Editor's Picks Love + Sex Love Books

My local library taught me about everything that goes on in bed. My parents never knew.

The library was a sanctuary for me. A quiet place where my thoughts weren’t being drowned out by a football game or fighting; a place I didn’t have to keep thinking “ugh, what’s going to happen next?” I was Matilda-esque in my book obsession, and there was nothing I wouldn’t read. Dickens, Dahl, and Dr. Seuss were all fair game, and I appreciated their simplicities and complexities equally.

It wasn’t until one particular author that my reading motivation became singular in nature. VC Andrews showed me a side of literature I had no idea existed – she showed me girls talk about having sex. And they liked it.

I was obsessed.

My parents were ecstatic that I loved to read, and that the library was my go-to place for a good time. Little did they know that it wasn’t my intellect that was growing as I read those books in my room, it was my erotic fantasies.

This was before the internet brought readily available porn to my bedroom, so books were my only gateway into sexual fantasies. I devoured any book I could find that even hinted at a sexual experience or desire, and I read those pages over and over, so grateful someone was able to put words to the mess of hormonal emotions I was feeling. Andrews’ stories were all about angsty girls discovering their bodies and what they wanted in a partner, and I clung to every word. After all, I was angsty too! And while I was years away from having a partner, I was slowly discovering my body, one page at a time.

I’m not unaware that “Flowers in the Attic,” a dark story of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse is easily her most popular work. In fact, it’s this story in particular that has gotten me more than a few raised eyebrows when I go on one of my many “VC Andrews is the best!” tirades. And while I love that book, it’s the series that got me hooked are ones like “The Runaways,” which puts troubled girls together in a group therapy and forces them to recount how they got there, or “The Orphans” which focuses on similarly troubled girls being placed in foster care. “The Shooting Stars” is a favorite too – it’s about immensely talented girls trying to keep their dreams alive amidst terrible circumstances. They may all sound like Lifetime movies in the making (and if that happens, I am so in), but at the time, they were unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Reading about these girls with terrible childhoods was the only escape I had from my own. Following them as they made all their mistakes – running away from home, having sexual encounters, drinking and doing drugs – their experiences were so tantalizing, I couldn’t put the books down. And I dreamed of the day I could leave home and have my own similar adventures. I couldn’t wait to discover what sex was like and what experiences the world had in store for me.

Is there anything better than that feeling of teenage hormonal willingness, to fall in love, passionately and recklessly? VC Andrews curated that feeling in a way I’ve never been able to fulfill.

When I became a teenager, and sex seemed on the horizon, I started to portray the girls I’d read about. I quickly became disappointed in the normality of it all. There was no cute boy on a motorcycle picking me up for my date. And we didn’t break into a store and steal wine on that date. We went to dinner, then the movies, then back to our respective homes. It was so mundane. I wanted the adventure and spontaneity VC Andrews had promised me. And for better or worse, I still do.

As a repressed and socially awkward teen growing up in a tense southern household, I could have turned to drugs, alcohol, or even sex as an outlet. But instead I magically found a woman, who was just as repressed, awkward, and southern as I was, telling stories I wanted to read. Before VC Andrews it was Judy Blume, but now I think it’s us. All of us.

Anyone who can tell a story on the Internet that can show a young girl that she isn’t weird or perverted is helping. Any essay that explains why she’s feeling what she’s feeling and that, contrary to how it feels, she’s not the only one, is needed. If I’d had the vast, and albeit sometimes scary, world of the internet to turn to when I was processing these feelings, I may not have spent so long ashamed and scared of what they meant. 

But now I’m not ashamed, and I’m not scared of wanting what I want or feeling what I feel. 

By Stephanie Ashe

Stephanie Ashe is a freelance writer born and raised in the south. Her work focuses mostly on feminist issues, mental health, and diving way too deep into pop culture. If she ever wins the lottery, she'll finally finish that YA novel she started, run the biggest animal shelter possible, and travel the world.