Daryl Hannah in the movie adaptation of 'Clan of the Cave Bear'
Everything I first learned about sex, I learned from cavemen.
My immigrant, Jehovah’s Witnesses parents never talked about sex. Growing up, my sisters and I were told to look away from sex scenes and even kissing scenes in movies and television. Our dad’s only sex advice was “Don’t be a chola slut and get pregnant.” Our mom would get nervous and tell us boys would touch us and lie to us to make us feel good. She would open her eyes wide to indicate trouble. I was curious, but not that curious. That is, until I met Ayla and Jondalar.
My nerd-child heart always found escape in books. If I didn’t have a book in hand I felt empty. I was at an older relative’s house, bookless, when I picked up a copy of Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in the Earth’s Children series. The book was about a Neanderthal child who is adopted and raised by Cro-Magnons after her family dies. Poor Ayla, so advanced and tall and blond and wise. The first book was more a sociological study in imagining. Lots of flora and fauna and tool-making. By the end of the book, they cast Ayla out. I bought book two and I met Jondalar. Tall, handsome Neanderthal Jondalar.
Around page 64 in Valley of the Horses (because shit yes, I still remember the page) I read my first sex scene: tall, handsome Neanderthal Jondalar deflowers a young woman in her “first pleasures” ceremony. I was 12 and it blew my fucking mind. He did things I didn’t even know were possible. Cunnilingus? What? Tasting her “tangy salt?” What? She didn’t have a vagina, she had trembling, moist petals. I did too, I felt my heartbeat in my vaj as Jondalar licked and nuzzled and grit his teeth as his member broke past her “barrier.”
I was breathless, but I kept reading. The sex scenes only got better, longer, more intricate, especially when Jondalar and Ayla get together. I contemplated my own body. Would my nipples bud and strain? Would my breath come in short gasps?
Nope. I was so disappointed when I started having sex. There was no trembling. My petals, if I had any, were meh. And the only gasps I had were when the “member” knocked against my cervix like it was playing whack-a-mole. I went back to the books to see what I was doing wrong. All the mechanics were the same, but it wasn’t working. I felt like I was broken, like there was something wrong with me. I already had a plethora of insecurity issues, but not enjoying the forbidden fruit depressed the shit out of me.
I confessed to a friend that I didn’t enjoy sex. She asked me if I enjoyed touching myself. I was blank. The only way I knew how to turn myself on was through reading sex scenes in books. My friend sat me down and explained some basic mechanics to me and gave me an assignment. I locked myself away and bit through the shame of touching my own body (thanks, Patriarchy!) and, lo and behold, after a few sessions of practice I achieved the caveman climax I’d been waiting for. Trembling. Mewling. I did have petals!
I recently reread all the entire Earth’s Children series. The sex scenes did nothing for me, and I found myself skimming over them to pay more attention to the flora and fauna and tool-making. But I did remember the feeling of awe in discovering a new world, both in my potential for desire and for reading a book that took me away.