At the age of 20, my most powerful sexual experience to date had happened the previous year and was very formative for me sexually but was also the source of some confusion and shame, like what happened that day was wrong. Like, “you’re a pervert” wrong. I easily recognized the aspects society would deem improper and what I was having trouble reconciling with everything I saw around me. Those aspects were obvious. I had masturbated in front of a woman, the mother of a friend, at her request. Although I had loved every second of it as it was happening, as did she, when I thought about it later I started wondering if I was simply as depraved as I imagined everyone would think, were they somehow to know. And the last thing I wanted was for anyone to know. I was mortified at times thinking it would somehow get out.

That’s because none of it really meshed with what I thought “normal” sexual relationships were supposed to be. My friends talked about sex all the time, but no one ever talked about jerking off for anyone, much less a friend’s mom. Looking back, I wish I had just thought “fuck what people think and anyway, the only two people who knew about it had a great time that morning,” but that’s not how I was thinking at the time. After returning to college after the events of that summer day, I still couldn’t quite decide whether what we did was right or wrong. Don’t get me wrong, that vivid memory was a regular masturbatory fantasy for me. It’s just when I’d think about it objectively that I’d start questioning and I had no good answers for myself.

That semester I would meet someone who helped me find some answers.

I was taking a Shakespeare class with a teacher named Molly. She was smart, funny, and energetic. She was always on her feet in class, moving around the room, at the board, long hair swaying across the back of the dresses she seemed to favor for teaching, dresses that tended to accentuate her lean and athletic body. Did I mention I was 20 with a newly minted thing for older women? She drove me kind of crazy. She was maybe ten years older than me, so yeah, she was a couple years past 30 probably. Old, right? We got along great in class because I generally read what was assigned, had ideas, and spoke in class (I had finally cracked the secret to doing okay in school). She apparently liked what I had to say enough because one day that fall she asked me to stay after class.

Cue Van Halen’s Hot for Teacher drum intro.

Grabbing the wheel of the bus and steering my Hot for Teacher fantasy scenarios directly off the nearest cliff, she asked me if I wanted to join the college’s chapter of an English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, and handed me a pamphlet. I told her I’d think about it, but deep down I knew I’d never commit to it. I never really thought of myself as an Honor Society kind of guy. I thanked her and left, the bus in a flaming heap of twisted metal. What was I thinking anyway, that shit only happens in Penthouse Letters. There was plenty of cheap, crappy beer waiting that night to put out the flaming wreckage containing both my ego and libido, over-inflated as they were at the time.

The next week I saw her in the hall near her office and we said hello, and she brought it up again.

“Have you given Sigma Tau Delta any more thought?” she asked.

“Um, yeah.” I stammered, still far from eloquent. Seriously, what would a society want with me anyway? My command of the English language was stunningly mediocre, I thought.

“So?” Hand on hip. My eyes on her hand on the curve of her hip. Stop it.

“I don’t know…”

“I was just heading back to my office. Do you have a couple minutes? I’ll give you some better literature than that pamphlet.”

I nodded and followed her back to her office trying to not stare at her ass under that swishing, thin dress. What was it about those dresses? It’s not like she showed a lot of skin like so many of the college girls around me. They just looked so good on her. She looked so good. Got it baaad sooo baaad, I’m hot for teacher. Maybe a couple more glances while she’s not looking. She looked back at me and I quickly looked at the cinderblock wall and studied it intently. Sit down, Waldo. She unlocked the door and beckoned for me to enter with a brief smile. I did and she closed the door behind us. It was small and full of books but it looked cozy and smelled nice. Incense? Dried flowers? Hard to say.

“Sit down, sit down,” she said, gesturing at a couch along the wall without looking. “It’s somewhere around here.” Computers weren’t as prevalent as they’d be in a few years, so she couldn’t just point me to a website and be done with it. Which I was fine with, of course. I got to spend some one-on-one time with her. She must have seen me looking at the couch. It was odd. It was the size of a normal couch, but instead of a back, there were large pillows leaned against the wall. One end was slightly raised. To be honest it looked like something you’d see in a doctor’s office.

