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I Had My First Orgasm at 52

What Mama never told me I learned on my own.

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Margeaux Walter
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There were a lot of topics my mother and I never discussed. She was born in San Francisco in 1933 and I was born in the same city 29 years later. Though our hometown was progressive, she came from a generation when periods, sex and birth control were not addressed in our conversations.

I gleaned all my knowledge from my two older sisters, friends and reading my parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex under my sheets with a flashlight late at night. When I had children in the 1990s, I vowed I would be different. I would be a modern mother. I wanted my children to be open with me, as open with me as I was closed with my mother. But there was one topic I never covered, the last taboo: the female orgasm.

And that’s because I never had one.

I lost my virginity at 16 and was terrified that I might be pregnant, having not used birth control. I remember the sex hurt a lot, and that I sat in the bathtub afterward wondering if this is what “lovemaking” was supposed to feel like.

In those days, it was more difficult to get a pregnancy test. I looked up Planned Parenthood in the Yellow Pages and found a branch in Chinatown, far away from my house in Pacific Heights. There I sat in a waiting room filled with much older women as I waited to be called in by a doctor. I felt ashamed, certain that all these women knew why I was there. Not only did I get a pregnancy test (negative), I also got fitted for a diaphragm. I never breathed a word of this to my mother.

When I got caught with a boy in my room at boarding school, I was put on probation. My parents, especially my father, was very disappointed in me. Such were the times in the '70s and '80s, at least in our house. We didn’t talk about sex; that would have been shameful.

My very conservative father feared his three daughters might be promiscuous, slutty. My first husband and I lived together before getting married. But when we went on family trips, even when we were engaged, we slept in separate bedrooms. “Not under my roof," was my father’s mantra.

When my turn came to be a parent, I wanted my children, especially my daughters, to come and talk to me. No secrets, no shame. I urged them to go on the pill if they were going to have sex. I made the controversial decision to let my teenage daughters sleep with boyfriends in my house.

I remember kissing my daughter goodnight, minutes before her boyfriend arrived for his first sleepover. I didn’t want them to feel guilty for doing things that were natural and human. This, if it was consensual, they used protection and they understood the emotional and physical ramifications. True, I made her sleep in her older brother’s vacant bedroom because it was far away from mine, and breakfast the next morning was a little weird. “Hi, sleep well?” I asked, while thinking, Sleep at all?

The one subject I never did discuss with my daughters, a thing my mother certainly never discussed with me, was the female orgasm. I had no idea what it should feel like or how to achieve it. In fact, I didn’t have one until I was 52, after both my marriage and a subsequent long relationship ended.

The big O happened after I went to my annual visit with my gynecologist. I dreaded those visits because although he was a sweet, bald and portly grandfather with photos of his adult children and grandchildren smiling at me from the shelves, he was modern and uninhibited when it came to sex and pleasure.

“So how are you, Willa? You’re, what, 52? he asked, scanning his notes.

“Yes," I answered, with a hint of sadness.

It felt like I had just turned 50, and suddenly here I was 52.

And newly single. Darn. I was probably going to be single forever, I thought.

“And you’re taking your hormones. How’s that going?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“Your sex life — what’s happening there?” he asked, looking straight at me, no hint of embarrassment.

“Um”, I began, flustered, reddening, “Well, my boyfriend just broke up with me, so I don’t really have a sex life.”

“That’s no reason not to have a sex life.”

What was he suggesting? I hire a male hooker? Go to a strip club?

"Excuse me?” I said, not sure I’d heard him correctly.

“Have you ever heard of a vibrator, because if you haven’t, it’s high time you did.”

“Oh, right, ok, right," I stammered.

Here I was learning a great secret in Sex 101 from a hip grandfather, a topic I never could have discussed with the woman who birthed and raised me. Did she have a vibrator? I will never know.

I left his office with a goal. As soon as I got home, I ordered a vibrator online. No way was I going to go to a shop. Way too public. A week later, I tried out my new gadget. First, I waited until my youngest daughter had gone to bed. Then I locked my bedroom door, lay down on my bed and switched it on. God, it sounded like an eggbeater. I hoped she couldn’t hear anything from the floor above. Then I fiddled around with this new toy.

And, for the first time in my life, I experienced an amazing, earth-shattering, full-body-quaking orgasm, the likes of which I didn’t know was possible. I’d never been particularly religious but was suddenly thanking God profusely. I realized I could have this sensation — a sensation that was better than anything I had ever felt before — without a guy.

I felt energized and independent. After all, I’d just had the best sex of my life all by my little old self. I am now 61 and still haven’t gathered the courage to broach this topic with my daughters, one of whom is married, the other in a serious relationship. But I will one day when the opportunity arises. A mother’s work is never done. While I do love all the pleasure my vibrator has given me, I don’t use it that often because I am married again, to a man who keeps me very happy.

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