The first-time sex was openly mentioned in parochial school was at Notre Dame when I was a budding puberty 14-year old.
Our freshman introduction consisted of a three-day religious retreat in the school chapel. There, in its little elevated pulpit, the Jesuit priest, Father Newhall, inoculated us against communism and the perils of sex.
He wasn't a bible-thumping firebrand. He was a persuasive good story-teller. He began in a whisper of communal confidence, gradually increased his tempo and paused when needed for emphasis. Once the scene was properly set, our attention fixed, he'd rush into a loud staccato of incredibility over the evils of communism and sins of sex leaving us with the question of how we were going to avoid them.
After the first day to cover the godless evil of communism, he switched it the real danger, sex. Initially, I inferred he meant intercourse but it was worse, much worse. The long litany of mortal sins included impure thoughts or kissing a boy for longer than three seconds. My relief reaction was.
I’ve never kissed a boy and don’t think impure thoughts.
On the third day, he expanded into the sexual depravities of self-abuse, and lesbianism. I sat transfixed, not on the perils of hell but his expansion of sins I’d never imagined and moved my hands from my lap to ensure a safe distance.
He concluded the retreat with a vivid story of a girl sent to the eternal flames of hell. As usual, he started softly, in whispered confidence, as if relating a confession, he’d heard. He told how she visited a classmate for a girl’s sleepover and how they did girl things, put on make-up, dressed up in heels, danced to records, talked about boys, told one another secrets, then put on nighties. Setting the stage at the brink of permitted sexual activity he concluded they hugged one another and went to their beds.
He then re-started, his tempo and volume increased. He told how, with the light off, the girl who lived in the house, clambered out of bed, slid in bed with the girl visiting, awoke her and kissed her lips. From this shocking revelation, he stuttered how her hand drifted down to breasts and then to her private parts. The girl aroused from sleep, returned the kiss and willingly descended into the depths of grinding sexual pleasure.
After an intense pause to allow this depravity to settle in our minds, his tempo and volume perked up to an incriminating crescendo as he asked.
“How could it happen? Why would a girl risk eternal damnation by allowing hands to touch her private parts for a moment of perverse sexual pleasure?”
Pausing for effect, starting anew in a slower and lower volume, he related how in the morning, on the way home, the visiting girl's car was struck by a speeding train at the local railroad crossing.
Back in a rising tone of voice, he graphically described the violent impact, her body crushed in the crumpled car, the firemen struggling to get her out of the twisted wreckage, the blood as it oozed from her popped out eyes. After another pause, his voice switched to a verbal rampage against her offending hand. It was severed by broken glass and laid asunder, splayed on a steel rail track, flattened to a squishy mess by the train.
We sat stunned in silence. After his next pause, he thundered in a frenzy, how that hand corrupted her soul, tainted it with self-seeking pleasure and how her soul twirled down into eternal damnation.
He then switched his voice and tone back to conclude calmly, matter-of-factly, her screaming while stuck upside down in a boiling sulfur pot, her punishment not only fair but too good for her transgression.
Wow, I’ve never imagined touching myself or another girl!
The pin-drop silence as he stared accusingly at us from the pulpit at his finish was broken by a wail. In a pew, a girl collapsed, thrashed about and sobbed. Nuns rushed over and led her out, never to be seen in school again, obviously guilty of the travesty the priest warned us about.
I knew from eight years at Saint Clare's to admit nothing at school but was relieved I was innocent of these new sexual sins. I did wonder why one girl was sent to eternal damnation, while the other could get off scot-free with a simple confession, an obvious miscarriage of justice. The retreat resulted not in a recommitment to faith but my questioning it.
It caused me to question the Catholic Church God’s mysterious ways. I shared my heretical thoughts with my close friend, Julie. I’d visited and slept over at her house often but we’d never touched each other more than a casual hug. We’d started our friendship in grade school and kept it at Notre Dame. We shared a common sense of humor and aversion of parochial school orthodoxy. Contrary to most, who accepted what was taught without further question, she was someone I could talk to, not chit chat but mind and heart talk to without the filter of caution. We talked about sex and boys of course but shared jokes about nuns and priests, our social world, and Father Newhall’s stories as we bonded closer.
Julie put things in perspective. The city bus allowed me to visit her house, a mansion to me, inhabited by a stable family, an envy of orderliness. I wanted the same and admit to jealousy. In hindsight, my friendship was tainted. My relationship slanted for equalization, no, a hint of my superiority. Seeds, I now worry, eventually sprouted into weeds in her mind.
Puberty marched on, my breasts grew and hormones coursed through my body in stronger and stronger swirls. Working on a math problem, reading a book, staring out a window, it didn’t matter, my attention would suddenly divert to boys as hormones ended their journey in my brain. No thought was taboo. Impure thoughts Farther Newhall warned about now fought for attention despite attempts to divert them. If I closed my eyes to convert an impure thought to Jesus, crucified on the cross, the hormones lifted His lion-cloth.
