The Sexual Education Blues

by Lubrican

Chapters: Cast | Prelude | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9-31 & Epilogue Available On

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Chapter Three: Opening Day

There were a number of indicators that should have told Bob that something odd was going on, but he didn't pick up on them right away.

The first was that, as he ate breakfast by himself at a small table, he didn't see, scattered around the dining room, the couples that he usually saw, when one of his seminars was about to take place. He did see the group of nine people, sitting together, but didn't associate them with his group. His groups never started out sitting together. His groups started out sitting apart, and then, in about the middle if the seminar, sat together, and by the end sat apart again, though sometimes not in the same pairings.

The second was when, as he reviewed his notes one more time, the group he had seen sitting together all walked tentatively into the conference room he'd been assigned. He recognized it as the same group, and that surprised him so much that he didn't fully process the information.

The third was that, when they sat, they didn't sit boy-girl-boy-girl style, which was almost inevitable when paired couples gathered and sat around a table, like these did. That was also so odd that it threw him off. In fact, they didn't sit like paired couples at all. There was, for the most part, an equal distance between them. Women usually sat closer to their chosen mate, extending the distance between rivals, and asserting their claim. They weren't aware of it, but it was quite common.

He usually launched into his material almost immediately. His concepts were strange enough, to most people, that he needed all the time available to get through them, and deal with the resistance that invariably arose. Instead, what he did, was look at them curiously. He was used to dealing with human reactions, but these people were acting differently than his expectations, and that was interesting. In the process, his mind strayed away from his presentation. He also forgot to ask them for their surveys.

"Good morning," he said.

He got the normal responses and curious looks.

"I'm glad you could all make it," he said. He'd gotten an odd communication that said his group was snowed in, in Toronto, but would try to make it anyway. "I understand you all had some excitement on the way here."

The reaction wasn't what he expected. He got some blank looks. His attention was drawn to one unusually tall woman, who, according to his perceptions, had chosen to sit by a much shorter man. She wasn't sitting close to him, though. It was almost as if they had just met, and she was attracted to him. There was a woman sitting on her other side. He examined the man the tall one was sitting by. He had a relaxed countenance, indicating he was comfortable. He had looked at the woman and smiled, when Bob mentioned excitement.

Almost no one else reacted. The older man in the group was looking at Bob intently, but he said nothing. Bob gave his head an invisible, mental shake. If this was an odd group, he'd better get on with it. He wanted to get rid of any of them who were going to resist, so he could spend more time with these very interesting people.

He used a light pen and laptop, slaved to a plasma screen, instead of a dry erase board. It let him display graphics, as well as things he wrote to emphasize them during his talk. Most people who had been to college, or who worked in an organization tended to take notes, whether it was needed or not. In Bob's case, what he was going to tell them would be remembered. No notes were necessary, and, by the second day, people stopped taking them, usually.

"OK," he said into the silence. "We all know why we're here, so let's get to it."

He opened with his regular spiel about how sex was the basic drive that, along with the need for food and shelter, demanded a lot of the attention that was involved in living a life. He suggested that any organism that fails to have successful sex will die, leaving nothing behind to continue its line, and that, therefore, successful sex was imperative for all living things.

He got some odd looks at that, but still no one said anything.

He went on to say that the only things that regulated sex were competition, and social mores, and suggested that social mores didn't regulate sex nearly as well as they were intended to.

"Why do you think we have social rules about sex?" he asked.

Nobody said anything.

He held up a hand. "Let me back up for just a second. We're here to talk about sex, which is something that most people are not comfortable doing. That's one of those rules I mentioned a moment ago. We're told 'Don't talk about sex', among other things." He looked at each person, and got a couple of nods. It was interesting that several of them smiled, and looked around the table, though not at any particular person. The woman with braces, who looked too young to actually be in this seminar, nodded her head vigorously.

He went on. "But, to make progress, we need to communicate, and to communicate, we need to trust each other. If we don't, we'll just tell each other lies, or half truths, and that doesn't do any good at all. So, I need you to be as open and honest as you can ... much more open and honest than you'd usually be. Nothing we say here will leave this conference center, unless one of you takes it outside and talks about it."

He got more odd looks, and began to suspect something was seriously wrong. Either that, or this was the most up tight crowd he'd ever seen in his life.

He tried again. "OK, so ... why do we have rules and laws that restrict sexual behavior?"

After a too-long pause, the older man finally broke the ice. "All laws are intended to protect, and regulate the members of any society."

"Very good," said Bob, relieved. "So why would there be a law that says no one under the age of, say, sixteen, can engage in sex?"

Nearly everybody moved, either sitting up, or leaning or doing something to let tension out of their bodies.

The good looking blond spoke.

"That's too early for them to have sex," she said, as if it were obvious.

"Too early by whose standards?" asked Bob. "When a woman begins to menstruate, she is capable of bearing a child. Nature says that she's ready to have sex. Nature says it's NOT too early. So why do we make that rule?" He looked at Tiffany.

"This is silly," she said. "Girls that young shouldn't have babies. It's hard on their bodies."

"Now ..." said Bob, "you have a REASON for making a rule. If women try to have babies too young, they may not survive. The babies may not survive. The rule comes into place because we, as humans, are capable of gaining wisdom. This is the whole crux of my program. When you leave here, I hope to have taught you to question everything. If there is a rule that restricts your behavior, I want you to question it, and understand whether or not it is a good rule, or a bad one."

"I don't understand," said the young girl with braces. "I thought we were here for Sexual Education Training."

"You are," said Bob, missing another cue. "But education begins with asking questions, and ends with finding the answers to those questions."

Several of the group looked confused, now, and uncertain. Bob was used to seeing that look, but didn't realize it was for different reasons that he usually saw it. He went on with his presentation.

"OK," said Bob, moving to his next point. "Let's talk about 'sex' all by itself, for a moment. Sex has dual roles in any society. You can do it for procreation, and you can do it for fun."

He didn't look for acceptance of that. While there were still a few people on the globe who thought sex was only for making babies, and that no fun was allowed, they never showed up in his seminars.

"Now, Sex, just for the purpose of sex, is OK, but, for most people, at one time or another, is not the really desired outcome. Love makes for better sex. Admiration and respect lead to truly satisfying relationships, and there's a lot more than sex to a good relationship."