“‘Psychiatrist’s couch’, so I’m told. Came with the office,” she said. “Excellent for naps.”

I sat. It was comfortable enough. As she rifled through piles of books and papers, I started looking at some of the books on a small table next to the couch. There were books everywhere in this office, seemingly on every available surface. The bookcases that lined the walls were all filled. I thought it was pretty cool to be surrounded by all those words. I had a small collection of books, but not many. It was college of course, everything I owned had to fit in a car. One small black paperback in a stack of other worn paperbacks caught my eye due to the name on the spine: Anais Nin. I didn’t really know why, but something in the back of my brain perked up. I took the book out of the stack and turned it over to read the back.

The word erotica leapt out like a snake. Whoa. I don’t think I said it out loud, but I looked up and she was looking at me, a small smile plucking at the corners of her mouth.

“Familiar with Anais Nin?” she asked. Ah, so that’s how it’s pronounced.

“Uh, no. Not really. I thought I recognized the name.” I felt like I had been caught red-handed and it probably showed on my face.

“It is some very… provocative writing. Some people would call it obscene. I don’t think of it in terms like that. Ah, here it is!” She had found the booklet she was looking for.

I put the provocative book back on the table as she handed me the booklet.

“Read this when you get the chance and let me know what you think. I’d love to have you.”

Did she actually say “we’d love to have you”? My brain wanted to hear it the other way. I stood up to leave as I had another class starting soon.

“Thanks, I’ll definitely check it out,” I lied. I’d look at it but I had no intention of going any farther with it. She narrowed her eyes at me.

“No, you won’t,” she said with a sigh.

“No, I will, I promise.” You shithead. She was being nice to me. Maybe I could at least give it some actual thought.

“OK fine,” she said. Then she paused and looked at me, head tilted a bit to the side like she was sizing me up. “Take Delta of Venus too, I mean if you’re interested. I remember one of your papers on some of the bawdier aspects of Shakespeare, I think you’d find this entertaining. It’s certainly not as dry as that booklet. Just promise me you’ll read the booklet first. Think of the book as a reward.”

I raised my eyebrows as my fingers brushed the spine of the book.

“Let me know what you think,” she said. Her smile broadened into a grin, almost mischievous, like it was a dare. With that her phone rang and I jumped. She moved to pick up the receiver and gave me a little wave with her fingers. Long, slender fingers. Nails cut short and painted a dark shade of red, I had noticed earlier. Stop it!

I snatched the book from the table as she picked up and said hello. I nodded and waved back and she gave me one last smile. Our eyes locked for just a moment and it felt like more than a regular goodbye glance and then she turned her attention to her phone conversation. I felt oddly jealous, like the person on the other end had rudely interrupted and was now receiving her attention. Attention I apparently wanted. I closed the door quietly until it latched and went to my class.

I got home that night and after some ramen and a beer or two, I bowed out before the beginning of 120 Minutes. That being our favorite show, my exit prompted some mock consternation from my housemates. Was I sick? Was I going to do homework instead of watching the latest Big Audio Dynamite or Siouxsie and the Banshees videos? What the fuck?

Yeah, yeahWhatever.

That book was burning a hole in my backpack and I didn’t need to see Peek-A-Boo for the twentieth time that week.

I went to my room, turned on the reading light above my bed and slid the new contents of my backpack out onto the blanket. The Honor Society booklet, Delta of Venus on top.

Just promise me you’ll read the booklet.

I sighed and lifted the booklet, the paperback sliding off to the bed with a muffled thud.

Think of the book as a reward.

I read the booklet. Well, skimmed quite a bit, but I was surprised to find it sounded interesting to me. My college courses had been bringing out an interest in writing and literature I didn’t really know I had. I had a love of reading since I was a kid, certainly, but I wasn’t as aware that I liked analyzing literature and writing. In high school, writing had always seemed like a chore. Maybe because I didn’t have anything interesting to say and I was just writing what someone else wanted me to write. I closed the booklet and thought about it for a little while. I made up my mind to talk to Molly more about it, find out what I needed to do, and figure out if I could fit it into my busy schedule of beer consumption.


