American middle class parents across the political and religious spectrum put a lot of energy into sheltering their children from unseemly influences. When I was growing up, my friends’ parents seemed to monitor very closely what books they were reading and what movies they were watching. I had one friend who wasn’t allowed to watch “Chips” because it was too violent!
My parents were the exact opposite. They made a deliberate decision that I would be allowed to watch any movies or read any books that caught my interest, with no limitations whatsoever. This policy took on some meaning when I became about ten years old. It gave me some prestige among my peers that I was allowed to watch “R” movies, and it was around that time that I started reading grown up books, including lots of James Michener, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King. I remember being terrified in the middle of the night after reading “Salem’s Lot” but I got through it by trying to picture an image that made me laugh -- all of my fifth grade classmates with vampire fangs. When I was twelve, I found a copy of “Hustler” under the mattress in my motel room during a family cross-country trip. My parents actually let me flip through it for a couple minutes before I tossed it into the trashcan in disgust. (while of course squealing “Ew, ew, ew!” in typical 12-year-old fashion.)
I am grateful for my parents’ common sense about this stuff. I can’t say that I benefited particularly from reading “Lace” by Shirley Conran when I was eleven -- but I did absorb to the very core of my being the important lesson that exposure to other people’s ideas and fantasies is not something to be feared. Knowing that the world is not one long Disney movie is on balance a good thing, and for a girl especially, it is probably good to know that not everyone out there thinks of sex in terms of hearts and flowers and wuv. Most of all, I am glad that my parents respected my humanity -- that is, they respected my inherent curiosity about the wider world and they had faith in my ability to cope with it.