He got a few more nods.

"The problem is, that in most long term relationships, sex is more important in the beginning, than it is later on. Why do you think this happens?"

Again, it was Roger who spoke, perhaps because he was the only member of the group old enough to have been in a really long term relationship.

"The sex drive is stronger, when you're young," he said.

"Really?" asked Bob. "What about Hugh Hefner?"

The man snorted. "I thought we were talking about long term relationships ... not a harem that changes constantly."

"OK," said Bob. "You have a point there. MY point, though, is that it is quite possible for people of, shall we say, advanced age to be thoroughly interested in having a vibrant sex life." He looked around. "So the question then becomes ... what is it about prolonged relationships that causes the sex drive to diminish?"

Crystal spoke. "Sometimes the relationship changes," she said. She was thinking about her ex-husband's gambling addiction. When everyone looked at her she looked uncomfortable. "I mean, there's disappointment in your mate," she added.

"I agree," said Woody suddenly. "Things change, and your mate disappoints you." He was thinking about how he'd been ready to marry Mandy, but she'd dumped him.

"Yes," said Roberta, thinking about how her husband loved work more than he loved her.

"Me too," threw in Jeff, thinking of Melanie, sitting at home with her parents, instead of with him, where she belonged.

Bob blinked. They sounded like they all had marital problems that his seminar wasn't equipped for dealing with.

"OK," Bob said slowly. "but those are situations where marital counseling is called for ... to ease the stress and bring about changes of behaviors. What I'm talking about is an otherwise healthy relationship, where sex has gotten, shall we say, less exciting, even though the partners are fully committed to the relationship."

He got blank looks. The majority of the group had never been in a fully committed relationship at all. He looked at the older man, expectancy in is gaze.

Roger saw that look, and responded.

"I can't help you. When my wife died, the sex was as good as it had ever been."

Bob blinked again. This man was a widower? What was he doing at this seminar?

"But you remarried," suggested Bob.

"No," said Roger. "Dating is a real pain in the ass."

Bob had just been presented with another indicator that something was terribly wrong. Already off balance, though, he didn't stop to take the time to investigate this. He had noticed that there were four men and five women in his seminar. It wasn't unheard of for a man to refuse to go to a seminar to "get help" with his wife, but the change in numbers, now suggesting there were TWO women without paired partners didn't fully penetrate.

"Uh ..." said Bob, trying to think of how to get back on track. "Can we, for the moment, agree, just for the sake of argument, that sometimes people who are married ... get used to each other? A little bored, maybe?"

The looks he got now were positively confused.

The young woman with braces finally spoke.

"I still don't see what any of this has to do with sex ed."

It was her use of the shortened term "sex ed" that finally penetrated into Bob's consciousness. It was just the wrong term to use in this situation. It stopped him cold in his tracks, and he took a mental step back.

"How many of you are married?" he asked suddenly.

Two hands went up, one belonging to a woman, and one to a man. They were not sitting together.

"Are you two married to each other?" he asked.

He got astonished looks from both of them, but noticed the woman blushed too. Both yipped "No!"

Bob felt a sinking feeling in his gut.

"And you - all of you - are not from Toronto ... are you?"

They all looked like he'd asked them if they were from Mars.

Bob looked around.

"I think there has been a mistake here," he said finally. "I think you all are in the wrong seminar."

"What seminar is this?" asked the older man.

Bob said "This is the seminar on human interaction and sexual relations."

The tall woman opened the notebook she had brought to the room and looked through papers in it. She pulled one out.

"Human interaction and sexual relations." she read. "It's right here on the memo I got."

"Memo?" asked Bob.

"Yes," she said, looking up. "From the school board."

"School board?" asked Bob.

"I just said that!" said the woman, heat in her voice. "They sent me here for continuing education. I teach sex ed. We all do."

Roger spoke again. "What is the purpose of this seminar?" he asked.

Bob looked at him. "The purpose of this seminar is to re-invigorate stale sexual relationships in paired couples who are in long term relationships."

It was so silent that Bob could hear the whisper of the air conditioning.

Woody chuckled, and then laughed. Everybody looked at him.

"Well, you have to admit it's ironic," he chuckled. "I mean, here we are, trying to learn how to keep kids from having sex, and they send us to a seminar on how to have better sex!"

Bob stood up. "Hang tight for just a second. I'll be right back."

He left the room and made a call to his office. The information he got stunned him. Somehow, a state board of education had actually screwed up monumentally, and sent nine teachers to his seminar. He had no idea how that could have happened, but he was quite sure it was an error. He had no idea what to do now.

He went back to the room.

In the conference room, the conversation was animated, as soon as the door closed. There were the expected "I can't believe this!" kinds of statements, but the irony of the situation gripped all of them, with the possible exception of Lori, who was just confused. She had no sexual experience at all, with the possible exception of closely watching what farm animals did. She didn't know what to think.

The irony of the sexual interplay that had affected the group was also recognized, though it wasn't talked about openly. When Bob had said he taught people how not to be bored with their sex lives any more, Jane automatically thought of her relationship with Jed. They weren't even married yet, and she dreaded what she considered to be the boring life she would lead, once they were. Roberta thought much the same thing, thinking of how her sex life with Phillip had tapered off to practically nothing.

All of them, except Lori, of course, were contemplating one thing or another while Bob was gone. It was very interesting to all of them, if only because it was such a surprise about what had happened. They were just beginning to think of how this might affect their jobs, when Bob returned.

Bob went to his briefcase and opened it. He searched through it and pulled out a slim folder, which he opened. It was the results of the lab tests that were required of all attendees in his seminars. His secretary routinely screened such results, and put them in a folder for him, but she only drew his attention to them if something was positive for an STD. Obviously, she had screened only the results, without looking at the names. If she'd have looked at the names, she'd have seen that all nine were different, and said something.

Bob stood, addressing the group.

"Here's the deal. I have no idea how it happened, but somebody made a huge mistake and misinterpreted the purpose of my seminar. You were all sent here intentionally." He gave them a chance to gasp and look at each other in bewilderment. He didn't see as much of that as he expected. "I was expecting a group from Toronto, but they got snowed in, and you all showed up, which is why things got all tangled up."