Oh yeah, duh! I reached over and picked up Molly’s paperback, turning it over in my hands. It had the unmistakable look of a well-read paperback. Slightly yellowed pages, white lines in the spine. At the time, I usually didn’t read prefaces and forwards, but I had never had a woman lend me a book of erotica before so this seemed special. I was intrigued to learn, especially after just thinking a little about why I liked writing more these days, that Nin was contracted to write these stories at a dollar a page. Nin was directed by a mysterious old patron, to “concentrate on sex. Leave out the poetry.” I read that and wondered if this was going to be book full of Penthouse letters. Don’t get me wrong, if there was a Penthouse in the house, I’d go right to the stories. But I didn’t see Molly handing me a book of stories starting with “I never believed this could happen to me, but…” I was intrigued. Anais Nin, Henry Miller, the 1930s, porn? Sorry, erotica. I didn’t know what to expect.

I started reading.

I didn’t finish the book that night (some of the stories are fairly meandering if I’m being honest) but I did manage to have two orgasms. The first time came early in the book and was to be expected. I had never read anything like it. It was as far from Penthouse Letters as reality is from Penthouse Letters. Talent, time, and effort had obviously gone into the stories even at a dollar per page. The stories seemed so real and raw and the flowery prose gave them life that Penthouse often lacked. Nin had by no means left out the poetry despite her claims to the contrary, at least in my opinion. As I’d come to realize, good erotica (or at least what I liked) built tension and provided release after time. Fifteen minutes in, that tension sure needed release. After I cleaned up, I settled in and read on. Eventually I came to a story within a story that within seconds had wound that sexual tension right back up.

In this story, a woman reads a man’s sexual memoirs of how he was introduced to the thrills of exhibitionism. Naked and alone in his room on a hot summer day, the young man notices an older woman watching him from a patio across the street from his window. He relishes her eyes upon his body and later repeats his naked show and ends up masturbating as she watches.

Right then I knew I wasn’t alone. Here on paper (in literature!) I knew I wasn’t alone. It showed me that this kind of thing had been happening for ages. It was a validation I hadn’t had before, and had been unable to provide myself. The words of that very brief story seared into my brain and my hand was again on myself. I read it over and over, basking greedily in the sensations brought to life by the words until I came again. I had been battling myself about whether to be ashamed of what I did with Cynthia, my best friend’s mom, and this short snippet helped me on the way to putting those feelings to rest, I hoped. The sexual exploration we shared was just that: normal sexual exploration. Maybe not missionary position only and only when a man and a woman love each other blah, blah, blah, but not abnormal. Other exhibitionist stories in the book told of men and women flashing themselves to people, but that wasn’t something I was interested in. It was the consensual nature of my experience, the eagerness and willingness of both the exhibitionist and voyeur that was so arousing to me. Just like this story, both participants were willing. I stopped reading for the night and gave my tired, abused dick a break. I’m surprised the thing didn’t manage to take a lighter to that book while I was sleeping.

A couple days later I had Shakespeare class again with Molly. Nothing was out of the ordinary at all, it was a fun class as usual. I felt like she looked at me maybe a couple more times than usual, but that was probably my imagination. Maybe I was looking at her more than I usually did. I did find myself looking at her even when she wasn’t the one talking. Not a big surprise, I thought she was striking. A couple times while gazing at her she’d meet my eyes. She wouldn’t immediately look away, but she’d turn back to whoever was speaking after a moment. Dude, stop staring. I couldn’t help it though, I felt like I had a lot in my head that I had to get out but I didn’t know if I should even talk to her about it. Uncharted territory once again, here be dragons? No, as I had said to more than a few people when asked about her classes, she’s cool.

She’s cool. That thought stuck in my head as class ended. I took my time putting the big fat hardbound Shakespeare compendium and my notebook back into my backpack and let the others shuffle out around me.

She smiled and said she was just about to ask me to stay after class.

Dear Penthouse Letters, I never believed this could happen to—


“Did you get a chance to look at the Sigma booklet?” she asked.

I told her I did and that I was interested.

“That is terrific! I think you’d really get a lot out of it. I think you’re a good writer with potential to…,” she spread her hands expansively and gave an exaggerated shrug as if to say, “I don’t know, but do whatever you want!”

