the talk with my mother, or rather the non-talk, pricked at me during my stay in London. It got me thinking: What do women not talk
about with each other? My English girlfriends were all a very open lot,
much more so than their American counterparts. I would put the question to
The fact that I write about sex for a living amused them to
death. It was all "so American" -- it showed how uptight we Yanks really
are. And this wacky thing called the Internet didn't interest them in the
One night in London, as a group of my male and female friends sat in
a fashionable bar near the West End drinking gin and tonics, I was suddenly
struck by the strangeness of my girlfriends. They seemed like a different
species: giant exotic birds, glossy, dressed in black, with graceful
fingers and fashionably clunky shoes. So much more overt than the men, less
conservative, and so much more sexual. Sallie with her bare shoulders, in
her bias-cut dress, Mary in her clinging Ozbek turtleneck, the way they
threw back their heads and laughed, the slight parting of their lips when
they listened. They asked me what I'd been writing about lately, and when I
replied "penis size," they nodded knowingly as if I'd said "tax reform."
The men, on the other hand, were a bit prickly.
"I would like to know," Mark interrupted in his most perfect BBC accent,
"why people talk about penis size. The question shouldn't be how big or how
small the man is. The question is, how small is the woman?"
"Shut up, Mark," Sallie said languidly. "Anyone who talks about anchovies
and women is a misogynist. You're just digging yourself deeper."
"Actually, women have surgery all the time to make their vaginas tighter,"
Mary put in. "They just don't talk about it. It's one of those things that
women don't talk about with each other."
"This is news to me," I said. Mary was a copy editor for a women's health
magazine, and she said this with some authority. "What other things do
women not talk about with each other?"
"That's true about the surgery," Sallie interjected. "After childbirth, or just to
be smaller. It's a very simple operation, it takes no time at all
apparently." She and Mary nodded as the men drifted into rugby talk. "I
don't know why women don't talk about it. I haven't had it done. Have you?"
she asked, turning to Mary.
"No. I know someone who did. It's really not a big issue."
"Whatever happened to Kegel exercises?" I asked.
"Spoken like a true Yank. Why do a load of exercises when you can just have
a simple procedure?" Mary asked.
"Women don't talk about masturbation in the States," I said. "There still
seems to be some sort of shame attached to it. But I asked an English
friend of mine about it recently, and she was quite upfront once the
question was put to her. She said when she's anxious, she masturbates about
four times a day. She works at home, you see."
"Why would there be shame attached to masturbation?" Sallie seemed
genuinely surprised. "John bought me a
vibrator. I use it all the time."
"My friend also said," I continued, warming up to the subject, "that she hadn't
yet had a boyfriend who didn't connect her frequent masturbation to her
feeling like she wasn't getting enough sex in the relationship. In fact,
she said, the two had nothing to do with each other. It was just a tension
"Women don't talk about Bartholin gland cysts either," observed Mary. "Although
something like 70 percent of all women get them at one time or another. My
gynecologist told me that."
"We also don't talk about multiple orgasms," declared Sallie. "I'm not sure
why that is. I would like to know, actually, how my girlfriends count their
multiple orgasms. For instance, does anyone have one right after another?
Or is it within the space of five minutes? Or 10? And if so, does that
count as a multiple orgasm?"
"Another drink?" the waiter asked.
"Yes," we all cried.
"But we all know you lot talk about our penises," Mark interrupted. "That's
something I think you should stop talking about. It's very private."
"Particularly if you're as tiny as Mark," Mary said, as Mark turned back to
sports talk. She finished the last of her drink and crunched some ice.
"Maybe we Brit girls need to get on the Internet. We need to find out from
the Americans what it is that we all don't talk about. I will start by
saying that I have one orgasm per sexual session. That's it."
"Let's have a round robin," Sallie said eagerly. "Let's all talk about one thing that we've never talked about
with girlfriends. I'll start: I lust after a woman at my office. Now you,"
she said to me.
"I can't top that," I said. "You know my life is an open book. Let me get
back to you on this."
Sallie and Mary groaned. "You can take the Yank out of the country," they
said in unison.