"So what do we do now?" asked Roger.

"Well," said Bob, "I've never run into this situation before. You WERE sent here, and the bill has already been paid. I'm sure it was an error of some kind, though. I suppose you could all just go back home."

"Could we stay?" asked one woman. She had raised her hand when he asked who was married.

"Before we talk about that, let me find out a little bit about you all." Bob suddenly remembered the surveys. "You all should have been given a survey. I imagine it looked a little weird to you."

He got lots of nods at that one.

"Never mind that now," he said. "Just introduce yourselves and give me a thumbnail sketch of where you are in your sexual life."

They stared at him.

"I'm not asking for intimate details," he amended. "Just tell me what kind of relationship you're in." He looked at the woman who had asked if they could stay. "Can we start with you?"

She looked uncomfortable and her face darkened, but she took a breath.

"I'm Roberta Tinsdale. I'm married, but my husband is never home because he's always at work. We donít ... um ... see each other very much." She stopped, looking uncomfortable at what she'd divulged.

"That's fine," said Bob. "Anybody else?"

Perhaps because her situation was similar, in a far-fetched way, to his, Jeff spoke next.

"I'm Jeff Watts," he said. "I graduated mid year, and took a job to replace an injured teacher, so I've only taught for four months. My wife, Melanie, decided the pay was too low and went back home to live with her parents. She's kind of spoiled."

"Thank you," said Bob. He looked at the tall woman. She looked back and then made an almost physical decision to speak.

"Crystal Smith. I've been divorced for five years. I left him because he wouldn't stop gambling. I'm not in a relationship. Men don't date tall women." Her voice was tight, and almost confrontational.

"Thank you," said Bob, ignoring her confrontational gaze. He looked at Roger next.

"When did your wife pass on?" he asked.

"Ten years ago," he said. "I'm Roger, by the way. Roger Zowalski. Like I said, I have a hard time with dating, and playing the games that dating seems to require just ... I just can't get motivated to do that."

Bob nodded and looked at Chuck.

"Chuck Bradshaw," he said. "I'm not in a relationship."

That was apparently all he was willing to say, so Bob went on to Tiffany.

"My name is Tiffany Jones. I had a serious boyfriend when I was in college, but, when I went to teach, he stayed to get a Masters degree. We seem to have drifted apart. I've been too busy to look around, and all the good ones were taken at my school."

Woody preempted being looked at by speaking first.

"I'm Woody Buckholtz. I wanted to get serious with my girlfriend, but she didn't. She dumped me. It's hard to find a woman who wants a serious relationship."

Bob noticed that Crystal looked at him interestedly, when he spoke. That confirmed, in his mind, that she HAD chosen to sit by him. He'd seen this group together, eating. That made a lot more sense, now that he knew why they thought they were there. It would have been natural for them to cluster. There must have been some interaction besides eating if this woman was already interested in one of the men. It was a good sign, but not to be dealt with now. He turned to one of the remaining two women.

"I'm Jane Watson," she said. "I'm engaged."

She stopped there. It was about like Chuck's reticence, but required a bit more.

"And how long have you been engaged?" asked Bob.

"Six years," she said. She didn't sound unhappy. It was more like she was embarrassed.

"That's a long time to be engaged," suggested Bob, knowing there was something under the surface.

"I'm ... not sure I want to marry him," said Jane, looking down.

Bob let her off the hook, for now, and turned to the girl with braces.

She blinked at him, looking scared. He waited. The others looked at her. As peer pressure almost always does, it forced her to say something.

"I'm Lori Simpson. I'm twenty-three and I'm a teacher," she blurted.

Someone snickered, and Bob spoke instantly, but kept his eyes on Lori.

"No one has said anything funny. In a group like this, any time you are asked to speak, it can be a very uncomfortable situation. Let's not be unkind to anyone who does speak, OK?"

He let that soak in and then asked Lori: "Do you have a boyfriend, Lori?"

She blinked. "No."

He waited for more.

"I wasn't allowed." Then, almost impulsively, she added: "Sex is bad ... I think."

There was all kind of movement around the table, but nobody said anything, for which Bob was grateful.

"If you'll indulge me, I'd like to do a little thinking out loud. Then you all can make some decisions."

They nodded, and he began talking, looking at no one in particular.

"OK, they got sent here, and the bill is paid. I'm dealing with a bureaucracy, here, and if I send them all back, trying to pay the money back will be a nightmare. They're all sexual education teachers, which means that they have to deal with the issues of young people and sex, which is difficult under any circumstances. To top it off, none of them are in a committed, long term relationship that's meeting their needs. That's going to make for a continuing high level of anxiety, which will make it even more difficult to deal with kids."

"Now, if they stay here, I might be able to offer them some information that could help them in forming and maintaining committed, long term relationships. If that happens, it could be a positive influence in their lives, which could end up making their interaction with their students more positive as well. So really, it all boils down to an ethical question. Can I provide them with enough information to make them better sexual education teachers, which will justify the expense they've been sent here at?"

"Wouldn't it be a legal question?" asked Roger, "Instead of an ethical one?"

Bob looked at Roger.

"The legal question is pretty easy. The board signed a contract with me by enrolling you. I'm obligated to supply the information they've paid for. The ethical question comes in when we know it was an error, and that what I have isn't what they THOUGHT they were paying for. At this stage of the game, I can demand payment, because I'm here, and willing to do what I was hired to do. They could sue me, but I imagine it would cost them more than just blowing off the expense of the seminar."

"How could you make us better sexual education teachers?" asked Tiffany.

Bob smiled. "Sex is a complicated and intricate dance, and while the basic steps are easy to figure out, the music that goes with this particular dance is not easy to compose. Imagine dancing, with no music at all ... no beat to help you time your steps ... no stimulation to your brain as you enjoy both the music AND the dance. What I can teach you is how to write the music."

"You mean how to have a better sex life," said Crystal, cutting to the chase.

"I don't need to learn how to have a better sex life," said Lori. "I don't have sex!"

"Do you plan to never have sex in your whole life?" asked Bob.

"I'm barely a teacher!" she yipped. "How can I even THINK about sex? My parents told me sex was bad so much that I don't know if I could even stand to DO it! I never even kissed a boy!"

