-be stepfather. Or my mother. Or my older brother. No way. Suffering in silence was the far preferable option. Generally, kids don’t want to talk to anyone about sex. Our society’s inhibited ignorant have done an amazing job maintaining discomfort around sexual discussions.

Being human, however, most kids will have a gripping curiosity about sex. And they’ll learn about it one way or another. Likely, it will be from porn, which will certainly answer some of their questions. The books that are being demonized by rightwing blowhards would give them far greater — far healthier — information. Certainly, access to books such as All Boys Aren’t Blue could also go a long way toward improving literacy among the poor adolescents of Louisiana.

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at

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