That made me feel very good and very shitty at the same time. If she only knew my process was to procrastinate as much as possible and then, typically very late the night before it was due, let the words just spill out onto the page. Maybe she could tell.

I pulled the booklet out of my pack to hand back to her. She put her hand over mine to stop me. She was touching me?

“You can keep it,” she said and moved her hand away. She didn’t jerk it away, just moved it away like it was no big deal. It wasn’t a big deal, but I was 20 and there was the thing with older women.

Then she looked at me with what could only be considered a devilish grin.

“So how about the other one?”

“Um, well…”

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, you know. Though it is all right if you don’t want to talk to your old teacher about it,” she laughed.

Now it was my turn to laugh. “Yeah, right. Old. Professor Schmidt, that dude is old.”

She shushed me but giggled a bit. “He also has unbelievably good hearing for a zombie and I’m only an assistant professor, have to play nice.”

“Well, you’re one of my favorites, “I said, not lying one bit. “I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble or whatever.”

She smiled. “That’s nice of you to say. You’re one of my favorite students.”

That was nice to hear. She was tapping her desk absentmindedly.

“So, you don’t have to tell me about your experiences with Delta of Venus, but I would like to hear if you liked it or if you just thought it was smutty.

I had thought about it quite a bit obviously, so I told her so.

“Honestly, it really helped me work something out,” I said before realizing what I was saying.

Her eyebrows raised as I suddenly wished I could stuff those words back in my mouth. The she laughed harder than I had ever seen her laugh.

“I–,” she gasped. “I bet it did!”

For fuck’s sake, did I just say that?

“No, I mean… well I meant to say–”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to laugh but that was pretty fucking funny,” she said, in a low, conspiratorial tone.

That was another first, I had never heard her curse before. I found it sexy and it was distracting me from formulating a better explanation.

“There was something I was having well, trouble with. It was hard—” I stopped again. Are you shitting me with this?

Her smile was getting wider like she was going to explode into laughter again so I quickly continued, “—to figure this thing out on my own.” OK, not bad. She was still smiling, but it had turned into a kind, understanding smile. Her eyes had care in them, not concern.

“Well color me intrigued,” she said.

I took a deep breath but didn’t say anything. Then I looked at my feet. Chicken.

“I’ll tell you what. Shorten next week’s paper on Henry V by a few pages and write a story about what was troubling you and how the book helped. You don’t have to of course, but I’d like to read it and I can give you any thoughts I may have. It’s why I’m here.”

“OK,” I replied.

“And it would remain between you and me. I wouldn’t pass it around to other teachers or anything of that sort.”

“I know.” That hadn’t even crossed my mind, I trusted her. “OK. Well thanks, I’ll see you later.”

“Be seeing you,” she said with a smile. An in-joke we had at the time. “That reminds me, try not to leave it to the last minute. I enjoy your papers but sometimes I do wonder how stoned you were when you were writing.”

Somehow in a 3AM writing haze I had managed to work themes from The Prisoner into Shakespeare analysis. At 3AM it sounded awesome. The next day it smelled like a steaming load of bullshit.

I left smiling. She really was cool. The Prisoner reference was badass. I also realized she hadn’t even asked if I was returning her book.

As the week progressed and I got deep into Henry V, I realized Shakespeare was starting to lose me with the Henrys and Richards and whoevers and yeah I was really not looking forward to analyzing the role of the chorus and its relation to the audience in Henry V in no less than 10 pages double-spaced. I started thinking about what I would write regarding Delta of Venus and what it meant to me. I started thinking about how it would be to tell another person about my experience with Cynthia. Could I tell another person? Since heading to college, I hadn’t even seen her despite her son attending the same college. I had been home of course, but there hadn’t been much opportunity to see her. I saw enough of her son at school that we didn’t really hang out at home. I didn’t really want to tell any of my friends because it just seemed like something I didn’t want to get out. I imagined taunts of “dudes, keep him away from your moms!” Maybe I’m not giving them credit, my friends weren’t assholes, but I just had no interest in having any frank discussions about sexuality with them. I had an easier time being open with women anyway. Obviously.