Librarians are asked all types of questions, but few must be experts on the clap. Jessa Crispin reports from a sex library, where pustules and excitable virgins are just another part of the job.
I had just started working at a sexuality education center, which consisted of health educators and a library. Among other things, my responsibilities included buying books and videos, reading a selection of books, and recommending books to clients. The other responsibilities could have involved human feces and I still would have accepted the job. English majors joke about finding a job reading books all day; I had found it. The books were all about sex, but that just made it better.
I started reading my way through the Human Sexuality section for the basics. The mechanics of a woman’s orgasm (predictably complicated), the mechanics of a man’s orgasm (predictably simplistic), the impact a tilted uterus has on fertility, the specific hormone released during nipple stimulation, and, of course, the symptoms (with pictures!) of every sexually transmitted infection ever known to man.
I had never known so much could go wrong with body parts. Discharges, swelling, pustules, warts, rashes, parasites, growths. A quick glance through the health section of ‘Sex for Dummies’ was enough to make me start stockpiling the office’s free condoms, the strangest employee benefit I’ve ever had. I couldn’t get enough of the dangerous parts of sex, and I memorized the symptoms, impact, transmission, and treatments of each STI. I even made a chart.
Around this time I developed a rash and a severe case of medical students’ diseasewhen a medical student becomes convinced they have whatever illness they’re currently studying. It just appeared out of nowhere and itched so much I could barely sleep. I applied my recently obtained knowledge in an effort to diagnose myself. What causes a rash? Syphilis. Oh dear god, I had second stage syphilis. The rash didn’t appear on the palms of my hands, a sure sign, but it didn’t matter. I had to get it treated right away before I somehow skipped the third stage and went straight to the neurological damage. In my head I inserted myself into scenes from Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and it wasn’t pretty.
The doctor took one look at my rash and said, ‘Now, if it were scabies ’
I nearly lost consciousness. Why didn’t I think of scabies? Think, think. What’s the treatment? Burning topical ointments, Benadryl for the itching, something about coal tar. I don’t want to bathe in coal tar, whatever it is.
’ it would have a trail pattern. This just looks like an allergy to your detergent or soap.’ It was almost disappointing. I took my prednisone and left.
Other than a day I spent convinced I had thrush, the hypochondria died down. The introductory learning period was over and I was put in charge of the phones. My reading time decreased significantly as I realized most people wanted quick answers, not a book recommendation.
I categorized the callers into two groups: the crying girls and the stupid boys. The crying girls had the same basic storylines. They were either late, pregnant, raped, just had a condom break, or had a sudden, mysterious rash, you know, ‘down there.’ I tried to be a good listener, letting them get through their stories before gently pushing for testing or a police report. I gave out numbers to abortion clinics much too often. At the beginning, I worried about them after they called. I wondered if they were okay; I wished they would call back and let me know what they decided. But it was very draining. After a day of heavy crying girl calls, I would lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, thanking my sexual organs for their current disease and pregnancy free state.
At some point, I had to turn off my maternal instinct and stick to factual information. ‘When was your last period?’ instead of ‘He didn’t tell you the condom came off?’ ‘Do you have any symptoms?’ instead of ‘Have you told anybody?’ It felt cold at first, but it quickly diminished the dread that came with a ringing phone.
The stupid boys elicited a completely different response. They didn’t want someone to listen, they wanted someone to tell them they weren’t idiots. The problem was, they were idiots. I couldn’t believe anyone would ever have sex with them.
‘Uh, but I only put it in a little ’
‘Did you come inside her?’
‘Yeah, but we were doin’ it standing up. She can’t get pregnant like that, right?’
‘My girlfriend is a week late, has been nauseated, she’s been really tired lately But she’s not pregnant right? She wants to get tested, but I told her she’s definitely not pregnant. Right?’
‘Her twat was all stinky and stuff, but I did it with her anyway.’
‘Did you wear a condom?’
‘No, but it burns when I take a piss now. You think I got something?’
It made me think that perhaps when the girls were shuffled into a room and made to watch videos about the miracle of menstruation and the horrible, terrible things that could happen if we had sex outside of marriage, the boys got recess.
There was a subgroup of the stupid boys known as the jerk-off calls. My 64 year-old boss was once asked over the phone if she liked the taste of semen. I got calls from ‘virgins’ who wanted me to describe in detail what their first time would be like. As disturbing as those calls were, they were easily dealt with, thanks to call block.
But they were nothing compared to Anal Sex Man.
Anal Sex Man called about once every four to six weeks. He was immediately identifiable with his hesitant, breathy speech, and, of course, his questions about anal sex. We were never sure if he was a jerk-off call or a man going through a massive sexual identity crisis. To be blunt, he wanted his wife to fuck him in the ass, but wasn’t sure how to go about that. I explained the miracle of the strap-on and gave him the number to a good sex toy shop, but he kept calling back, wanting more information. Can anal sex hurt you? What if his wife isn’t into it? How do you go about anal sex? Usually someone wanting such detailed information was masturbating at the other end, but Anal Sex Man wasn’t a heavy breather, nor were there any telltale sounds. He just sounded so very, very confused.
Eventually my 64 year-old boss turned 65, and she retired. The department was restructured and it was decided that they didn’t need a librarian anymore. My position was terminated. Instead of a librarian, the education center now has a receptionist who tells the crying girls and stupid boys to call a medical clinic, and the library hasn’t added new books in nearly a year. Seeing the neglect makes me miss my old job, but I think a year was enough. I had begun to lie about my job to people at parties so girls would stop telling me about their menstrual cycles and boys would stop leering at me.
Right before I left, Anal Sex Man stopped calling. It was for the best as I’m not sure the receptionist they hired would have been able to deal with him.
Wherever he is, I hope he’s getting it up the ass.