Sex was the school topic of conversation. A few girls at school admitted, "doing it" and a wild one bragged about, "doing it" with different boys, an authority on the subject. We virgins listened intently to any scrap of information she imparted. We learned the first time, we bled, it hurt, then it was great, boys constantly wanted it and there was a rubber thing to avoid pregnancy.
Bookish, I returned to the downtown city library with Julie as sex was absent in the school library. In books, we saw, black and white sketched pictorials of the female anatomy, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, wandering egg, vagina tunnel and a little bean clitoris.
We also checked out male anatomy but having seen younger brothers naked there wasn’t much to learn other than things got a lot bigger after puberty. As an only child, Julie pestered me about what I knew with brothers but of course, I knew little. We learned when a man ejaculated, millions of sperm in semen rushed from his testicles, spewed out his penis, smeared about the vaginal tunnel, squiggle raced up fallopian tubes and if a fresh egg lay on the uterus wall, the winning sperm invaded it, slammed the door behind it and bam, the girl was pregnant. Nine months later, the girl was a mother for life.
As the hormonal pressure cooker heated up, when 16, I committed my first mortal sin if impure thoughts are excluded. To save on water and gas bills at home we turned off the shower once wet and soaped up with one of the little-used soap bars Mom brought from work. Admonishments against self-abuse kept me from playing with my private parts but I rationalized, this excluded my breasts. I soaped, lathered, squeezed them, washed them again then rinsed them and rubbed them dry with a towel.
Menstruation justified a thorough washing of my pubic area. I kept telling myself it needed more soap. It felt good but after a few quick soap strokes to my clitoris bean, I diverted my hand away to a breast, the priest's admonishments of self-abuse fixated in my mind. Still, my hand would dash down for another quick stroke then move back up to cling to a breast. As I showered, I fantasized about male TV or movie figures.
Then it happened. I tripped across the forbidden line. I couldn’t stop stoking, I was Louisa, (Pina Pellicer), the girl who smuggled a gun to Rio (Marlon Brando) in jail, in the movie, "One-Eyed Jacks."
We were escaping on a galloping horse. With eyes closed, bent over, I stroked to the gait of the bouncing saddle while clasping a breast with the other hand. Just one more stroke, another squeeze, just one more stroke, another, I couldn’t stop. Bent over, one hand squeezing a breast, the other stroking my clitoris in a fury, it happened! A wave of intense pleasure spread from head to toe. I discovered sex, not as discussed or thought of but as felt. It felt great.
Worried others in the house heard, I turned on the water full blast to cleanse away guilt but knew, I’d committed a mortal sin, a sin the priest lectured about during my freshman retreat. I’d committed, an impure act of self-abuse. The squished hand on the railroad tracks, imprinted in my mind, stared at me as I dried and dressed.
My sin was not with a boy. It was worse than three seconds of kissing, worse even than intercourse. It was a perversion. I had played with myself, committed self-abuse, an admission no girl, even the “expert”, at school admitted to. I descended into despair knowing I was in mortal sin, that only at confession could I avoid eternal damnation, being stuck in burning sulfur or in a boiling pot.
I must confess at next Friday’s confession session. How am I going to say it?
I scripted my confession like I did before my first Holy Communion but now it was complicated.
Bless me father, I have sinned. In the shower, I touched my private parts and experienced an impure act. No, sounds like I’m a pervert. It’s worse than intercourse.
I committed self-abuse, skip the touched my private parts. No, he’ll ask what was my self-abuse, what private parts, what was I thinking, was it the first time, how did I come to commit this act of perversion? The questions could be endless.
I’ll keep it simple. I committed and impure act father. No, he’ll think intercourse, want to know the name of the boy if we thwarted God's plan and used a "rubber thing" if I was pregnant, where we did it? Better to plead an impure thought. No, you can't lie in confession. It had to be the perversion of self-abuse, then the questions.
There was, however, a glimmer of hope for an easy out. When we went to the nearby Saint Joseph's church for our weekly Friday confession, three priests heard them. One, was old Father Frankie, known among the girls as "Father Chomp" because of his loose dentures. He never asked questions in the confessional. He was the chaplain for San Jose Hospital and could do a Mass under half an hour, the sermon limited to a few words of, "Be good until next week".
In the confessional, he waited until you finished enumerating your sins, blessed you clean and sent you out with a three Hail Mary penance, end of story. It was also rumored he was a bit deaf. Father Chomp was a get out of hell easy pass.
The other two were not easy outs. One knew me personally. He was old and stopped by at our house on occasion to visit and check up on Mom. I was his little angel. I enjoyed going to confession to him because my sins kept me his little angel. To confess to self-abuse would change everything.
The other was Father Pastoria, nicknamed by we students, Father Pastrami, due to his breath. We also tagged him “the ferret”. When saying Mass, his sermons dragged on and pushed the length of his Mass up to the next hour's Mass time. In the confessional, he wanted to know every detail, always on the lookout for sins committed unknowingly or omitted. Even a standard, "I disobeyed my parents," was pursued with which, why and how.
