Even though Bella eschewed writing about sex, the subject kept floating into her consciousness. She recalled one of her first boyfriends who went down on her in the back of his car, and how dismayed she’d been. With parents who never told her anything at all about sex - despite themselves indulging in extramarital affairs - she’d never imagined such a thing and was so shocked she couldn’t relax and enjoy it. She never truly did after that, though she pretended she did and wondered why she was different from other women, but didn’t dare ask.
Then once she actually had sex, there was the added stress of possibly ‘falling’ pregnant. The very words ‘falling’ implied being clumsy and careless, which she was. So, she fell pregnant and had an illegal abortion. Bella wouldn’t wish that on anyone for the ensuing guilt. The pill hadn’t yet arrived on the shores of backward South Africa until after Bella was married. Condoms were it, or the Dutch Cap, though when Bella saw the contraption - a possession of the older sister of Bella’s friend - she knew nothing so obscenely large would fit inside her body.
As Bella matured, she realized she wasn’t so abnormal as far as sex went. Men and women were – in the main – incorrectly assembled, at least for simultaneous sexual satisfaction. Parts, which meant to connect, didn’t. Sizes could be mismatched. Men wanted what woman didn’t, and vice versa. The whole thing was fraught with performance anxiety, ignorance and embarrassment. When love entered, the ramifications were further complicated.
Bella envied women with satisfactory sex lives. Who the hell were they? How did great sex last? Did it ever?
Once she was divorced, sex was even more of a minefield? There were one-night stands, brief dalliances and a few ongoing forays, which due to copious amounts of alcohol – and on occasion mood enhancing drugs – gave the illusion of gratification. There was also her mistake – due to inexperience – of equating sex with love; a residue of her hard-to-dispense-with fifties morality. And what about Mistake Second Husband Phil Varelly, who refused to have sex with her after a few weeks of marriage?
Something interesting could be written about being married to a person who isn’t interested in a sexual relationship but loves you anyway: gay, in the closet, or otherwise? Her friend Marina Painter seemed content with her charming, intelligent husband whom everyone knew was gay. She even had a child with him. “It works for us,” she claimed.
From what Bella heard, sex was not important in long-term marriages. Personally, she’d experienced how sexual desire diminished with familiarity, although Bella’s English cousin Biddy Lovejoy did tell Bella her husband thought she was still – after years of marriage – the sexiest woman in the world and wanted sex regularly. “But I don’t,” Biddy declared, “I do it, gritting my teeth.”
What about lust? How was it different to love? Bella’s crazy affair with sociopath JP had a lot to do with lust – but in retrospect Bella came to understand – this was a reaction to being rejected by Second Mistake Husband.
Bella asked Shelly what she thought was the difference between love and lust. Shelly gave the question some thought and her answer was unusually poetical. “Lust is like an electric-storm, love is like a gentle rain.”
Greta said wistfully, “I am in love with Glen, and we have good sex.”
“He’s married. Forbidden sex is more exciting.”
Nicole’s idea of love was lust. She’d never had a long enough relationship to know the difference.
What about old sex? How to handle a Viagra infused organ for three hours and fifty-nine minutes, and then – if the erection lasts longer – rush to the Emergency?
Once, as an ad for one of those types of drugs droned in background on the television in the gym at The Portland, Bella joked with Sven, “Imagine how embarrassing it would be to show up at the emergency with an erection?”
Sven, fast as a whip, quipped, “Or you could call another woman.” He added, “Or a man.”
Bella didn’t discuss with Sven how necessary it was, or wasn’t for women to use estrogen cream to keep their parts oiled when estrogen could cause cancer? Was the risk worth it?
What about the influence of porn on sex?
Whilst porn was once viewed in discrete books, well-fingered cards and dark booths, Internet Porn – as graceless as deep fried cheese – made up around 30% of all Internet traffic. Bella found the percentage astounding. With this in mind Bella googled ‘free porn’ – she wasn’t going to pay for it – to see what it was all about.
