Tag Archives: birth control

4 lessons about sex from a woman who’s seen it all

Jane Juska, bestselling author of A Round Heeled Woman and a new Shebooks memoir The Last Thing to Go, shares a bit of hard-earned bedroom wisdom.

Men are not repelled by imperfect bodies.

When I was 67, I placed a personal ad in The New York Review of Books. I got many responses, then met some of those men, waiting for each one to be repelled by my not-so-young body. Never happened. Men, I discovered, are far less troubled by imperfect bodies than are women.

There is no justice when it comes to breasts.

I first became acquainted with my breasts in 1945 and have had a difficult relationship with my saggy, outsized bust ever since. “Well,” said the ob-gyn “she won’t have any trouble nursing.” “Wrong,” said my huge post-partum breasts and dried up. My boobs failed the single test that would have rendered them legitimate. When it comes to breasts, life’s not fair.

Marriage is not a particularly good alternative to birth control.

In the 1950s, boys and girls didn’t talk to each other before, during, or after sex. Nor, at any time did my boyfriend and I discuss marriage, which I considered automatic, or birth control, which I never considered, because I didn’t know where or how to get it. I never told him that every single month I spent five days terrified of being pregnant, the rest of the month relieved that I wasn’t. How could I have been so foolish? The answer is simple: I was starving for sex. I got pregnant during a time when legal abortion wasn’t even around the corner and I got married. There is something to be said for marriage, even a minor one, even an unhappy one. Marriage resolves an important problem: celibacy.

Looking older is not a sin.

“You don’t look like you’re in your 70s,” I have been told. I answer, “Yes, I do. This is what it looks like.” What they mean is “You don’t look old.” Looking old is the sin. Being old is okay because then they can ignore you, but looking old? That stares them right in the face and says, “Not long from now you’re going to look like this and then you’ll die.” Without tampering, nearly all of us reach an age when we look interesting, when we are interesting. The marks of living a full life are right there for everyone to see if they’d only look. Want to read more?

The Last Thing to Go

Check out Jane Juska’s The Last Thing to Go, only from Shebooks.

This is What Happens When You Take Away a Woman’s Reproductive Rights

Denise Emanuel Clemen’s new memoir, Birth Mother, chronicles her secret pregnancy as a teenager living in a small Catholic community in the 1970’s. Clemen asks us to imagine the shameful and powerless reality which, given America’s current political debate, might be closer to us than we realize.


Imagine a world where there is no such thing as birth control. No abortion either. Imagine a place where single mothers are shamed and baited. Imagine that the term single mother is replaced with the word slut. Imagine that you are the slut. You are pregnant. You are too dirty, too worthless, too much of an embarrassment to raise your baby. So you give him away.

Now imagine that this world is a real place. Because it was.

When I was a pregnant teenager in a small Catholic town in 1970, men were most decidedly in charge of women’s reproductive rights. The same issues are making headlines today. The Birth Control Panel. The Personhood Movement. The Hobby Lobby decision. In the past few months legislatures in three dozen states have introduced over 300 measures that restrict women’s reproductive rights. The desperation and damnation I experienced while struggling to keep my pregnancy secret in order to preserve my family’s good name rise up with a fresh dread. Decision by decision, state by state, young women are experiencing some of the same humiliations that I experienced.

 Denise Emanuel Clemen

1970. Seven months pregnant, age 17, at my senior prom.


The world was teeming with change when I became pregnant at the age of 16 in October of 1969. Neil Armstrong had taken his first steps on the moon just a few months earlier. Lounging in a folding chair in a campground in Kentucky, I squinted at a black and white portable TV that someone had wired to an electrical outlet at an RV hook-up. Neil bounded through the lunar dust as the evening buzzed with insects and conversation at the wonder of it all. Two years before that, the 1967 “Summer of Love” had taken place in San Francisco, but in my world, a man walking on the moon seemed less remarkable than young people in San Francisco experiencing their own release from gravity.

In 1965, two years before the Summer of Love, Griswold v. Connecticut had made information about birth control, and birth control itself, legal for married women. Millions of American women, living in more open-minded places, were already using the birth control pill by the time I started high school in 1966, but in my Catholic town of 3,000 people even the word “rubber” was still spoken in hushed tones, and there was no place that a high school girl or boy would have dared to purchase one. For Catholics, Pope Paul the VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae outlawed all types of birth control other than the rhythm method. The 1973 abortion rights case of Roe v. Wade was still only a glimmer in some non-Catholic’s eye by the time I graduated from high school and left my small town forever the summer of 1970.

The fall weekend during my senior year of high school that permanently changed my life and my son’s did not present many options. There was no way to prevent my pregnancy short of abstinence, which was something I didn’t quite manage on one particular Saturday night. Nine months later as I delivered my son without the support of family or friends, I took no consolation from the fact that I’d gotten pregnant during my very first sexual encounter.

Imagine it. Imagine you. Imagine me. Imagine then and imagine the future—because it’s happening right now.


Read Denise Emanuel Clemen’s new memoir, Birth Mother, only at Shebooks.

Birth Mother