As a young girl—ovaries yet to ripen and hymen still in intact—reading Judy Blume books were like porn for me … educational porn. My introduction to sex ed (and Judy Blume) started out innocently enough with menstrual cycles and Kotex pads in the seminal Are You There God It’s Me Margaret. From there, I read through the Blume library with a budding libido. Subjects moved on to more risqué topics like masturbation in Deenie (poor girl had scoliosis), boys getting math class erections in Then Again Maybe I Won’t (you bet I paid attention to long division after that book), and girl-on-top-sex in Forever (I definitely dog-eared that page). Since my mom’s idea of the Sex Talk was leaving an anatomy picture book between my Baby-Sitters Club and Sleepover Friends series and saying, “Don’t have sex until your married,” and, “Don’t give away the milk for free,” I relished the knowledge that Blume’s writing offered me. These were the pre-internet days, before I could Google “funny feeling down there” or “penis, hard-on.” All I had was my imagination and my canon of Judy Blume books to aid my highly curious pre-teen mind. They were a permanent Sharpie mark on my burgeoning deviant mind.
However, Common Sense Media—an organization that provides parents a guideline to age-appropriate media for children—has targeted these particular books as “iffy.” It’s a potential roadblock for younger girls and boys who want to read these books, but are monitored by their parents. Recently, Barnes and Nobles has partnered with CSM, and these ratings appear on the book retailer’s site. For example, CSM cites Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret as only appropriate for ages 11+ because the book contains “mentions of Playboy, kissing, menstruation, bras [and] emerging sexuality.” Also because “characters lie.” Really, is getting your period “iffy”?
CSM ratings for Forever and Deenie do not appear on Barnes and Nobles’ site, but on CSM’s website, Forever is deemed appropriate for ages 15-18, and “iffy” because of its highly sexual subject matter: “Katherine has sex with Michael, which is described. Katherine visits Planned Parenthood to get birth control pills — and also has discussion about sex with her mother, grandmother, and best friend. Another character, who has had many sexual partners, gets pregnant and has a baby.”
To CSM’s credit, they do not purposefully angle at deterring anyone from the book, but these ratings do concern me. I was between the ages of 9 and 11 when I read these stories—far younger than what their ratings advise. But guess what? I didn’t go out and suddenly lose my virginity—I was an honors student; I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t get pregnant. If anything, Blume’s books rendered me more conscientious and aware of my young sexuality. I learned from Forever about birth control, Planned Parenthood, and that it was better to be in love for your first time.
And it wasn’t until I read Deenie that I learned about masturbation. I remember being around the age of 10 when I discovered that it felt pretty awesome to touch myself “down there,” but it also made me feel dirty and ashamed, like I was the only person in the world who had this seedy “ailment.” Imagine my amazement when I discovered in Deenie that I was actually normal. Blume wrote: “Usually I take a shower and get out as fast as I can, but I liked the feeling of relaxation and I rubbed my special spot with my wash cloth until I got that special feeling.” It was a revelation, and I’m glad I learned this at the age of 10, instead of being some sexually repressed 31-year-old woman who scoffs, “Oh, I never masturbate.”
So, maybe these “ratings” have a purpose—I don’t have children—but I see them as useless. What happens in Judy Blume’s books is real and it is what every girl will experience one day, which is a far better lesson to learn than falling in love with a vampire.