There was more shifting of bodies in chairs. It was practically unheard of for a woman twenty-three years old, who wasn't in a convent, to be that inexperienced.

"Sex doesn't have to be scary," said Bob gently. "Even if you decide never to have sex - and let me say here that's a perfectly honorable decision - but even if you decide never to form that kind of relationship with a man or woman, you still will be surrounded by it. You should learn not to be afraid of it, if only to be able to function in a more relaxed and comfortable way in your daily life."

"Wait a minute," Tiffany interrupted. "Did you say with a man OR woman?"

Bob didn't smile. "As I said before, there is sex for pleasure, and there is sex for procreation."

"But that's just wrong!" said Tiffany.

"It may be wrong for you, and that's fine," said Bob. "That doesn't make it wrong for everybody else. Some people like cottage cheese, and some people don't. That doesn't mean cottage cheese is to blame. It's just there."

He let them chew on that for a few seconds. He sat down. When they were all looking at him again, he spoke.

"So, as I see it, there are two options. One is for you to all go home. The other is for you to honor the board's decision to stay here and go through my seminar." He paused. "From my perspective, just to cover all the ethical bases, I'd prefer that you either all went, or all stayed."

"But your seminar is for married people ... right?" asked Roger.

"Normally, yes, I have married couples in my seminars. That doesn't mean the information isn't valid for people who are not YET in a committed relationship." He looked at Roberta. "Those of you who ARE married may be able to affect your marriage in a positive way, as a result of the seminar. That's not a promise, because I usually work with both members of a couple, but the information could be valuable."

He looked around.

"I think I can offer you all information that will, at some point in time, make your lives ... and your relationships ... a lot more rewarding." He frowned. "Of course," he said, waving one hand in the air, "I'll alter the curriculum to these ... circumstances. I usually have exercises in the class, which, obviously, would be a problem with this group."

The one named Woody jerked, and opened his mouth.

"That's what the blood tests were for ... isn't it."

Bob nodded. "I talk about anything and everything, as it pertains to sexual behavior. Some of that involves practice ... home work, in your terminology." he Grinned. "Occasionally, people interact with someone other than their spouse. There could be liability issues if I weren't sure that there were no ... problems."

The tall woman shuddered. "Couldn't we just find the right seminar and switch?" asked Crystal.

"I have no idea where the seminar they thought they were sending you to is," said Bob. "I doubt seriously it's here, at the Halle Center. Wouldn't continuing education be at a college or university?"

"Not necessarily," said Roger, who had been to continuing education seminars in the past. Some of them were held in conference centers, just like this.

"I'll go find out if there's anything here," said Bob. "While I'm gone, you all can discuss what you want to do."

Again, the conversation was animated. None of the group, again, with the exception of Lori, was actually happy with the sexual life they were ... stuck with. They had all made allowances for their situations, and lived with things, but they also knew that things could be better. For some of them, they just didn't know HOW to make them better.

Bob's offer was appealing.

Roger, as the elder of the group, assumed command.

"I agree with Bob. If any of us goes, I think we should all go," he said. "There could be fallout if some stayed, and some went."

"What do you think we should do?" asked Jane.

"I'd like to hear what he has to say," said Roger. "I don't know if it will be worth a plug nickel or not, but I'm curious."

There was more talk ... a LOT more talk. Some worried, but almost all were, like Roger, curious. They were already here. It was a nice place. Bob seemed intelligent, and didn't sugar coat things.

In the end, they decided to stay.

Bob knew he wouldn't find anything on another seminar, but he asked. Then he went back, to find out if he'd have to deal with the bureaucracy, or not.

When he got there, they had finished talking. Most of them looked comfortable. A few looked nervous, chief among them, Lori.

"We've decided to listen to what you have to say," said Roger. "We may argue with you."

"That's fine," said Bob. "You won't be the first to argue with me."

Bob picked up where he left off, but cut to the chase.

He told them that one of the "rules" in most societies was monogamy. He gave a nod to Roger and said "It prevents warfare between the men, by and large, and makes for a more manageable society, so we might assume it's a good rule."

"Sounds like you're going to disagree," said Roger.

"I am, but only from the point of the argument that, genetically, every time a man sees a woman, he evaluates her as a potential mate, and every time a woman sees a man, she does the same thing."

"Looking for the best genetic match," said Chuck.

Bob nodded. "That puts us at odds with that rule on a genetic basis, because we continually keep looking for more mates."

"I don't," said Roberta. "If my husband would pay attention to me, I wouldn't look at other men at all."

Bob smiled. "You don't THINK you're looking at other men, because you don't think ABOUT it. But you are. The thing is, that when we do that, we make decisions almost instantaneously. We put them in the 'acceptable to mate with' category or the 'not interested' category."

"I still disagree," insisted Roberta. "I'm sure I've seen, according to your theory, a lot of men who would be acceptable, but I don't throw myself at them."

"Of course not," said Bob, smiling more widely. "There are rules about that. Let me ask you this. Do any of the men in this room appeal to you?"

She blushed almost instantly, which was enough for Bob. "Wait!" he said. "Don't answer that. I'll answer it for you. There probably ARE attractive men in this room ... men who, if you weren't married, you'd be interested in."

"OK," she said, upset that he was right. "But what does that have to do with me and my husband?"

"The point is," said Bob, getting to this point in his program much sooner than usual, "that we can use that genetic command to keep looking for other mates, to make our monogamous relationships more interesting."

"How?" asked several voices.

"Fantasy," said Bob. "Role playing."

"You mean like the little French maid?" asked Crystal. Her ex-husband had bought her a ridiculous outfit and tried to get her to put it on.

"Exactly," said Bob.

"But," she blurted, "I didn't want to BE the little French maid!"

There was movement around the table as people were shocked by her outburst, and the information it gave them. They weren't used to getting that kind of information about a peer.

"That," said Bob, "is where communication and negotiation come in. When you're with someone, and anticipate staying with them, you need to have the most open and understanding relationship you can possibly have. When one wants something that's unacceptable to the other, then you communicate to find a way to find something else that will work to give you the sense of variety that nature insists you strive for."

Roberta looked up from her hands, which she had been staring at ever since she had confessed there was someone in the room she was interested in.

