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Love & sex

My first porno

And, yes, it had a lot to do with my grandma


Published 2/10/2010

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There was a time when one needed a parental permission slip to check The Catcher in the Rye out of the Bad Axe junior high school library due to its "graphic" nature. J.D. Salinger's recent death brought to mind that no matter how much things stay the same, things do change with time ... especially since kids the same age these days can see the most graphic forms of pornography imaginable on a computer screen with just the click of a mouse. Jane's Addiction said it back in the late '80s — "Nothing's shocking" (and this only a decade after Mick Jagger repeatedly using the word "fuck" onstage during a Rolling Stones concert seemed positively scandalous) — but one also has to wonder if so much sensory overload involving all things sexual is ultimately as numbing as it is potentially liberating.

Whatever. But there was a time when ninth-grade kids — well, one in particular — had to buy a nudist camp magazine (which really wasn't very sexy at all) from a friend because it was one of the only legal publications in which one could see full-frontal nudity, complete with pubic hair, long before the latter became a societal rarity. But by the same token, America's puritanical roots have always offered mixed messages, no matter what the era. For instance, this is something you'd never see in small-town America these days ... but I saw my first real-life, full-frontal female nudity at the Huron County Fair in Bad Axe the same summer I scored that aforementioned magazine. You see, in the '70s, "girlie shows" were just another of the sideshow attractions on the then relatively much larger Bad Axe midway. I vividly remember the uniformed members of the county sheriff's department coming into the tent right before the show started, not to arrest us, as our young, paranoid minds first thought — but instead to watch the show, which included a drunk guy who'd staggered in from the nearby beer tent, hootin' and hollerin' in front of the stage, screaming "Pussy!" at the top of his lungs while feigning cunnilingus, as the relatively beautiful young woman onstage ... well, proceeded to show us what the drunk dude was hootin' and hollerin' to see.

Likewise, at the same time small town kids were buying nudist magazines for full-frontal views, porno was actually becoming quite chic in America. Deep Throat — a film about blow jobs, no matter how one looks at it — was a national pop cultural sensation. Jackie Kennedy Onassis waited in line for hours to see it in New York City, for godssakes. My brother and I even tried to con our dad into taking us to see it at a local drive-in (the Blue Sky in Caseville, if anyone remembers it; I remember going there once with some friends to see Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls — which really wasn't a porno film at all — and the proprietor in the ticket booth told us there'd be no more "dirty films" shown there; "From now on, they're going to be fucking filthy!" he cackled).

Around that same time, we'd convinced Dad to take us to a drive-in to see Midnight Cowboy (which was also rated X back then — go figure; now it plays almost unedited on afternoon TV). But I guess he figured the parental line had to be drawn at films about a woman with a clitoris in her throat.

All of which is a long-about way of explaining that I saw my first porno film with my Italian grandmother and my aunt, her daughter and my mom's much younger sister (only nine years older than me, actually). As a teen, I'd often go to spend a week with the latter in — don't laugh —Peoria, Ill., every summer. After all, it was a genuine city, especially compared to small Bad Axe, and a place to see lots of first-run movies, go the Illinois State Fair (saw no vaginas or pubic hair; did see Bobby Goldsboro, though — a surprisingly good show too!) and eat at, as I once saw Patti Smith describe it, "exotic" restaurants like Taco Bell. Mexican food still wasn't that universal at the time.

So, anyway, one night, my aunt said she wanted to see "an adult film," simply because she'd never seen one before (this was in the pre-video era, kids!). Hell, as a horny post-pubescent, I was certainly game ... especially after a steady diet of that nudist publication!). My grandmother, who is also visiting Peoria, said she'd come along. So off we were to the local "blue" drive-in. The only reason I'm writing this now is that the rest of the Metro Times editorial crew thought the idea of seeing a porn flick with a grandmother was so hilarious when I mentioned it during a recent staff meeting. But back then, no one — not even the people in the box office — appeared to think it strange. And perhaps that's why I've basically spent my life thinking that porn isn't that big of a deal. It certainly gave me a head start with the slogan that Larry Flynt has plastered all over his Hustler Superstore in Los Angeles: "Relax! It's just sex!" It also certainly prepared me for a trip I took, years later, to Copenhagen, Denmark, where the various sex shops and shows were located right next to the "legitimate" businesses, and nobody there seem to think much of that either. In other words: no big deal.

Wish I could say I remember a lot about the movie or the experience — but the truth is, I don't. I seem to recall it had a science-fiction motif and it was dreadfully bad from a plot and production standpoint, much like the ones Paul Thomas Anderson lovingly parodied in his excellent Boogie Nights. I do vividly recall my grandmother exclaiming several times: "Oh! Sex is not like that!" On the other hand, since people were actually having sex "like that" on the screen — and Mimi (as we called her) also complained throughout The Godfather that "Italian girls aren't easy like that" and that "Italian people don't eat like that" — it made me wonder, even at the time, if Mimi was perhaps protesting a bit too much.

Mimi, a former flapper in the 1920s, was always pretty cool, though. She loved the beat of rock 'n' roll even when my parents didn't. And when a family member later got busted for marijuana and was briefly thrown out of the house, she later told me: "I was told 'drugs,' not marijuana! Hell, your Uncle Charlie, the musician, smoked marijuana all the time and we loved him!" In retrospect, it probably isn't the best way to experience your first porn. It certainly doesn't do much from the fantasy or horniness standpoint, having your aunt laugh uproariously in the front seat, putting fingerprints on your sexual imagination as you watch things you'd only heard or read about in the past. Nevertheless, that's the way it went down for me. Has America, in many ways, grown more conservative over time? I know that same aunt is one of the few people who voted for George W. Bush twice that I still talk to ... and she'd probably never admit in a million years that it was once her idea to attend a skin flick with her mother and nephew. Or maybe I just had a weird family. ...

Many years later, when I was in a deep gloom, pining over having just ended it with the great love of my life, Mimi, then in the early stages of Alzheimer's — which would take her mind and then her life — finally took me aside and said: "I can't believe your grandmother is telling you this, but you need to get yourself a good hooker." It wasn't until many years after that that I discovered this wasn't bad advice at all, Alzheimer's or not ... and that despite her protests to the contrary, sex can be just like that, after all.

Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to

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