In celebration of the upcoming film adaptation of V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic, an infamous gothic melodrama that was dog-eared by many a shocked middle schooler (warning: incest ahead), we asked our writers to dig deep into their memory banks to tell us about the very first sex scene they ever read. Consensus: All hail Judy Blume!
Whitney Collins: In fifth grade, beneath a row of lift-top desks, a friend passed me a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever. A page had been conveniently turned down to the book’s most explicit sex scene, and what I read put the things I’d glimpsed on Cinemax to shame. This was the literary equivalent of being handed a can of Coke at a church picnic, only to find it’s been filled with Jim Beam. In both instances, you have to poker face your way through a coming-of-age seismic shift. I’d like to say I was a good 11-year-old, and what happened in class stayed in class, but that afternoon, I insisted my mother stop at Waldenbooks, where I stacked Forever between a couple of Beverly Clearys. That night, I read it cover to cover. Blume originally wrote the book for her daughter, who requested a book “about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die.” Judy delivers: Forever was a breakthrough book for girls of the late 70s and beyond (and it served as a steppingstone from Laura Ingalls to Clan of the Cave Bear. Because we all know that’s where we ended up next).
Melissa Albert: In sixth grade I was assigned “office assistant” duty alongside a girl named Samantha, which meant that our study hall was spent sitting in folding chairs outside of the principal’s office, trying on each other’s lip gloss. Samantha had an air of worldly sophistication and a string of older (i.e., 7th grade) boyfriends, and one day she came in reading a book with a tantalizing cover: V.C. Andrews’ My Sweet Audrina. She gave it to me with the warning that I not let my mom see it, which I didn’t get at first. But oh, it became clear eventually. Audrina is an isolated girl with no memory of either her own childhood or that of her perfect older sister, who died under mysterious circumstances. The book is a carnival of psychosexual camp creepiness, and the secret at the heart of Audrina’s sister’s death is even worse than what you’re imagining. (I hope.)
Rebecca Jane Stokes: I was rather…off as a youth. To be clear just how off, I used to get flustered and have to change channels when watching a shirtless Kevin Sorbo on Hercules, because the sight of his glistening hairy pectorals gave me “feelings.” This weirdness definitely leaked over into the books that prodded me kicking and screaming into adulthood. The first real sex scene I read was between Morgaine and her brother, a young King Arthur, in The Mists of Avalon. Yeah. That’s right. I was nine and all about incest and druid rituals involving the crowning of a Stag King. But I think the book that had more impact was far less overtly sexual. I should preface the following by saying that I do not condone bestiality. That being said, the hero of Brian Jacques’ Redwall, Martin the mouse, was a total hunk, and I used to wish myself into a world where he was my husband. I was maybe also confusing him with the helpful sexy rat from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Yep. I just used the phrase “sexy rat” in a totally unironic way. Dear universe: I apologize.
Sara Brady: I must have been ten or eleven years old when I moved on from Judy Blume’s comedic kids’ books (Sheila the Great, you were my childhood hero) to her more angsty middle-grade novels, specifically, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. I loved that it was written from a boy’s point of view, unlike most of what I was reading at the time—stacks and stacks of Christopher Pike and The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High—although I could not for the life of me understand why Tony thought it was a good idea to carry a “raincoat” with him everywhere. A couple of years later, I figured it out, and this is why Judy Blume deserves to be canonized.
Bailey Swilley: In elementary school, I became fascinated with the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The books were written very honestly, and I loved, loved, loved the stuffing out of a series when I was a kid. The books start out innocently enough, when Alice is in 6th grade, but as the series progresses, Alice talks a lot about boobs, which made me start to question my own. Then, as Alice gets older, she has two different boyfriends, one of who she gets intimate with on a college visit. I COULDN’T BELIEVE I WAS READING THIS. But I thought, “Well, I found it at the school library, so it must be fine.” My teachers were right: reading is fun.
Sara Jonsson: Fade, by Robert Cormier, is disturbing and engrossing on so many levels. As a thirteen year old reading this book, I remember being horrified by how harmful and indifferent people can be to others and themselves when they think no one is watching. Throughout the novel, a teenage boy, Paul, learns he has the power to become invisible, and encounters all the nastiness in humanity that we try to hide. I was coming to terms with how upsetting the book was, when an invisible Paul sneaks into the bedroom of a popular girl he’s lusting after. She’s brushing her hair at her vanity and wearing a satin nightgown. Just when the scene is starting to feel sexy, her twin brother comes in to “say “goodnight.” What follows is a deeply detailed and innocence-shattering sex scene that Paul can neither escape from nor stop watching. What got me through this moment was that Paul seemed just as upset by the incest as I was—we both needed time to be shocked and grossed out. There should be a discreet little sticker on books like this when you check them out of the library: “Pages 101–103: Incest”
Kathryn Williams: I don’t remember what my first sexy scene/book was. My siblings are 10 and 12 years older than me, so I knew about sex from the time I was 3 (just kidding—my parents taught me in fifth grade by leaving a book on the stairs that featured paper cut-out chickens humping). But I can tell you about the first time I WROTE a sexy sex sexing scene, which I hope is emotionally affecting but is not all that titillating. It’s in my novel The Lost Summer, and it probably had more drafts than any other scene in the book. My editor and I talked about it a lawt, like was it essential to the story and to the character’s development? What would the emotional consequences be? What did I want to show and not show? What words would I use? (I didn’t want labia majora, but no throbbing members either, because I’m a classy lady, dammit.) We talked about having the characters have oral sex instead, and I just could not bring myself to write that scene, as it felt almost more intimate to me. So, to prepare myself, I reread Judy Blume’s classic novel about sexual awakening, Forever. I think she handles those scenes with such grace and honesty. So, I am counting Judy Blume as not my first but my best… sex scene writer, that is.
Alyssa Bereznak: As my father is a dedicated objectivist, my first run-in with a literary sex scene came, horrifyingly, via Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, in which railroad magnate Dagny Taggart sleeps with steel baron Hank Reardon. The two are first introduced as business partners, but their mutual admiration for one another’s work ethic evolves into something more, and soon the Reardon is “holding her body against his, as if stressing his wish to let her know that she was now only a tool for the satisfaction of his desire.” As a young inexperienced teen with bacne, this seemed like the stuff of shady AOL chatrooms. How was this not rape? As I’ve decided about all of Ayn Rand’s literature, her fictional portrayals of human nature don’t come close to translating to the real world. Let’s hope for the sake of students everywhere that any high school teacher with Rand on the syllabus will make that loud and clear to their classrooms.
Lauren Passell: I tore into Russell Banks’ Rule Of The Bone for a silly reason in the first place. When it came out, I was in middle school and was not a reader at all. But when I found out my older crush read and enjoyed Banks’ book, I read it to have something in common with my crush. Hidden inside, there’s a brief but (what at the time seemed) graphic sex scene involving the protagonist, Bone, and his mentor’s girlfriend, Evening Star. I read it again and again. I just thought it was awesome. I remember thinking that I would of course start in on my school’s required reading if it was like Rule Of The Bone. In a way, that book turned me into a reader. It made me realize I could read whatever I wanted in my free time, whether there were sex scenes or not.
What was your first sex scene?