"So ... you're saying it's ... normal ... to think about ... sex ... with more than one man."

"Or woman," Bob said, smiling.

"Are you married?" asked Tiffany.

More than one person was unable to stifle a burst of laughter.

She glared at them. "That's not what I meant!" she barked. "I want to know how his wife feels about this."

Bob smiled again. "I'm not married. When I was an intern, the hours were so long I couldn't keep a budding relationship ... watered, if you will. Then I was in private practice, which is worse, when you do pro bono work, like I did. I guess I'm still looking for the woman who is ... acceptable enough ... to take me away from all this."

He saw Roberta's face wrinkle up, like she was about to cry. He realized he had just re-enforced her feeling that she wasn't acceptable to her workaholic husband.

"Roberta," he said softly.

She looked up, her eyes filled with tears. She blinked furiously, to keep them from overflowing.

"It's almost never too late to turn things around."

"Phillip thinks psychiatrists are all hucksters and charlatans," she said miserably. "He'd never come to something like this, and he wouldn't listen if he did."

"Well, then," said Bob, smiling gently. "Maybe we can send you home with a few ideas to shake up his interest in work."

"OK," she squeaked. Tiffany handed her a tissue, and she wiped her eyes, and then her nose.

Roger spoke. "What if your ... fantasies ... aren't socially acceptable?"

"Yes!" chimed in Chuck.

Bob had to approach this carefully. There was perversion, as defined by law, and perversion, as defined by culture. You could, under the right circumstances, push the envelope with one, while the other needed to be dealt with in counseling.

"It depends," he said. "Perversion, which is what I assume you are referring to, is defined in two ways. There are things that the law defines as perverse, and there are things that, while legal, a culture may call perversion, and frown on. Let's take Mister Hefner, since his name came up already. How many of you think Hugh Hefner is a pervert?"

All the women except Lori raised their hands. None of the men did.

Bob grinned. "Sexual mores differ from group to group, and between the genders. I'm not trying to convert you, ladies, but from a man's point of view, all Hugh is doing is pursuing available, nubile young women that almost any man would be happy to pursue. You ladies obviously feel differently about that. I'd point out, though, that, since he started his business, there have been tens of thousands of young women who disagreed with you." He smiled again. "So, perversion, in some cases, is relative. That even applies to other things, often labeled as perversion, that are more inflammatory. I don't usually talk about those situations until everyone is comfortable and communicating better than we are right now."

"Why?" asked Tiffany. She was driven to ask that question because Chuck had jumped on the "perversion" bandwagon so quickly. She was attracted to him, though she thought he could use a little training, and was worried that he might like things that she couldn't put up with.

Bob grinned. "Trust me when I tell you that, on Saturday morning, when you leave here, you won't give a thought to some things that might horrify you right now."

"How can you know that?" she insisted.

"I'll give you an example," said Bob. "Usually I ask how many of the women in the seminar have shaved their pubic hair off. I won't ask here, because these are different circumstances."

He stopped, knowing that he hadn't answered a question, but had only made them curious. He knew somebody would ask him why. It was Crystal who did, which surprised him. Tall women were usually very reserved.

"There are two reasons to shave the pubis, both for men and women," he said. "The first is for hygiene. Crabs who have no place to live tend to go elsewhere."

He stopped to let them be naturally horrified.

"In fact, that's something you might be able to use in your sex ed classes, when you talk about sexually transmitted diseases." That got even more looks of horror.

"The other reason," he said, "goes more to that genetic component of sex we were talking about. When a woman shaves her pubic hair, it puts her sexual organ on display. It entices and inflames the male to use that organ ... to touch it and lick it and get her ready for the main event."

He saw jaws drop all around the table and drove on. "It can work the same way for the male. His hair can be distracting, and shaving it off puts him on display in a way that shows his testes, which are the symbol of his virility, thus inflaming the woman to pay homage to that virility by making herself available."

They were speechless.

"Now, as I said, I don't usually get into that speech until later on, when you wouldn't be quite so shocked by the frankness of the discussion, but you wanted an example, so I gave it to you. At THIS point in time, the thought of shaving may seem strange and perverse to some of you. Some of you may have already figured out why shaving pubic hair can be erotic. It's not for everyone. There's always an obverse side to any argument about things like that."

Then he told them that one reason to LEAVE pubic hair in place was because it collected scents that ALSO could inflame a potential partner. It just depended on the people involved, and the biology they were born with.

"If that's all true," said Tiffany, "then why are there so many things on the market to erase the very odors you're talking about?"

"You have just unveiled the third aspect of sexuality that affects us all, and our relationships," said Bob, delighted that she had asked the question. He ticked them off on his fingers.

"One: The biological urge to mate.
Two: Societal rules that regulate sexual behavior.
Three: Madison Avenue, which is interested in money, and has known for decades that number one drives the train.
Their job is to sell you all kinds of products that you don't need, to have sex that comes naturally. But they affect the way you think about sex, and therefore, you buy into what they're selling, even though you don't need any of it."

"Deodorant is kind of nice," said Jeff.

"How many of you, not counting Lori," said Bob, smiling at the still slack-jawed girl, "have smelled your underarms after sex?"

No one spoke. They were all waiting for someone else to. So Bob spoke for them.

"All of you have. It's impossible to miss. It's a horrible odor ... right?" He got some nods. "You might be interested to know that DURING sex, that odor drives you to orgasm. It's a pheromone that makes you keep going until you have achieved successful mating. It's there all the time. But AFTER sex, even though it's the SAME odor, it's distasteful. Why? Because after you've had sex, you're supposed to separate ... the man to regenerate, and the woman to lie there and let the sperm fertilize her."

"But I like to cuddle after sex," complained Roberta.

"Your feet smell," said Bob. "You don't cut them off because of that ... do you? You live with some things, because other things they're involved with are more important."

They were quiet, which meant they were thinking, and that's what Bob wanted them to do.

"Let's break for lunch," he said. "We'll get back together in the afternoon and discuss what you've just experienced.

They were ready for a break.

But they wouldn't wait until after lunch to discuss it.

Bob gave them space to talk, instead of joining them for lunch. He knew that they would talk, and he'd like to have been there, since they would talk about it in a group. Usually, at this stage of things, couples still sat apart, and discussed things privately.

