A site for Gen-X men, by Gen-X men, about the stuff in life that really matters.
The Arrow Logo - SVG
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Arrow community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? 

Everything I Know About Sex, I Learned from 70s Soul Music

This is how kids got their dirty educations before the internet

Black and white portrait of Donna Summer

My father wouldn’t teach me about sex, so Stevie Wonder did instead. 

OK, technically Chaka Khan and her band Rufus taught me about sex, because they’re the ones who recorded “Tell Me Something Good,” a song Stevie Wonder wrote and then gave away because in 1974 he was writing a great song every day, more or less. And it’s crucial to the pedagogic effect of the song that Chaka was singing it rather than Stevie, because I was a kid who was desperate to learn something about women. 

Over a lurching groove I now recognize as a musical simulation of coitus, Khan alternately brags (“I got somethin’ that’ll sure ’nuff set your stuff on fire”) and teases (“Tell me that you like it”). I had no idea what the it was in “Tell me that you like it,” but the song made me understand that it was magnificent, and that women liked it too. 

In childhood, we examine songs for clues about adult life, the kind of information our parents try to keep away from us. When I was a kid, we didn’t have the internet to teach us dirty things. The closest we had was the World Book, which was not forthcoming on the topic of sex. We also had porno magazines, but either my father didn’t have any, or he hid them somewhere I couldn’t find them, despite hours of searching. 

My well-meaning dad was a CPA and had no appetite for talking about — well, anything. This was a different generation of parent; my problems were my problems, not his. I think his jaw would have turned to dust if he even tried to say vagina to me. 

At one point, my older brother, whose bedroom was next to mine, tossed me a thin hardcover book called something like The Miracle of Life. It was supposed to be my introduction to sex education, but I didn’t get past the first chapter’s illustrations of the Characteristic Mammals of North America. I didn’t want to read about ovaries, fallopian tubes and other body parts I couldn’t pronounce and wouldn’t get near until college. I wanted the dirty stuff. 

I found it in hit songs of the 1970s, which in retrospect were shockingly dirty. Even though I didn’t spot the phallic symbolism of Melanie’s “Brand New Key” (what is a key but thin, long and hard?), I knew it was bringing me hints about adult life. I couldn’t have specified what “I don’t go too fast, but I go pretty far” meant, but I knew Melanie’s coquettish, little-girl soprano was inviting someone to do something or other. The mystery still needed to be solved. 

The next clue came from Maria Muldaur, who in “Midnight at the Oasis” sang “You won’t need no camel, no no, when I take you for a ride.” Her manner was louche, and she sang with the confidence of a dominatrix. A ride? Sounds fun, I love rides. I knew just enough to realize she wasn’t talking about a Ferris wheel. 

A whole lot of babies were made to “Midnight at the Oasis,” and if you were born in 1974, you might be one of them. Play the song for your mom and see how she reacts. 

When I heard “Walk This Way” on WPLJ, a New York FM station, I understood Steven Tyler was talking about sex. Subtlety is not Mr. Tyler’s strength. I had no idea what “down on a muffin” meant, but that muffin made Tyler happier than I’d ever been in my whole life, and I wanted to taste a few crumbs. 

Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” and Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” which came out in consecutive years, both had outright orgasmic moaning from their singers. The BBC banned the former song, after Time magazine claimed it depicted 22 orgasms. But because both were massive, era-defining hits, they exposed America, the world and me to what cultural critic Walter Hughes once called a “source of 1970s anxiety: the female orgasm.” 

Before the digital Pandora’s box of the internet, pop songs functioned as a kind of libidinal treasure map for kids. Diana Ross’ moans and Steven Tyler’s lubricious howling assured me, in the throes of adolescent woe, that magnificent adult pleasures awaited me. And all of it was true, though I’m still not sure what fallopian tubes are.

Follow Article Topics: Inside-Dope