Sexual Enlightenment, a Bathtub, and my Mother

words by Ella W / image by Petra Collins /

If you didn’t already know, May is national masturbation month! Yay! (lol?) Recently, a Slutever reader sent me this beautiful personal essay about learning to masturbate, and her mother—a classic combo! In honor of masturbation month, I want to share this essay with you, which I’m sure any girl who spent too much time in the bathtub as a teenager can relate to. You know what I mean.

In the evening and the morning my mama used to walk around our house in a white and dark blue kimono. I never saw her naked once in my entire life, not even when I was two.

She liked to read fancy books and decorate her shelves with them. She liked to roast ducks at home and bake pie crust from scratch. She collected perfumes from France. My aunt once told me that these were elaborate methods of overcompensating for how poor their own mama was when they were young. People will not be able to tell that my Momma used to look in the corners of rooms for nickels so she could afford an ice cream cone if they are distracted by the smell of her French perfumes..

My mama likes to refute my aunt’s theory. She always calls everything that I like and she doesn’t like fancy, and anyways I was never the one who cared about money. She was the one who was so mad that we were poor.

When she first moved to Pittsburgh, my mama cried when she saw the tomatoes in the supermarket. They were not plump and red and fresh like the tomatoes in her home state of California; they were more like everything she wanted to forget about those dreary teenage years at her grandparent’s house in rural Wisconsin.

I was similar to my mama in some ways. We both liked to cook. We both had hair and eyes that seemed black from far away but were actually brown. It was hard to tell when either of us was joking.

It was important to my mama to appear courteous and refined no matter what, and in that way I was not like her. I was too gluttonous or too rude. I had too many stains on my clothes, and the clothes did not fit like they should have. I was not shy, and I was obsessed with sex.

It was not my mama who told me about sex, but my dad. He was worried that I would hear about it from someone else and they would get the facts all wrong and I would be all mixed up about it. So, when I was in third grade he bought a book perfect for “the modern liberal parent” with all the information and some nice illustrations. We read it together and I asked questions, mostly along the lines of, “Is there any way that I can avoid doing this gross and weird thing and still have a baby?” I was already planning my artificial insemination.

There was, of course, a section in the modern-liberal-parent book about how “perfectly normal” masturbation is.

I must have internalized that piece of information; because when I was thirteen I masturbated all the time. I remember once being confused about why I was fantasizing about the sleaziest boy in my middle school peeing on me in our history classroom, but just going with it.

I am not sure if I figured out how to do it from a book or if it just happened organically, but I got really into doing that thing where you get into the empty bathtub and scooch up to the very front, so your thirteen year old legs (that you just started shaving) drape over the lip, and you lie down on the smooth cold porcelain and turn the faucet on all the way. You test the water to make sure that it’s just the right temperature, which is an important step because next you put your pussy under the tap.

This naturally progresses into loud yelling even though it’s nighttime and your mama and little brother are already in bed. How else could a little body handle so much feeling? What else have you seen in internet porn besides shrieking women?

My mama had insomnia and to fall asleep she read P.G. Wodehouse over and over again every night. She was about to put her book on the nightstand and turn off the light, when she was interrupted by a noise that sounded like it was coming from the top floor of the house. She put on her white and dark blue kimono and padded up the carpeted stairs.

She got to the door of the room with the bathtub and the daughter in it. More noises, scary noises. Is she okay?

My mama opened the door to the bathroom. There was the tub without any water in it, and there I was without any clothes on. I skittered around like a cockroach on the kitchen floor when the lights have been turned on, futilely trying cover my whole body with two spindly arms.  

“Ella, are you okay? I heard screaming.”

“What? Oh. Yeah. I’m just taking a bath.” I was clearly not just taking a bath.

“But were you yelling?”

“Yelling? What. Umm no. I didn’t hear that.”

 “Are you sure? I definitely heard noises.” She was standing in the door looking sleepy and staring down at me in the tub.

 “Really? That’s weird because I didn’t hear anything. I’m just taking a bath.” My eyes shifted around the room, unable to focus on anything.

 “Well, okay. Goodnight then.”

 She walked out the door, closing it behind her. I turned off the faucet, dried off, ran back to my room, and got into bed. Every time I thought back on what had happened, my legs kicked with embarrassment. I wondered if she knew what I had been doing. It was never brought up again.

My mama is gone now. She moved to California when I was in my first year of high school to be a genius and live with her boyfriend. She moved away from the soupy summer humidity and the raw winters, leaving her lambskin coat behind because it never snows in California. Now she drives to work in a hybrid car and drives home before her boyfriend does to cook him pots of curry. She loves his 90-year-old mother and goes to church with her even though she was never Catholic. I wonder if she takes communions or if she doesn’t, but I know that she has chosen the option that is most respectful.



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