They knew him in the kitchen, and he simply went there to get something to eat. He didn't want them looking across the dining room at him, and talking about whether to invite him to eat with them or not. He wanted them to talk.

They had all chosen the buffet, rather than ordering off the menu. Tiffany sat, looking at her plate. She always got more than she needed at a buffet.

"I wonder what he meant about ... exercises?" she asked to no one in particular.

"Exercises?" asked Jeff, clearly confused.

"Yeah ... don't you remember? He said that he'd have to change the curriculum ... take out the exercises. What kind of exercises do you think he was talking about?"

"Exercises are exercises," said Crystal, forking some salad into her mouth.

"You mean side straddle hops and stuff like that," said Chuck. Crystal nodded and shrugged.

"I don't think so," said Tiffany, finally picking up a chicken finger and taking a bite. "Why would he have married couples doing things like that?"

Chuck snorted. "Probably because a healthy body makes for better sex, or some such thing." He rolled his eyes. "It all sounds like a bunch of psycho-babble to me. He makes it sound like sex is all humans ever think about."

Tiffany swallowed and looked at him. "How many of us have you checked out since we got here?" she asked. "Us women, of course." She smiled a brilliant smile.

Chuck looked down. "What difference does that make?" he asked, sounding a bit sulky.

"It's what he was talking about," interjected Crystal. "Remember, I was in the hot tub with you when these two came out wearing those suits and you about couldn't keep your eyes in your head."

"Really?" asked Roberta, perking up. Then she slumped. "He was probably looking at Tiffany. She's gorgeous."

"I don't know," said Jeff, smiling. "You both left me pretty much helpless."

Tiffany's laugh tinkled. "If that was helpless, I don't want to be around you when you're able to act on your impulses."

Jeff quit smiling. "What do you mean?"

Crystal stared straight at him. "She was holding your shirt up while they ... escorted you to the tub. It was pretty obvious you'd been thinking of all that stuff Bob says we all think about."

"What are you talking about?" asked Jeff uneasily.

"What she's trying to say in a decent teacherly way," said Roger, "is that you had an erection. Don't tell me you didn't know that."

Everybody looked at Jeff and he squirmed uncomfortably.

"I was right there while they were talking about swim suits and how they fit, or didn't fit or whatever. Then they changed right in the next room. What was I supposed to think about?"

"Your wife," said Tiffany, grinning. "Isn't that the rule society has set for all you married guys?"

"Bob's right about the rules," said Roger. "There are lots of them, and a whole bunch are unwritten rules ... like things you're not supposed to even think about, much less act on."

"So?" said Roberta, thinking about all the things she'd thought about recently that broke one rule or another. "Those rules have worked pretty well for thousands of years, haven't they?"

Roger laughed. "You've got to be kidding! Do you honestly think American society has a healthy attitude toward sex? Divorces are over fifty percent ... teenagers get pregnant all the time ... somebody even invented a drug to help take advantage of women while they're freaking UNCONSCIOUS, for Pete's sake!" He jabbed his fork excitedly as he spoke.

"Calm down," said Tiffany. "Look at the strides we've taken in the last hundred years. Women can vote, slavery was abolished. We're even making pretty significant steps in the Civil Rights area. We're not all that bad."

Roger put his fork down, his face stern.

"Let's just talk about that for a minute. You all are too young to remember it, but when I was a kid, I used to sit and read National Geographic for hours. They had pictures and articles in that magazine about civilizations they always called 'primitive'. Some of these were people who had never seen a white man in their entire history. They were living simple lives. Everybody ran around naked, or mostly naked. They had their mating rituals, and they did fine."

He took a breath.

"Then along came the white man, to 'improve' their lives. We introduced them to modern medicine, which helped them some, but not nearly as much as we thought it would. We introduced them to capitalism, which meant they started overusing their resources. We told them they were heathens, and made them ashamed of their bodies - made them wear clothes."

He looked around, scowling.

"Back then, a girl could walk down the street alone at night - in BOTH cultures - and the only thing she was afraid of was getting bit by mosquitoes. What we gave those cultures when we 'helped' them was guilt, and rape and the lust for money that they didn't need before we showed up. At the same time, we made our own society into a place where a fifteen year old girl has to have a bodyguard to go anywhere, and ten year old girls are abducted, raped and killed!"

He leaned back, his appetite gone.

"And you call that progress? You call that a healthy society?"

"I thought we were talking about rules," said Chuck, uncomfortably.

Roger threw up his hands. "We ARE talking about rules. We imposed our rules on them, because when we got there, and saw happy, naked people minding their own business, we wanted to have sex with them! But our rules said we couldn't do that, so instead of controlling our own urges, we made them wear clothes, and told them to be ashamed of their bodies. We imposed our rules on them, and those wonderful, beautiful, innocent cultures have vanished as a result. Ours has too. Now, it's all about following the rules, instead of just being human!"

"You can't just have sex with anybody you feel like having sex with," said Tiffany.

"Why not?" asked Roger, so wound up that he wiggled in his chair. "You see someone you're attracted to. You say 'Hey, I like you ... wanna do it?'. She either says 'OK' or 'Not in a million years' and you go from there. What's so hard about that?"

He was faced with startled looks, and silence. What he'd said made a lot of sense to most of them, but it wasn't possible. Things just couldn't work that way. It sounded too good to be true, so it must have a fault in the logic somewhere.

On an individual level, their thoughts were more specific. Jane reacted to his impassioned speech by thinking "I want to have sex with HIM", and then her mind went a little crazy as she tried to determine if "HIM" was her father, or Roger ... or maybe somebody else, like her old study partner, Paul.

Chuck thought about being able to turn to Tiffany and simply say "I have this thing for cheerleaders, and I'm really attracted to you ... you wanna do it?" He almost laughed as he thought about all the different ways she could respond.

Tiffany found herself evaluating all the men at the table, in terms of what she'd do if they all said "Let's do it ... please?" She had no idea how she'd react. It had been so long since she'd had intimacy in her life. She thought briefly what it might be like to just say yes to them all. She pushed that thought away instantly.

Woody looked at Crystal, sitting there, impossibly tall and aloof. Her aloofness had only made her more interesting ... a challenge. He liked her, and his errant thoughts about her as a woman trickled through his mind like soft rain falling. She'd never agree to some of the things he had in mind, but it sure would be nice to be able to just talk with her about them.

