Friday, June 22, 2007

Virginity, Lost

By Dick Cavett
Talk Show
The New York Times
June 21, 2007

Do you suppose it’s possible today, somewhere in America, to graduate from high school with one’s virginity intact? Everything would seem to point away from the possibility.

It was not so in my day. In spades.

Even in the allegedly innocent 1950s, there were always rumors in junior high and high school of this or that pair who had visited the promised land, but even rumors were few. In general you had little reason to think that your contemporaries were quaffing sweet nectars that you were not. And then, the first thunderbolt.

Eighth grade, Irving Junior High School, Lincoln, Neb. A tall, rugged and handsome “German-Rooshen” lad transferred to our school from western Nebraska. The girls swooned. He seemed bigger and older than the rest of us. We never got to know Terry very well. After only a month he had to backtrack to his native Scottsbluff to tidy up some unfinished business. And I had learned a new term: shotgun wedding.

My God, we all thought. That meant that Terry had…that he had….The mind would not accommodate the envious thought. We felt shriveled, insignificant and deprived.

(If the squalling infant produced by this unlucky liaison survives today, he or she is 57.)

My guess is that virginity was epidemic in my high school class. There was the inevitable handful of luckless souls whose suspected plight was born out by the passage of time. A few in a class of hundreds. We could live with that.

The word “virginity” has gone through considerable alteration in my lifetime. It once meant innocent. Pure. Unsullied. Today, we are told, our young folks mean by it the self-mastery to stop short. This leaves a repertoire of things I doubt my older relatives ever dreamed of. Richnesses of erotomania are O.K., as long as you manage to eschew what the stolid Brits still call “a bit of the old slap and tickle.” What a gargantuan change from my sweet 1950s.

Should my Welsh Baptist preacher grandfather have known the keyword, he would have died on the spot and met his Maker upon reading news accounts from today like the recent “Report Fellatio on Junior High School Bus.”

In the same sense that we are mercifully unable to fully recall how great pain and sickness felt, once they are passed, the intensity of the blinding horniness of our earliest years is similarly muted by time.

What a shock it is. Hardly anyone I know recalls puberty as a gradual thing, but rather something as sudden and as without warning as a land mine. The busy, active, ball playing, model-plane-constructing innocent seventh-grade lad (in my case) is suddenly no longer alone. He is now accompanied in life by a most miraculous organ.

A bunch of us at my last class reunion were being shown the new section of our old alma mater, L.H.S. The hip, smart new male principal said, “You might need a little warning for this next room.”

What I saw angered me. Clearly they had let a toy store open a large showroom on school premises. It was in the form of a playroom with all kinds of climbables and rideables and playthings for the small fry set. I don’t think any of us got it immediately.

“This is so a goodly number of our girls can continue to attend classes.”

Our collective jaw fell. Poor dumb old innocent us. It was the most remembered item of the reunion.

I have more on these matters, but may I beg off for now?

I’m taking an antibiotic (having nothing to do, mercifully, with the subjects at hand) and it’s doing its dirty work, sluggishness-wise…

So let’s leave our poor hero for the moment at this point in his story. Leaving him, in Shakespeare’s haunting phrase, “yet unknown to woman.”

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