My father was a militant anti-circumcisionist. His was the first penis I saw, which looked like mine but was, appropriately, larger. In junior-high gym class I discovered most boys had been butchered. Blowjobs felt better for me, intercourse too. Clearly I didn’t know this as a child, and comparative study was and is impossible. Later on the internet I saw that my friends had lost the most erogenous part of their penises, thousands of ‘fine-touch’ receptors called Meissner’s corpuscles. Unlike them, I possessed all branches of my dorsal nerve, along with ten to twenty thousand uniquely erotogenic nerve endings.
As a teenager and adult I had many reasons to begrudge and even hate my father, but I’ll always be thankful that, while he gave me PTSD, he also gave me the potential for maximal sexual pleasure, which I’ve pursued relentlessly since encountering females.
I was around four or five when I began reading the newspaper. I remember Jimmy Carter’s toothy smile in articles about the Iran hostage crisis. They called him a peanut farmer. At six I learned of the October Surprise. It was Carter who’d secured the safe release of fifty-two Americans held hostage by Muslim ‘radicals’ in Iran, but Ronald Reagan, being who he was and backed by who backed him, negotiated a deal with the kidnappers wherein they promised to wait until Reagan took office before releasing the hostages in exchange for weapons and the unblocking of Iranian money in American banks. Reagan, a veteran of showbiz, announced his ‘victory’ just twenty minutes into his inauguration speech.
This, along with the vitriolic opinions spouted by family during holiday dinners, is the likely source of my cliché anti-Americanism.
My therapist told me I had every symptom a woman molested as a girl presents in treatment. Addiction, attachment issues, promiscuity, impulsivity, suicidality, etcetera.
While Reagan’s dumb face and the articles about Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon were compelling to a child, what I found most interesting were small grainy ads for pornographic films in the back of the newspaper. I cut them out and hid them in a box of Matchbox and Dinky cars under my bed. What I didn’t hide were the bra advertisements from my mom’s Eaton’s catalogue. Those I clipped out and taped to my wall. This persisted from 1979 until 1981, when my mother convinced my father, who didn’t find it problematic, to tell me they were inappropriate bedroom decorations. During this time people regularly fanned out issues of Playboy, Penthouse, and even Hustler magazines on their coffee tables.
Once when my dad was away I leafed through a copy of Hustler. Two women dressed like Neanderthals were putting their fingers in each other’s vaginas. Frightened, I ran crying to my mother. I thought the cave women were fighting.
1985 – PAT
Pat was seventeen and wore Jordache jeans with a comb stuck in the back pocket. Her hair was blonde and big. I was eleven and small in all ways. It didn’t occur to me that I was being sexually molested each time she had me massage her ‘arthritic ass’ while she masturbated surreptitiously, flat on her stomach on my parent’s shag rug. I sat on the back of her thighs and did as she asked and enjoyed it. Decades later I still didn’t see it as molestation, because it was me who’d done all the touching.
In 2014, I wrote an essay called “Ass Man” for a now-defunct magazine about my experience with Pat. I proclaimed it a wonderful eighteen-month period of sexual enlightenment. The editor congratulated me for writing “something super-hot about sexual assault,” lauding the rare and commendable thing I’d done. Her use of the words sexual assault didn’t clue me in to the fact that my experience was not what I thought it was. I learned this five years later when Laura, who’d initially loved “Ass Man,” told me she realized I’d been molested. That gender roles and culture and Mary Kay LeTourneau had skewed her perception of my experience. That were I a girl, a woman, she wouldn’t have questioned its criminality. I didn’t love hearing this, but it explained my grotesque promiscuity and unhealthy inability to separate sex from love. Having been traumatically neglected, I assumed such physical closeness meant Pat loved me.
Discussing my newfound victimhood, my therapist told me I had every symptom a woman molested as a girl presents in treatment. Addiction, attachment issues, promiscuity, impulsivity, suicidality, etcetera.
“No wonder you’re so gross,” she said, “wanting to fuck every woman you see. You think sex and love are the same. You’re kind of an idiot, considering how little you care for the people you fuck.”
Or, this is what I heard while her mouth moved. I was distracted, remembering the smell of Pat’s shampoo and her tiny whimpers, and how I’d never change what happened to me.
JESSICA – 1983
I was nine in the third grade and so was Jessica, a girl who attended school infrequently, had blown out hair and was the first person I’d seen wear lipstick.