Lori was thinking about the things she'd seen on Real Sex, the night before. It was a whole new world for her. The ease with which those people had talked about sex made them seem like THEY were from a whole different culture. She had so many questions. Guilt for just wanting to ask questions about sex played a huge role in her life, and she imagined her parents as the ones who actually went to those cultures Roger had talked about, and ruined them.

Roberta and Jeff were thinking almost identically how, in a world like Roger had suggested, when their spouses neglected them, they could just go find someone else to be intimate with ... to fall in love with ... to share things with. Both of them were thinking that married people can't even have any good friends of the opposite sex, because of unwritten rules.

Of them all, Crystal was the one least affected by Roger's speech. She knew that the rules would never change. She knew she'd always be too tall, and that interest in a man shorter than her, no matter how strong, would always lose out to the rules. Short men didn't ride off into the sunset with tall women. It just didn't happen that way. And the vast majority of available men were short. All she felt was more of the same frustration she'd been feeling since her divorce.

They all ate silently for a while. Eventually, the conversation started up again, but they didn't talk about Bob, or what he'd said. Fantasy and role playing were never discussed. To be honest, their thoughts about rules consumed all their attention. Still, all of them were ... somehow ... eager to get back to the seminar.

"OK," said Bob, when they were all assembled again. "On with the show."

Tiffany raised her hand. "I have a question," she said. "We were talking at lunch."

"About rules?" asked Bob, "Or about fantasy?" He smiled. "Or both."

Tiffany blinked. "Rules."

"And your question?" urged Bob.

"You have to work within the framework of the rules that society has set down," she said. "Otherwise you're going to be an outcast." She looked at Bob.

"And your question?" asked Bob again.

She jerked, realizing she'd thought the question was obvious ... but wasn't.

"So, if you have to follow the rules, what's the point of all this?"

Bob nodded.

"The point of all this is to make the rules work for you, instead of against you. That's where the fantasy and role playing come in. You can imagine yourself to be in any situation ... even a situation that's against the rules. When you role play with your partner, you can choose any role ... any scenario ... any situation."

"But that's sick!" blurted Jane. "What if somebody imagines something like ... incest!"

"Is it sick to love someone?" asked Bob.

Jane's brow twisted. "No ... yes!" She slumped. "Maybe ... Oh, I don't know."

"Let's define love," said Bob, picking up his light pen. "What is love?"

"Caring," said Woody.

Bob wrote down: "Caring for another more than you care for yourself."

"OK," said Woody, nodding.

"Sacrifice," said Roberta.

Bob wrote: "Giving to the one you love, even if it conflicts with your own wants."

"Shouldn't that be 'needs', instead of 'wants'," asked Crystal.

Bob wrote down: "Recognizing what your partner needs to be emotionally fulfilled, and trying to provide that."

"Oh," said Crystal, seeing the difference immediately.

"Isn't attraction in there somewhere?" asked Chuck, trying to rationalize his attraction to Tiffany.

Bob wrote: "Finding something about your partner that attracts you, and concentrating on that."

"Wait a minute," said Jeff. "Isn't attraction the first step?"

"It can be," said Bob. "It usually is, normally. But the fact is you can fall in love with anyone, whether they're attractive or not."

"You're talking the famous 'inner beauty', aren't you?" asked Crystal.

"Yes, I am," said Bob. "In fact, finding that inner beauty ... that thing that attracts you more than the physical side of things, is what makes for the best and longest relationships. Inner beauty trumps exterior looks any day of the week."

"But that means that that genetic thingy you were talking about," said Jane, "might make you reject someone that you shouldn't reject!"

"Very true," said Bob, smiling. "We cut our chances for true happiness down to about ten percent, just because of our initial genetic evaluation of others."

"I think looks counts for more than that," said Jeff, who had chosen Mandy because she was a stone fox. She turned out to be a stone bitch too, but she was a beautiful stone bitch.

"In young relationships, looks and sex are very important," said Bob. "But, eventually, the looks fade away. Some couples stay together regardless of that ... even still find each other sexually attractive, even though the looks are gone. That's because they love the PERSON they are with, and not the image, or appearance."

"So all those guys who have a mid-life crisis, and seek out younger women are just obeying their genes," said Tiffany, who had been approached more than once by an older man.

"Yup," said Bob. "They're still thinking with their balls, instead of their brain." He held up a hand. "But ... if such a man was with a woman he loved, and she loved him too, she could take on the role of that younger woman, and work with his wants."

"But if he really loved her," argued Tiffany, "he wouldn't WANT a younger woman."

"The genetic drive is always there," Bob reminded her. "I remind you again of Hugh Hefner. Lots of eighty year old men lust after teenaged women. It's a natural thing to do. But, if going after those teenagers would cause too many problems, and his mate is willing to take on the role of one of them ... they both can have a great time."

"Isn't that perverted?" asked Lori.

"Remember," said Bob. "Perversion is a rule, established by a culture. That doesn't make it a good rule."

"So, the little French maid wasn't ... perverted?" asked Crystal.

"In the sense that you didn't want to do that, it was," said Bob. "Had you been willing to offer that to your husband, it would have just been consenting role play between two adults, who were completely entitled to enjoy that kind of sex."

"The perversion was in MY mind," said Crystal, looking stunned.

"I'd say so," agreed Bob. "Couples often run aground on the rocks of their personal feelings and beliefs."

"And that's where you come in," said Roger. "With your seminars."

"Yes," said Bob.

"So ..." ventured Jane, thinking about the role playing she'd done, that time when she and Paul had had sex, instead of studying together. She'd pretended he was her father, and he'd pretended to BE her father. It had been glorious ... until the guilt had set in. She still didn't know how to feel about that. She'd been cheating on Jed, in her mind, and being perverted for both that, and wanting to have sex with her own father. "Wouldn't that kind of role play be like ... cheating?"

Bob leaned back. "You walk a fine line here. I'll admit that. Let me start by hypothesizing that fantasy isn't cheating. Neither is role playing. Neither one HAS to mean that the partner wants someone else in reality. Variety is the spice of life, and healthy role playing provides all those different partners that the genes seem to want."

