The Help Desk: Going postal

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

A bunch of friends and I were out drinking one night and we realized that we all had stories about passing dirty novels around in elementary school. Usually ones like Judy Blume's Wifey, since my parents thought all Judy Blume books were for kids. But other friends said Piers Anthony, one friend even claimed The Story of O was the hot property in her school, but when caught they told the ignorant teacher it was about a girl named Olivia who loved a dog that bit people.

Anyway, I was wondering if you have a story like this, first. And second, what books do you think kids today pass around?

Curious since pre-puberty,

Vanessa, Out by Carkeek

Dear Vanessa,

No one but a pervert could describe mine as a normal sexual awakening. Around puberty, I plucked a copy of Love is a Dog from Hell from my mom's bookshelf and from it learned that mailmen fart better than they fuck (to paraphrase). When my grandmother caught me reading about asses that never age and semen free-flowing from hookers' thighs (to paraphrase), she overcorrected by giving me a copy of a 60s romance novel set in a post office, filled with endless "package" euphemisms that further reinforced the horniness of mailmen. (For years, I described budding desire as "mailman feelings.") Then, for my 13th birthday, someone bought me The Joy of Sex, which taught me the mechanics of the female orgasm and how to appreciate the boldness of a well-coiffed bush. None of my friends wanted anything to do with any of these books. All of them had sex before me but none of it was described as joyful or involving the USPS.

As to your second question, I don't have to guess what kids are sharing these days – I have a 14-year-old sister and a 12-year-old brother and neither of them appreciated my attempts to lend out my copy of The Joy of Sex or talk through their complicated mailman feelings. Judging from their social media feeds, sex-ed has evolved from covertly reading soft-core stories to following soft-core social media stars whose nipples have their own #sponcon deals. While I envy the ease with which today's youth can explore their sexuality online – eliminating much of the covertness and for some, fear and shame – reading about sexuality allows readers to develop their own desires rather than embracing the same bushless, overtanned images of what constitutes conventional attractiveness. (For instance, have you ever noticed what great calves postal workers have? Yet my search for #postalworkerporn yields no results on Google.)

Fortunately, the New York Public Library recently announced a campaign to bring literary classics to Instagram... perhaps some day they can be persuaded to add coming-of-age classics like Wifey and Love Is a Dog from Hell to the mix as well?