While my sisters were out living their seemingly grown-up lives, I played their records and wore their clothes without permission. Old enough to date, they had secret knowledge of boys and sex. We didn't get any sit-down “talks” with our parents, and I had so many questions. The thought of asking my parents was horrifying, but I could ask my sisters. My ignorance would be embarrassing but tolerable, and I’d get the honest information I was after. Not the watered-down health class logistics parents liked to rely on.
While washing dishes one afternoon — a rotating chore — I asked my middle sister, “What’s foreplay?”
I was in middle school but good enough to play in the high school marching band. The joke I’d heard went like this: What do you call warm-ups? Foreplay! Cue the laughing trombone.
My sister remained quiet. I turned from dishwashing to see if she had backed out of the room. She hadn’t, but I could tell she didn’t know whether to give me a mature answer or to burst out laughing.
If I had asked the question in the presence of both of my sisters, there would have been no struggle with maturity. My middle sister would have doled out information while my eldest sister provided the sound effects.
We were free-range-latch-key kids of the 1980s and 90s. No cell phones and no parents at home after school. I was 13 and had so much to learn from my 17- and 18-year-old sisters before they disappeared from the house and into adulthood.
I learned early on that it was best to just be quiet, listen and hope they’d let me linger. They’d soon leave me in an empty house to experiment with all the knowledge I’d acquired. Sexuality was never something they shamed, and I was grateful because puberty made me curious, and I longed for their kind of knowledge.
One sister said, “It’s like sucking on an ice cube.” The other sister demonstrated on her finger how she followed her tongue down her throat and avoided her gag reflex. She could also demonstrate with a pickle spear. I understood this to be a vital skill — not gagging. If I could have sat in the room with a notebook and gotten away with it, I would have. Instead, I kept my mouth shut so they would open theirs.
Our frequent family trips to Florida explored nature, not amusement parks. Once, we rented innertubes with the intent of floating down Rainbow River looking for blue crab and gars in the river’s clear water. Our dad and stepmom quickly disappeared with snorkels and masks. We sisters stayed together.
The tubes had handles. We each held onto the handle of another’s tube and created a curvy floating triangle. My sisters talked. At one point, my middle sister and I held our eldest sister's tube while she used a sunscreen stick the size of a large glue stick as a prop to demonstrate the technique and finesse required when engaging an eager penis. I watched wide-eyed. Alligators could have swum beneath our tubes, and I would not have noticed. My sister’s nature lesson was far more impressive. I dared not speak — just soaked it all in and basked in the sunlight of her know-how. I wondered where my sister had learned all of this. Did an older cousin or more experienced friend teach her those things? Or had she fumbled around in the dark, a sexual pioneer without an elder female guide?
That day in the kitchen, my middle sister answered my foreplay question. She was straightforward and clear. Our conversation continued in her room upstairs — chores abandoned. My questions poured forth, and she answered them. I clung to the one-on-one attention and the care in her responses. She became my trusted source.
Years later, she would “come out” as a lesbian. She had taught me so much about boys that I never doubted her crystal-clear understanding that men were not what she wanted.
My eldest sister grew up to be straight and Catholic.
I landed somewhere in between. Heteroflexible. Forever grateful they never shooed me away from their revealing conversations. Sisters passing on knowledge in brave dialogue with details no parent dared to divulge.
A few years ago, I attended my younger cousin’s wedding reception. She and her groom had an intimate destination wedding and hosted a larger celebration once they returned home. My beautiful cousin pulled me aside to tell me, “My husband doesn’t know it, but he thanks you.”
My sisters don’t know it either, but they say, “You’re welcome.”