He held up a hand to stop her from saying anything.

"On the other hand, if role playing actually makes a partner WANT to cheat, with another person, that's not a loving kind of thing to do. It gets complicated because there are two people in the relationship. Some partners don't mind if the other partner has multiple sexual relationships. Some do. It's all part of the communication I was talking about. Before any of you start role playing, there has to be communication about what the purpose of that role playing is."

"Are you talking about wife swapping?" asked Lori, her eyes huge. Part of the program she'd watched on HBO was about wife swapping, and making movies of doing that. The husbands and wives involved very plainly said they thought it was sexy to think of their mate having sex with another person.

"That's an example," said Bob. "People in a committed monogamy can role play that they're having sex with other people. That doesn't mean they should go out and actually HAVE sex with other people. But some others get a kick out of sharing their mate, and actually having multiple partners, just for sex. But there has to be good communication to decide what the loving thing is to do. If somebody's unhappy, that means what's going on isn't a good idea."

They thought about that for a few moments. It was Roberta who broke the silence.

"So ... if you're not happy ... with the way things are, I mean ... how do you decide what to try?"

"Well, you start with communication. The first thing that has to be discussed is that one, or both of you, aren't happy. From there, you need to decide whether both of you are willing to do anything to correct the situation. Then, if both ARE willing, you can start discussing what both of you want, and what both of you need. It's an ongoing process, but it all hinges on communication."

"What if one doesn't want to communicate?" asked Jeff.

"That makes it very difficult to resolve things," said Bob. "I said it's almost never too late to make positive strides, but it can be. That's part of the process too. At some point, a decision has to be made about whether a relationship can be salvaged, and whether or not it's worth salvaging."

"How can we practice communication with no partners here?" asked Roger.

Bob smiled. "I've been thinking about that. I usually do little exercises with the couples, where they practice communication. There are other exercises too, but I don't think that would be good in this situation. But this group CAN practice communication ... if you're all willing."

He got guarded looks.

"What would we have to do?" asked Crystal.

"Talk," said Bob.

"That's it?" asked the tall woman.

"It's harder than it sounds," said Bob. "I'd split you up into practice pairs, and then, the two of you would talk. But, for this to work, you both have to be willing to talk about anything ... whatever's on your mind at the moment. This kind of conversation should be frank and open. Tell each other how you feel, and what you want. Don't leave room for misunderstanding. It's hard, but it works better in the long run. It calls for sticking your neck out, because you will have to be able to say anything that's on your mind, and the other person has to promise not to take offense, or take things personally."

"I don't know if I can do that," said Crystal softly.

"It should actually be a lot easier than it would be if you DID have a significant other here. In this setting, you really have nothing to lose. You all didn't know each other before you came here, isn't that right?" Bob sounded very reasonable.

He got nods from all.

"And you'll all be going back to your schools and may never meet again. If you try this, you may learn something very important, and that's the incredible freedom of being able to say exactly what you are thinking, without worrying about screwing something up. Then, when you ARE in a relationship, you know how to do that. All you have to do is teach the other person, and you're off to the races."

There was a profound silence, along with some darted looks around the table.

It was Jane who was driven to ask the question. She raised her hand, just like a student in one of her classes.

"Yes, Jane," said Bob.

"How ... um ... would you ... um ... decide who goes with ... whom?"

Crystal couldn't wait to hear the answer, because her own panic threshold had just about been met.

"All we have to do is talk ... right?" she almost begged.

"That's all," said Bob. "Just talk honestly with your partner. If it works out well, we could switch partners as the week goes along, so that everybody gets to talk to everybody else. You all have different personalities, and that's what it will be like with people you meet and are interested in forming a relationship with." He smiled at Jeff and Roberta, and added: "Except for you old married folks, anyway."

He turned back to Jane. "Actually, Jane, to answer your question, I thought I'd let you all pick your first partners. You've all been around each other for a little while. You could pick someone you think you could talk with on a basis like I've described." Several people looked like panic was about to set in. "Or," he went on quickly, "I could just assign partners. Whichever you all feel better about is fine with me."

Woody raised his hand too. "I don't get it. At least I don't think I get it. What are we supposed to talk about, again?"

Bob stood up, indicating that action was about to take place. It was a well known cue, and the people around the table moved in response, automatically getting ready to do ... something.

"Talk about anything that's on your mind. The critical element here is that you speak from the heart, about how you honestly feel. It can be how you feel about food, or your dreams, or your plans for the future. You can talk about interior decorating, or sex, or anything in between. All I ask is that what you talk about actually means something in your life." He looked around. "Now, are we ready? Timeís a-wastin' and this will take a lot longer than you think before you are comfortable enough to get to the good stuff."

"How do we pick a partner?" asked Roger, looking helpless. He assumed none of the women would be interested in talking to him, or listening while he talked.

"I'd suggest that Roberta and Jeff think about being partners," said Bob. Both of them looked like they were in pain. "That's only because they're married, and have issues on their minds that concern marriage. Each is more likely to understand, if not sympathize with, the other's concerns. As for the rest of you, use your gut instinct."

Lori raised her hand too. "There are more women than men," she pointed out.

"I'll be in this exercise too, then," said Bob. "And I'd like to pick you, Lori."

"Me?" she squeaked.

"Your level of experience with the world seems a bit less than most of the others. It might be easier for you to talk to me, only because I'm a therapist. I suspect you have some questions about ... things."

"Yes!" she squeaked again. "I do!" She looked surprised. "OK. Yes. That's a good idea!"

"OK, then," said Bob, picking up his things. "We'll meet back here after breakfast tomorrow, and see how things went." He looked at Lori. "Lori? If I may have the pleasure of your company ... perhaps a walk?"

She beamed. "Why THANK you," she said excitedly. "I'd like that very much!"

"Wait!" yelled Tiffany. "We haven't chosen partners yet!"

"Well get to it," said Bob. "Lori and I will be gone for as long as we feel like it, and then we'll have supper together. If you haven't been able to choose by then, I'll assign partners."

He offered Lori his arm and she fairly danced as she took it. He escorted her out of the room, leaving the others standing and staring, as if shell-shocked. He wondered how long it would be before one of them realized he was making them use their genes to make a decision.

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