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Everything We Learned About Blow Jobs We Learned From Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton

As the youth of today learn about golden showers, so the children of the ‘90s discovered fellatio

Yesterday, Buzzfeed published a dossier, compiled by someone claiming to be a former British intelligence agent a widely circulated among reporters and officials over the past few weeks, full of unconfirmed stories about President-Elect Trump’s ties to Russia. While the information would be incredibly damning if true, most of the anecdotes are the sorts of things those who hate Trump already believed and those who love him will always dismiss, so the document simultaneously sent online political discourse into a frenzy and didn’t leave anyone feeling like they had learned anything new — with one very large exception.

The document introduced piss play into our national political discourse, and while the description makes the supposed incident sound more like a canine power maneuver than a sexual fetish — the allegation is that Trump paid Russian prostitutes to let him watch them urinate on a bed the Obamas had slept in — it represented a new frontier for the mainstream media. And adults aren’t the only ones reading. “We just had to explain ‘golden shower’ to our 15-year-old daughter, so that was fun!” said Kim S. on Facebook. “I will not soon forget her facial expression.” [Note: We’re quoting some people pseudonymously here because they’d prefer that Trump urine stories not be associated with their Google search results for eternity.]

The explosion of mingled prurience and glee reminded me of how the mainstream press handled the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal when it became public in 1998. It became a matter of constitutional import that we know exactly what kind of sexual contact they’d had, since Clinton had sworn under oath that he had Lewinsky hadn’t had a “sexual relationship.” This meant the media had to talk about blow jobs, a lot.

In the wake of this talk came a slew of moralizing articles about how children were learning graphic sexual details at too young an age and losing their innocence forever. “So you think we’ve got trouble now?” fulminated Steve Lopez in Time. “Give it 20 years, maybe 30, when today’s children are running things, and then we’ll know trouble. If there was a shred of innocence left in their warped little hearts and minds — and there is no reason to suspect there was — we have probably driven it out of them over the past two weeks with dispatches that sound as if they were pulled off the walls of public rest rooms.”

At the time, I thought of myself as a worldly young man, and I found this attitude ridiculous. People seemed convinced that, if not for this scandal, kids wouldn’t even know what oral sex was, but it seemed obvious to me any children actually paying attention to the news would already be aware of the basics.

But here we are again, nearly 20 years later. Spurred by the thoughts of young people everywhere learning about golden showers from the nightly news, I decided to track down the Bill and Monica generation to find out if indeed they were as innocent as all that when Matt Drudge broke the story. What I learned genuinely surprised me, and so I present the stories, in their own words, of many ordinary Americans who were children in 1998 and ended the year wiser and more worldly than they began it, thanks to the President of the United States.

Sarah W.: In 1998 I was 13 and in the eighth grade, and first encountered the phrase “oral sex” in the San Jose Mercury News.

What sort of person learns about blow jobs from the newspaper?

Sarah W.: I grew up in a religiously conservative home.

Ashleigh DeVoe (8 years old in 1998): I was a very sheltered child. I knew nothing of sex other than that it involved nudity and “private parts” somehow.

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr (12 years old in 1998): I was super naive and sheltered and had no idea blow jobs were a thing.

The news media was an inescapable vector of information for kids.

Andrew Jobe (in 6th grade in 1998): I remember that Newsweek, which my parents subscribed to, printed the Starr report in its entirety and I read it — over my mother’s objections — because I mistakenly thought my social studies teacher wanted the class to do so. I don’t think I knew what oral sex was prior to the scandal.

…whether parents wanted to talk to them about it or not (usually they didn’t).

Andrew Jobe: The only discussions I recall having with adults were with my mom and teacher about the misunderstanding [about reading the report].

Ashleigh DeVoe: My parents would make me go into my room when the news came on discussing the trial.

But sometimes they did!

Andy Michael (fifth grade in 1998): My mom was big on using proper names for stuff (she always said “penis” and not any other nickname for body parts) and being very frank about sex. I can remember her explaining what Clinton did in basic terms. I definitely thought blow jobs involved some kind of actual blowing until high school, though.

Some kids were just as glad to not discuss things with their parents. Often it turned into uneasy detente.

Edith Fox (fourth grade in 1998): I didn’t ask my parents any questions about this. I remember watching the news with them, and Clinton-Lewinsky would come up, and I played it cool like I knew what was going on.

Astrid (14 years old in 1998): I probably could have asked my parents, but given that I had my first boyfriend ever, any sex-related topic that came up immediately made them panic a little. “So are you asking because… ?” If I had, I assumed they were likely to think I wanted to know because my boyfriend had asked for one, and I most definitely didn’t want to have that conversation.

Schools were often no help.

Andy Michael: Teachers would dodge the subject like crazy whenever it came up. We were doing reports on the presidents, so presidential questions were coming up a lot. We had to draw presidents’ names out of, like, a hat. I can remember our teacher taking Clinton’s name out.

Edith Fox: I remember wondering how this could really affect Clinton’s job so much. He’s going to get impeached, and the last guy who got that was Andrew freakin’ Johnson? My teachers took the opportunity to teach us all about Andrew Johnson at this time, but not oral sex.

So just what did these kids think happened between Bill and Monica, exactly?

Astrid: I knew from sex ed that oral sex existed, but the definition had always been given as “mouth on genitals contact,” which isn’t very precise.

Maggie Eismeier (6 years old in 1998): I learned the word “affair” because of the Lewinsky scandal and thought it was a swear word.

Edith Fox: I remember hearing the whole debate about whether oral sex was sex or not, so at least I got the hint that it wasn’t vaginal sex, which I did understand at the time. But then, what was it? Was it making out? Calling making out sex seemed too extreme.

