How Cosmo and Catholic School Shaped My Sexual Awareness

Our writer reflects on her experience with puberty.

was sitting at my desk on a late-spring day at Holy Saviour School in Norristown, trying to be discreet. I rolled down the top of my maroon wool sock and rubbed the smooth skin below my kneecap. I was in sixth grade, and my mother had finally let me shave—though only below the knee, like a line of demarcation.Still, it felt so smooth. “Any minute now, I’ll have a boyfriend,” I recall thinking to myself—not that I’d have any idea what to do with him. My mother gently broached the subject of my developing body. As I stuttered out a question, her eyebrows rose, disappearing into her hairline. She looked at me like I was a rookie cop trying to defuse a bomb. “Can I get a bra that’s not plain white?” I asked. “The bra comes in a box—Grandmom wears bras that come in a box.”No dice. There was nothing in any of my textbooks about sex or anatomy—just warnings about adultery and coveting thy neighbor’s spouse. So I turned to issues of Cosmopolitan, which I hid under my mattress. I plastered the back of my door with pictures of Luke Perry and Jason Priestley for kissing practice. No lock on the bedroom door meant the threat of a broken nose or being caught in my own make-believe love triangle. “You should have the Bible and the Blessed Mother next to your bed,” the nuns reminded us.Then, one day, the school nurse herded the boys and girls into separate rooms. She popped in a video where a girl asks about the changes she’s going through. Her mom decides that the best way to explain is to diagram the female reproductive system with pancake batter on a hot griddle. To this day, I can’t eat pancakes without visualizing my fallopian tubes.Katie Bambi-Kohler’s life got way more interesting when she could shave above her knees.

Illustration by Jon Krause

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