Marched over to Saint Joseph’s for Friday’s confession session, two priests were hearing confessions. Neither had Fr. Pastoria on the door. I shifted to the pew for Fr. Frankie, relieved to have an easy out. While the pew line for him was longer he flipped the girls out quickly. Soon I ended up second to the edge of the confessional. As the next girl went in the rest scooted over and pushed me to the pew’s edge placing me up next. I was nervous but calmed myself with assurance Father Franke was an easy pass and I could whisper my sin.
Then it happened. Fr. Pastoria strode up, tapped his door and replaced Fr. Frankie. Dear Fr. Chomp, got up and left. For the first time, I faced the confessional curtain with trepidation. My imagination expanded my terror as I awaited my inquisition as the girl stuck in the confessional booth now faced.
I prayed Hail Mary's for strength, to tell the truth as my mind raced for the best phrase. Mostly, however, I prayed for Father Chomp to return.
Finally, the light above my side of the confessional blinked off and the girl exited. I rose from the pew, entered the confessional, pulled the loose draped velvet curtain as closed as possible and knelt on the hardwood kneeler. My lips were a couple inches from the screen. The little wood door on the priest’s slide in front of me. A sense of doomed fate took hold. My heart pounded. I kept reminding myself to keep my voice low to avoid being overheard by classmates.
Suddenly the door slid open with the priest's ear bent to the screen. Even in the dark I could recognize him and knew he could me, Father Pastrami, no escape.
"Bless you, what’s your confession?"
"Bless me father, it’s been one week since my last confession. I’ve sinned. I disobeyed my mother by not helping with the dishes. I teased my younger brothers. I argued with my father."
“Why did you argue with your father?”
Relief, a diversion, I lied.
“He won’t let me get a driver’s learning permit.”
A brief lecture ensued on needing to wait to drive and the virtue of patience. Knowing as he rambled on about patience I needed more, I blurted as he finished.
"I cheated on a test"
The latter an offering gasp to offset my failure to mention self-abuse. As I said it, I knew it was another sin, a lie.
I’m lying to a priest! Must I now add my lie to the sin of self-abuse?
"Is there anything else?"
“Which subject did you cheat on?”
With a little further of his inquiry, my expanded lying and his lecture about studying to make cheating unnecessary, I was let go. My penance, three Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers, normal venial sins retribution.
Drained, I crossed myself, rose from the hard kneeler, pulled the curtain aside to face the exterior light and left the confessional. Instead of feeling clean as the curtain closed behind me and the next girl approached, worse guilt assailed me than experienced before entering.
As I walked to the altar, I noticed the pew line for Fr. Pastrami had shrunk while the line for the other confessional was longer.
Kneeling before the altar to do my penance, my arms on the cool marble railing, my palms together in supplication, I knew I was among the damned. I was in mortal sin, my soul black, doomed to eternal hell if suddenly killed in an atomic attack or by a car. My vile hands would send my soul to perpetual hell of burning sulfur.
As I mentally reviewed my plight, I considered doing a bigger penance but knew only a priest could wipe away my transgressions. I was damned unless I fessed up to it all, self-abuse and now confession lies, which I couldn't.
Sunday, Mom, as usual, insisted I attend Mass and take Holy Communion. I tried to eat something in the morning to disqualify my ability to take communion. The Catholic Church required not only a soul cleansed of mortal sins but also a fast from midnight before communion back then. She, however, watched to ensure I didn’t eat.
At Mass, I genuflected and crossed myself as we entered a pew. As the liturgy of the Mass progress, my mind raced for an excuse to skip communion. Kneeling in the pew, head bowed, as the altar boy rang bells to announce transubstantiation of the host and wine, my quandary found no resolution. With no excuse; I morosely tagged after when Mom rose in the pew and motioned me to follow. At the altar railing, I knelt, stuck out my tongue, and took communion then walked back, head down, to our pew. Jesus was stuck to the roof of my dry mouth, my soul in unredeemed mortal sin.
Back in the pew, kneeling with eyes closed, I accepted.
I’m an obdurate sinner. God’s in my impure body. There’s no salvation for me. I’m on the dark side.
I tried to behave in the shower but soon sinned again. With a plethora of mortal sins piling up, unable to wipe my soul slate clean, I repudiated my parochial orthodoxy, removed Saint Teresa's holy picture from my purse, took off the Saint Christopher medal hanging from my neck and converted to unrepentant sinner, never to be a nun. Only Julie knew of my conversion.
Accepting my soul was damned; other mortal sins accrued. They no longer mattered. I created an elaborate new me but a hidden one, a secret puppet shadow, to placate my self-abuse. Instead of guilt she looked forward to soapy showers, ritualized them with erotic fantasies while I inculpably took holy communion. Eventually, she led to a life of adultery.
Author Notes: With mortal sins piling up on her soul assumed to be going to hell a girl loses her religious outlook and develops a hidden life.