The intentions were good. The intentions may even have helped sustain my bibliophile tendencies through those tricky teen years. But the intentions led to me curled up in a corner reading total smut until the backs of my knees went clammy.
My parents were the average parents of a ’90s teenager. They didn’t have to worry about me sexting myself blind or being bullied on Facebook so they focused on the obvious: protecting my young eyes from nipples, pubic hair, and thrusting on television. I wasn’t allowed to watch soap operas or inappropriate films, and my dad once used the VCR to create a sex-free version of Conan The Barbarian for me. (True story: it had lots of violence but no breasts and was very very short.) But I was a free range reader.
Reading was good, reading was encouraged, my stacks of library fines and requests for book vouchers were regarded with proud smiles and gentle boasts to grandparents. Well, mom and dad, I was spending that time and money on a noble quest for filth. Forgive me.
It started innocently enough at the library one Saturday morning. Our village was small and I had pillaged the age appropriate sections a number of times over. On one of those display shelves that libraries use for the new books was a whole series of VC Andrews titles, shiny, hardback, and pristine. The girls on the covers looked pretty, the blurbs sounded pleasingly dramatic and a quick flick through the pages revealed it was sexier than a Jonathan Brandis poster. I took three of the Landry series series home that day.
Soon that wasn’t enough and I was on to Jackie Collins, starting with Lucky. I remember lying on a blanket in the garden, my nose between its neon covers, skipping through filth I barely understood and feeling a bit like my thigh bones were melting. I hardly remember the plot points but my brain has created a whole data bank of Jackie Collins sex acts that I can still access at will. Like Sherlock’s mind palace, only with more throbbing members.
By the time I was around 14 or 15 I was canny enough to use the complicated VideoPlus+ VCR system to record some of the more 18 rated films shown on TV after my parents had gone to bed and to watch them when left babysitting. But the reading carried on anyway, only now my tastes had moved over to horror. It had all the sex but now it came with sexy vampires, rampant werewolves and, occasionally, tentacles. Edward and Bella? Please.
I remember reading The Fog and The Rats with one eye on the bedroom door, as if I was about to get caught doing something terrible. I’m not sure James Herbert would have wanted to play a key part in my maturing sexuality, but we can’t choose the roles history assigns to us. There were countless semi-pornographic vampire books and lusty monsters too, and frankly some of them made those 99p Kindle titles like “The Centaur’s Wench” seem like YA.
In the past I worried that learning about sex from romance novels and horror might have twisted my fragile mind, but here I am at 31 and it feels like the whole world is at it. Between Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries it seems like everyone wants to hump the undead or play hide the bone with a werewolf. If anything, 15-year-old Rachel was ahead of her time.
So I say to the parents of today: feel free to lock down your internet and put parental controls on the cable, but don’t ever try and hide your copy of Shirley Conran’s Lace or that old Clive Barker paperback. Turn a blind eye and you’ll have the best read kid in the school.
**As an endnote it seems only fair to disclose that my current boyfriend’s impressive collection of horror novels wasn’t the only reason I fell for him, but it didn’t hurt either. Still, mom and dad, I can promise our relationship is tentacle-free.**