After calisthenics one morning we sat cross-legged on the floor to watch a filmstrip. There were the porn and brassiere ads, yes, as well as my Hustler trauma, but I still had no clue what sex was, assuming my penis was just a tube for expelling urine. Once the lights were dimmed, Jessica scooched her way over to me and smiled. I smiled back because I was raised to be polite. With everyone focused on Kids of Degrassi Street, Jessica, staring at me blankly, took my hand, placed it between her legs and rubbed it against her. I felt confused, maybe scared. Then she did the same to me. Her kohled eyes were void and heavy. Suddenly she stopped, shot me a dirty look and scooched back to her place. It never happened again.
Today, having sadly known countless women molested as children, I realize Jessica was the first one I met.
I hope she’s okay. Smart money says she’s not.
HARMONY – 1990
I met Harmony in Grade Ten. She’d decamped with her mother Yana from California to Albany while on bail awaiting trial for grand theft auto. She was fourteen. Vivian had grown up in the Osho/Bhagwan/Rajneesh cult. A large poster of the idiotic Osho hung in their apartment. Until Yana got a job making dream catchers, they wore mostly orange and burgundy clothing. Harmony spent her first ten years in an octagonal bamboo house in Sonoma, then moved to Los Angeles for three more where Yana worked as an ‘angel therapist’ for struggling actors. Harmony was unlike anyone I’d ever met in Albany. I thought she was cool for being a fugitive. Before I’d even had sex with her daughter, Yana quietly took me aside, to, as she said, teach me how best to give Harmony ‘optimal sexual experiences.’ This was followed by a brief instruction to the art of ‘injaculation,’ something she said would allow me multiple orgasms without the loss of my erection. I didn’t understand her instructions, despite them being hands on. I was a mid-pubescent virgin with just a clutch of pubic hairs.
Harmony’s sister Saffron, who was twenty-something, strolled throughout the house with a steadfast commitment to absolute nudity. Adjacent to the beige nipple of her left breast sprouted a dark black hair approximately four inches long. She said it gave her luck. I thought otherwise. She still lived with her mother.
On Harmony’s twelfth birthday she had a modified bat mitzvah. Fortunately, I wasn’t there to witness her, Yana, Saffron and her boyfriend Bodhi all eat parts of her freeze-dried placenta in a vegan curry. This wasn’t a story Harmony told me with understandable disgust but instead with idle detachment, the way someone tells their spouse to pick up frozen yogurt on their way home from work.
I used to think as a young teenager that certain types of women only lived inside the television, or that if they were real, they were remnants of a great and now extinct world.
When we met, Harmony advertised herself as a virgin. Her campaign was unconvincing. The first time we fucked she was fourteen. I was sixteen. Two minutes into it—so towards the end—she began begging me for graphic details about other girls I’d had sex with. Since there’d been none I recited passages from Penthouse letters I’d memorized. It was a total failure, she knew I’d never delivered pizza or cleaned the pools of wealthy housewives. She had what might’ve been an orgasm, my incorrectly applied condom broke, and the next day Saffron, in a rare instance of clothedness, procured a Plan B pill for her sister.
All in all, it went as expected.
Only now in writing it do I realize how crucial Harmony was in my, what people sometimes refer to as, ‘sexual education’.
Harmony’s breasts were absurdly, almost tauntingly large. The first time I saw them I noticed what looked like an abstract tattoo stretched across most of the left one. She said that when she was twelve and undeveloped, an ‘uncle’ and fellow Rajneeshee had put a crude tattoo of a spider on her chest. Soon after the tsunami of puberty arrived, the tectonic plates of her skeleton were activated, the pressure of her molten core pushed her body to its limits, expanding all things expandable, and left in their wake stretch marks resembling the fissured surface of a desert floor. As a result, her not unrecent tattoo had expanded sixfold, if not more. It looked like a poisoned root system or a prison tattoo.
It looked sexy.
VIVIAN & MADISON – 1994
November into December I was homeless in Toronto, where I’d moved to go to an art school I was kicked out of a month into my second year. A good friend from school, named Berkowitz had an enormous studio in the East End above a twenty-four-hour karaoke bar owned by a Vietnamese gang. It was cheap and four times the size he needed so he let people crash on one of the couches and mattresses that littered the place. It ended up being a drop-in centre for wastrels and misanthropes, junkies who read Flaubert (corny, embarrassing), and harmless dipshits. This was the most influential period of what my mother still believed to be my ‘art education,’ which, scare quotes aside, it was. While some of Berkowitz’s guests were students, most were conscientious objectors of art education.