She quickly grasped ‘free’ usually led to a paying site. But there were people who did it for fun and for free, and though Bella wasn’t shocked, she felt dirty merely scouting around. She clicked on one site and saw a little girl – penis height – standing in front of a fully dressed man with an open fly. The picture was blurry, but Bella got such a shock, she shut the link. Bella remembered reading about a woman who dedicated her time to finding kiddy porn and reporting it to the authorities. She thought castration was a suitable punishment for men who so partook.
Bella watched a few videos touting enormous members, which surely made more normal sized men feel lesser. One showed a woman lying on a sordid mattress in the center of a small room surrounded by men sitting on upright wooden chairs set against the wall waiting for the show to begin. The woman used a bright red dildo, larger than any real organ, whilst she indulged her Eastern European audience to both blow and hand jobs until she’d satisfied everyone, except surely herself. The absurdity of naked grown men – seated on cheap upright chairs around the perimeter of the room – still wearing shoes and socks – waiting their turn was beyond pathetic.
When Bella asked Nicole if she’d ever watched Internet Porn, she said, “I have. Not often, but I have. It’s a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down.”
“Thanks for protecting me, darling, but I agree with you. I was doing a little research, and I felt … “
Nicole added the words, “Dirty, ugly, sick. I know. But there’s professional and amateur. That makes a difference. Professionals are better looking.” As if she was an expert, Nicole added, “Better production values.”
Bella was sure her trainer Sven was familiar with internet porn, but then Sven’s life was so different to anyone else’s she knew. He’d posed naked in his youth and many of his once ever-changing girlfriends showed off their Professional Bodies on social media. This meant: silicone breasts, apple-apple-around bottoms, washboard stomachs, long, swinging hair, come hither expressions and revealing outfits. Sven and his friends frequented strip clubs, especially when they went across the border to Tijuana. Sven told Bella he’d been to high-profile sex parties where people showed up wearing masks. “The thing is this, you have to come with a partner. No partner, they won’t let you in. You both have to be into it.” He further explained.
Bella asked, “What about older people or a woman on her own?”
“Do you want to go?”
“That’s not why I asked,” Bella laughed. “I’m doing research. I might write about it.”
“Ask me,” Sven grinned and continued explaining how some partygoers are voyeurs, others are participants and how frequently such events take place all over Los Angeles. Sven added, “And New York. I’ve been to some great parties there but I’m so over that kind of stuff now. Having my son Adam, changed me.”
“For the better!” Bella added.
Sven was indeed the most extraordinary father. His relationship with Adam’s mother failed, but he was an active and present dad and the two parted amicably and were maturely– so far – bringing up Adam together.
Porn might not be difficult to research seeing as The Fernando Valley – a few miles over the hills from The Portland – was known as The Porn Capitol of the world. On bleak streets stretching for uninviting miles, Porn Studios proliferated behind unsightly fifties and sixties stucco walls
At the so called Porn Oscars, porn stars looked as thrilled and proud be announced, “Best Anal” or “Best Girl/ Girl Sex Scene” as any actor on the Hollywood red carpet. What happened to shame? Or humility? Or dignity? Or respect?
Sven, told Bella about the live-in girlfriend of one of his friends – she called herself Deep Sea – who made a fortune streaming. “What do you mean, streaming?” Bella asked.
“She masturbates in real time for men who subscribe to her channel.”
“Her boyfriend doesn’t mind?”
“He wants her to stop. But she makes so much cash.”
As Bella struggled through leg lifts, the thought of men in wife-beater vests masturbating to Deep Sea’s streaming porn made her almost retch.
SHIRLEY SACKS is a writer and artist who was born in South Africa and has lived in Los Angles for the past 29 years. Books Independent published her first book when she was 70, proving it’s never too late to begin a new career. You can purchase the book here.
She will soon be publishing a sequel.