Aphrodite Carries Condoms

Q Lindsey Barrett Click to read more...

Q. Lindsey Barrett is Assistant Fiction Editor at Hunger Mountain, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and teaches writing at conferences including AWP, Port Townsend, and the SDSU Writers Conferences. Her story “Toronado” received Honorable Mention in the Bacopa Fiction Award, and “The Shape of Desire” was a Wordstock Ten finalist. Her novel-in-progress, A Cooler Than Hot Place, was longlisted in the MsLexia Novel Competition, Semi-Finalist in the William Faulkner-Wisdom Competition, and an excerpt was selected for publication in New Voices. Her work appears in Drunken Boat, Night Train, Los Angeles Review, Cosmopolitan magazine and elsewhere.

“This book is intended to provide intelligent girls with a scientific account of sex and human reproduction and to have the whole subject set in its proper relation to the rest of life.”

ATTAINING WOMANHOOD: A Doctor Talks to Girls About Sex

George W. Corner, M.D. 1939

“So there I am, flat on my back with my feet in the stirrups, Dr. Andersen has his hand up my hoo­hah, and he says ‘how many sexual partners have you had, Ms. Jensen?’”

Shelby laughs and commiserates, “How embarrassing.”

I finish my wine and signal the waiter for another. “Yeah don’t those guys know they’re not allowed to talk to you during the actual examination? Immediately before, yeah, right after, okay, but not during. How are you supposed to pretend that as a doctor, he’s not really a person, if he is asking you questions, especially about sex?”

“And they’re not allowed to be good looking,” Shelby adds. “Well, female good looking is okay. Old man good looking is okay. But sexual being good looking—never.”

The wine makes me laugh harder than it is funny. But Shelby and I always laugh. I try to imagine having this conversation with anybody else. Can’t do it.

“Good things can however be overdone; and sometimes a friendship between girls oversteps the bounds of calmness and good judgement . . . and may even cause difficulty in making proper adjustments to the other sex in social life, courtship and marriage.”

The happy hour mob gets noisier as it gets more crowded. Most are on the make like I would be, but with Shelby what we’re here to make is a meal. God bless free appetizers and cheap drinks. Even so, her as angel-­on­-my­-shoulder whispering in my ear is never as loud as the dude with the horns and goatee on the other side. Sometimes I think I’d test positive for a trace of Y chromosome, the way I’m in such rush to get a guy I just met into the sack, then in an all­-fired hurry to get the hell outta there after I’ve had my way with him.

“There are certain differences between girls and boys in the expression of sex feelings. In this the male must take the lead.”

Shelby swirls her White Russian, watching the milk blend again with the Kahlua. “Well, what did you say? To the doctor, I mean.” She knows the truth, but can’t imagine me saying, You mean I’m supposed to keep track?

“I said, ‘Well, I was in a relationship for a couple years and then I wasn’t.’”

“And?”

“And nothing. He exchanges a significant glance with his assistant and proceeds with the lecture on sexually transmitted diseases. It’s not like I don’t know all that stuff, so I interrupt. ‘I’m in a monogamous relationship now.’”

“I hope that lie was only for him.” She uses her concerned friend tone. “I mean, you’re not lying to yourself, are you?” If Shelby and I were the model for a research project, I’d say we both stand as proof a guy who thinks his love comes with ownership rights is far more dangerous to a woman than a virus. Shelby sets down her glass and squeezes my hand. “Gracie. Unprotected sex can kill you.”

“I know—and you of all people know it doesn’t take a disease to get the job done—but the details of my personal life are none of his business.”

Shelby nods. “Isn’t it ridiculous that women like us feel free to choose to have sex with whomever we wish, but feel compelled to pretend that we don’t?” Yeah, she really does talk like that. She sips her drink thoughtfully. “You know ‘nice girls don’t sleep around’ is ingrained so deeply, we’ll never be completely rid of it.”

“Civilized mankind has a set of ideals, laws, and religious principals which aim to keep the animal part of sex under control, to surround it with the decency and dignity properly belonging to human life.”

The thing about Shelby is that she always gets it. She knows my gynecologist story is about a lot of things.

“Yeah, the rule is that nice girls, say, you, get seduced or overwhelmed or drunk so you can have sex with a guy you just met. Sluts like me just act like we enjoy it.” I give Shelby my skank­-on­-the­-make, hiking up my skirt and leaning over the table so my cleavage shows.

“Having arranged to have two sexes, nature must also provide whatever lures and attractions are necessary to bring the two sexes together at mating time.”

She giggles. “Wait, I’m confused.” She does bimbo, raising a hand to her cheek in wide­-eyed confusion. “Is that your slut or seduced nice girl look?”

“Depends.” Laughing, I get even more into it, shimmying my shoulders to imaginary music. “Who’s doing the looking? A man I’m going to sleep with . . . or not?” I bat my eyes in chaste flirtation.

Shelby points out how we have managed to attract the attention of the guys at the bar and says, “I wonder if they can hear us. You know that word SLUT sure carries.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever used the word SLUT so much in conversation.” We emphasize the word without actually raising our voices.

“Good common sense backs up the standards of morality which warn us trouble lies in sexual relations other than those of marriage.”

“Slut, slut, slut.” Shelby says.

We giggle manically because the more adolescent we become, the more the boys at the bar show interest.

Laughter begets laughter, but before we lapse into hysteria, Shelby makes us serious again, “So Gracie, what did the doctor say? What’s wrong with you?”

“Discussion about venereal disease, except by doctors, is indecent.”

“Nothing. Just some infection that cleared up with antibiotics.”

“Gracie. You do know that you must always use condoms.”

“Shelby. I usually do.”

“Always!” she commands.

“Always.” I repeat obediently.

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Discussion

4 Responses to Aphrodite Carries Condoms

  1. Seth Brady Tucker Seth Brady Tucker says:

    Cool idea for a story, resonated deeply with “The thing about Shelby is that she always gets it. She knows my gynecologist story is about a lot of things” and the fact that we, too, should understand this story is about a lot of things. Loved the premise, thought the quotes worked perfectly. Well done!

  2. Tyler Van Riper says:

    I find myself coming back to this story in the issue again and again. The juxtaposition of a modern conversation between girlfriends and the textbook-like quotations from a twentieth-century “conduct book” for women allows the reader a glimpse at both the differences and similarities in how sex is discussed. More than anything, though, the dialogue is charming, and the story never fails to make me laugh!

  3. Iva Weidenkeller says:

    I clearly am not the first to say this, but the juxtaposition of the two writing styles here is on pointe. The conversation between Gracie and Shelby is entirely believable and does not seem at all forced or fabricated–I believe that both the nature of their discussion and the manner in which they hold it will be relatable to many young women. The inclusion of the quotes from what seems to essentially be a 20th-century conduct manual provides a wonderful contrast and deepens the story a great deal, allowing the reader to determine what message should ultimately be taken away from this story.

  4. Pingback: WRITING BEYOND GOOD: THE ‘SO-WHAT?’ FACTOR | TMR Blog

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