Childhood imprints are very imprinting. We often don’t recognize our deepest ones until they appear, and when they do, our reactions, shot high-velocity from the subconscious, can be startling in their power.
WonderBra: likely the most advertised brassiere between 1974-1982.
The classic WonderBra with the motherfucking cross your heart bow. Based on how dramatically I responded to my first encounter with this product, it must’ve been my favourite, most cherished catalogue cutout.
It happened one late November morning. I thought I was alone at Berkowitz’s but woke up having been transported into an X-rated shampoo commercial from the eighties. Not fifteen feet away from me a woman stirred, then rose slowly from a mattress wearing only a paper white WonderBra and matching panties. Her movements were televisual and glazily erotic. She had a Cosmopolitan magazine body, the type I’d heard did not exist in nature and caused endless female suffering. She was tall with long dark hair and bright green eyes. Her face was an amalgam of every sexy TV stewardess and hair dye box model. Now standing, she literally yawned and stretched as if on film, and like on film, it happened in slow motion. Berkowitz was nowhere in sight, but apparently knew he’d left me in a scenario which may require what I found next to my pillow: a condom and fresh pack of smokes. He was a good friend.
I used to think as a young teenager that certain types of women only lived inside the television, or that if they were real, they were remnants of a great and now extinct world. This woman refuted my idea, having emerged not from images but from life. My experience with her may well have been the first and only time where, in some way, sex felt postmodern.
She turned her head toward me and said something which confirmed that I’d entered a young Brad’s fever dream.
“Hey there, my panties hurt. Could you help me?”
This sounded like one of the Penthouse letters I’d recited to Harmony.
“Sure,” I said, “I know a trick for that.”
Two hours later I learned her name was Vivian, and that we liked having sex with each other.
We’d been up for three days, eating Nytol and fighting sleep to see what would happen. What happened was that we got clumsy, grumpy, mildly hallucinatory and desperate for fried chicken.
I didn’t see Vivian again until April of 1995 when, high and unadvisedly barefoot, I walked into the Kentucky Fried Chicken where Chinatown met the garment district. I’d been sent by my friends to buy an eighteen-piece variety bucket. We’d been up for three days, eating Nytol and fighting sleep to see what would happen. What happened was that we got clumsy, grumpy, mildly hallucinatory and desperate for fried chicken.
I was disoriented inside the store. The lights were bright and the poultry smell overwhelming. It took me a moment to hear the sound of a woman calling my name,
“Hey Brad. Brad. Hey you, barefoot!”
I glanced at my feet. I was barefoot. Whoever was calling my name could see me. There was Vivian in a booth, gnawing on a chicken wing. She looked good in spring clothes, in part because she wore so few. We smiled at each other. As I walked towards her I saw she wasn’t alone. Across from Vivian was a tiny blonde woman with braids so long you could strangle her with them.
“Brad, this is Madison. Madison, this is Brad.” Vivian said.
I thought that Madison’s parents had saddled her with a name severely limiting her career options.
“You look like shit,” Madison said, “eat our chicken.”
Madison had one of those super squeaky voices you only hear on television and the movies, but never in real life, a Betty Boop pitch that makes it hard to imagine the person as a Supreme Court justice, an oncologist, or really, anything serious. I liked it, her squeak matched her face, tight and shiny. I sat beside her.
I was high and they were sexy, maybe drunk. What a day I thought. Madison rubbed my thigh while I drank her Sprite and Vivian pushed her foot into my crotch. Situations like these, anything can happen. That’s just what I was thinking when Vivian leaned towards me and said:
“Let’s go. Madison and me like (performing oral sex on a man) together.”
What a day, I thought again. Fifteen minutes later I was in a sorority house on Roberts street. Penthouse letters: I was in a sorority house. I didn’t even know that, like the name Vivian or ultra-squeaky voices, sorority houses existed outside of television and the movies.
Vivian pushed me gently onto a bed, then they worked together, giggling while removing my pants and underwear. Half an hour later we lay in a clump naked, eating KFC and smoking.
“I really like your dick.” Madison squeaked.
I really liked her choice of syllable emphasis.
I went to take a piss and when I came back they were gone. Someone had made a heart shape on a pillow with greasy chicken bones.
I never saw either of them again.
These erotic tales and more can be found in Penthouse Forum Collected Letters, published in 2002.
Brad Phillips is a writer and artist living in Miami Beach, Florida. His work has appeared in Playboy, Artforum, and Modern Painters. He recommends that everyone read In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter Levine.