Alex Nichols (8 years old in 1998): Since my only context for anything was school, I immediately made the connection with oral exams, and figured that oral sex had something to do with talking. I came to the conclusion that President Clinton was in trouble for talking about dirty sex stuff with an intern, which did seem to be something you could get in trouble for, so I just didn’t question it. I was so confident in my logic that I don’t even remember bothering to ask my parents about it.

Not everyone was so confident. Some went on a voyage of discovery, and had varying degrees of satisfaction with the knowledge they gained.

Astrid: There were a lot of jokes about blow jobs being passed around, many with accompanying hand gestures, and over the next few months I slowly cobbled together what exactly what involved in the act. There was clearly a specific way to go about a thing called a “blow job” and I was putting it together throughout this time. So thanks, I guess, to all the comedians making hand job gestures in the vicinity of their mouths while poking a tongue in a cheek. They misled me slightly on the cheek thing, but I got the gist.

Sara K: [Upon learning the phrase “oral sex”]: I knew almost immediately what it meant, but couldn’t believe such a thing existed. It seemed too icky.

Ashleigh DeVoe: I heard the dirty details at school that some girl named Monica Lewinsky put the president’s penis in her mouth and he lied about it. I recall being more baffled than anything about why anyone would want to put that in their mouth. I had also been taught up to that point that sex was for married couples who want to have babies, so I initially assumed that because (1) oral sex was sex and (2) sex made babies, that Ms. Lewinsky had probably wanted to have a president’s baby. My parents did inform me that no, oral sex does not lead to pregnancy, but they were very uncomfortable, and I think I finally just gave up on trying to understand what the point was. I think they were scared that if they said that people had sex for fun or because it feels good that I’d be more inclined to try it before marriage.

In fact, the emotional contours of the relationship were for some more interesting than the sexual details.

Rachel Heineman (7 years old in 1998): It was the first time I learned about the concept of “cheating” within relationships. I distinctly remember seeing a tabloid cover in the grocery store that claimed Lewinsky was pregnant with Bill Clinton’s kid. The idea of this was very thrilling to me at the time. As a kid, you know next to nothing about the complexities of adult relationships. I knew about divorce (my dad had been married previously) and that it meant the two people didn’t love each other anymore. Having “relations” outside of marriage made no sense to me unless that meant Bill and Monica were the ones truly in love and a divorce between Bill and Hillary was imminent. And, in a way, I found this strangely heartwarming. Two people coming together in secret against all odds! I don’t remember having any anger towards Bill and I don’t remember having any strong opinion about Hillary, just more “well, them’s the breaks and now you can find someone better too.”

Ashleigh DeVoe: I felt bad for Hillary but my dad informed me that she was a “nasty woman” and didn’t deserve my sympathy. Guess he should have trademarked it in advance.

And let’s not forget that it wasn’t just blow jobs with Bill and Monica!

Anna Marquardt (10th grade in 1998): While I knew blow jobs existed, the cigar thing was shocking — shocking — to me. Like I definitely spent some time considering whether that would be pleasant and/or safe. (What if you get cigar crumbs in your vagina? Would you have to wrap it in plastic first? How big can cigars be?)

Mark: Just knowing what I did about cigars (covered in rough material) and the human body/mucus membranes, it seemed really gross and almost Dali-esque? But I distinctly remember being like, well, I guess that’s an actual thing that adults do!

Edith Fox: I learned from Clinton that gooey stuff comes out of a penis during sex. I guess I knew about sperm on a technical level, but I never knew there was gooey stuff that could go anywhere (like on a dress).

What did happen with the class of 1998? Were they as traumatized by the episode as their elders worried?

Edith Fox: I ended up working as a sex educator, and now I work in contraceptive research, so ejaculation turned out to become a big part of my life.

Alex Nichols: When I finally did realize what “oral sex” was and connected it to what Bill Clinton did, I’m sure it negatively affected my perception of him. I started getting pretty interested in politics with the 2000 election, and all the scandal and yuckiness around Clinton almost certainly led me to dislike Gore by association and think Bush was A-OK. So maybe the lesson is that when kids learn about sex via politics, they end up forming shitty political opinions as tweens.

Rachel Heineman: The blow job and cigar aspects completely eluded me up to my adult years (probably for the best). If I heard the term at the time it either went over my head or my brain substituted in a different meaning. Once it blew over, I had no curiosity about the whole thing for years. It wasn’t until I was an adult and heard a reference to “the dress” that I was like, “Wait, what dress?” and bothered to take a gander at the Wikipedia page.

Andy Michael: My mom still jokes that blow jobs count as “Republican sex” and that “Democratic sex” involves actual sex sex.

Finally, I leave you with evidence that it isn’t just the children whose innocence we should be protecting.

Weston Scott: My grandmother lived alone in this house in Ohio, and she invited two of my cousins over for dinner. They’re both girls in their mid-20s at that point. And she cooks them this full dinner, and brings them out cookies and hot chocolate for dessert at the end, and says, “Now, I have a question for you girls, and don’t make fun of me, but what exactly did the president do?” And they’re like, “Well, he had an affair with this younger woman.”

And my grandmother says, “I know that, but what was it that they did? There’s a word for it.”

My cousin Kim says, “Do you mean a blow job?”

“Yes! What is that?”

And my cousins had to explain what a blow job was to my Baptist-raised octogenarian grandmother, who seemingly invited them to dinner just so she could ask what a blow job was. Apparently neither of my cousins ate the cookies or drank the hot chocolate either because they were so uncomfortable. And the first time anyone else in the family ever heard this story was at her funeral 15 years later.