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Woman's Body: An Owner's Manual


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Woman’s Body has been created especially for the individual woman with the belief that a clearer understanding of the development and functioning of her body will increase her confidence and lead her to a fuller appreciation of herself.
The words ‘average’ and ‘typical’ are often used in Woman’s Body. The terms refer generally to what is or what happens in a large number of cases: not what is necessarily best, or what should be.


In the year before my first period, my mother gives me a book called Woman’s Body, An Owner’s Manual. My mother’s greatest fear is that I will become pregnant. Mine is that my mother will talk to me about sex. So we are both happy with the gift. She hands it over, telling me, ‘When I was thirteen a girl came to our convent who’d been expelled from her last school for having sex. She said “I got rooted in the back of the bus”, and told us all this stuff. Not all of it was true.’ For a moment we are both holding onto the book and it takes a small tug from me to get it out of her hands.

I take it downstairs to my bedroom, which is painted black and has two large white eyes drawn on the wall by my bed. The room is lit only by a small red lamp next to the bed, and in the low light I inspect the book. It looks like an instruction manual for a car or a dishwasher. The cover is navy blue with no picture on the front, just the title stencilled in white. The book is not new and it’s been well thumbed, it smells of dust and degrading paper. Flicking through it, at first I’m disappointed – I’m used to seeing naked bodies doing much more interesting things. A long time ago I discovered my parents’ sex books, disguised as art books, the thick black ones leaning casually alongside the auction catalogues and the encyclopaedias in the front room. Inside are Japanese pictures showing close-ups of huge veined dicks splitting women open; a painting where a piano teacher is trying to hit her young female pupil’s naked genitals while they pull at each other’s hair. Men and women get beaten up with sticks and whips, and they love it. Huge-dicked fauns tickling a naked bum with a powder puff. In the mouth, up the bum and sometimes just into thin air. I consider myself to be well educated in what all kinds of sex look like. They are images that pop into my head at school, where I become convinced that the teachers can read my thoughts and know that I’m a pervert.

The diagrams in ‘Sexual Intercourse 1-3’ show neat-haired couples with small discreet nipples and no pubic hair. There is no movement in the illustrations, nothing frantic. Each person has the same small smile – just enough that you know they are there voluntarily, but not so much that it looks like what they are doing might be fun. Overall I am disappointed, though there is one position, the ‘rear entry with both partners kneeling, for the pregnant woman’, which has never before occurred to me. I slide the book under my bed for now, along with the dirty plates and lost homework – this is something that will need careful thinking about.

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