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.

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Christmas morning began with my mother chasing me around our house with a razor, shouting at me to shave off the mustache I didn’t even know I had. “Just shave it off before the guests get here,” she yelled, a Bic razor raised above her head. “If you don’t want to do it, then I’ll do it for you, just sit still!”

I tried to explain to my mom that I, being someone who admittedly experiences feelings vanity on the rare occasion, would definitely know if I had a mustache. She, however, seemed to think there was an unattractive dark shadow above my upper lip that needed to be removed before our various family members arrived for Christmas lunch. The argument ended with me reluctantly shaving my face while my mother stood next to me, smiling at my reflection in the mirror. And I suppose the area between my mouth and nose does look a little better, actually. Although now I’m scared the hair is going to grow back in thicker. Isn’t that what happens? Great, I guess I’ll be shaving my mustache for life now.

The mustache incident reminded me of a time when I was about 13, and learning to put on makeup for the first time. “A good tip,” my mother told me, as we stood in front of the bathroom mirror, “is to put on lipstick, and then dab a bit of the lipstick onto your cheeks and rub in it, and it doubles as blush!” She was very resourceful. Then, as I was fumbling with the eye shadow applicator, she said, “Also, I can teach you a way to use shadow to create shading on your face, in order to make your nose look smaller… if you wanted that, of course.”

My mom grew up hating her nose. Later in life, she told me that her biggest fear during pregnancy was that her children were going to be born with the curse of her big nose. Growing up, I never even considered that my nose was big until my mother suggested a way to conceal it. Thanks a lot, mom! Turns out, I do have a big nose, and have come to like it (I made up this theory that goes, “people with small noses can be cute, but you need a big nose to be beautiful,” in order to make myself feel better), but I probably could have saved myself the effort of writing so many angsty diary entries about the hardships of having a nose like mine if this ostensibly flawed facial characteristic hadn’t been pointed out to me during such a fragile period of life. (AKA it’s easier to blame my mother than to accept responsibility for my own self-doubt, obvs.)

But insecurity about my nose was not the only thing my mother instilled in me as a child. In fact, she taught me many important life lessons, one of which was how to keep bugs away. You see, where I grew up in upstate New York, there are lots of mosquitoes and other annoying insects around, especially surrounding my childhood home, which is completely enclosed by a dense wood for miles in every direction. I have a vivid memory of being in the car with my mother when I was about six or seven, and her telling me that the best way to keep bugs away from you was to kill one, and then leave the remnants of the dead insect’s body parts on your skin. The severed body parts, she said, would act as a warning, and essentially scare the other bugs away. “Would you walk into a house with a severed human leg hanging in the window?” she asked me. In my young mind, this seemed like a valid point. And for years after that, whenever she killed a mosquito, she would call my brother and I over so that she could rub its guts onto our arms and legs, as protection. And I, obediently, did the same.

Another one of her life lessons, which she relayed to me when I was about sixteen, was to only date ugly men, “because they love you more.” She said attractive men have too many options, and therefore can afford to be less thoughtful. She also stressed the difference between temporary ugliness, i.e. bad skin or bad clothes, and the sort of ugly that lasts forever, i.e. the desirable kind. To be fair, this is probably a good piece of advice, and I’ve long wondered how much these words of wisdom influenced the fact that I now only seem to be attracted to men who look like dying birds.

But back to Christmas. As a present, my dad got my mom an iPad. Apparently, what she had previously asked him for was some sort of memory foam thing that goes over your mattress, to make your bed more comfortable. So, when she opened the box containing the iPad, which she wasn’t expecting, the first thing she said was “Is this for the bed?” She then spent the next minute or so, with the iPad completely visible inside the box, saying things like, “How could they fit an entire bed cover in this tiny box?!” while the rest of the family sat staring at her, silently bewildered. Eventually she worked out what it was, and then argued that she was justified in being confused, because the word “pad” had thrown her off, thinking it was a bed pad or whatever. Later on in the day, when she was trying to recall a song from the radio that she likes, she said she was “pretty sure it was by the Black-Eyed Chili Peppers.” Lol.

Maybe it seems like I’m being mean by poking fun at my mom, but I’m allowed to do that, because I really love her, which makes it OK. I think.

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