“Confessions of a Prude,” by Stacey Tol

Aug 26th, 2020 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

I am a prude. Or, at the very least, I am prude adjacent with a healthy aversion to public nudity—especially my own. I became aware that this squeamishness wasn’t universally shared during my first trip abroad. Fresh out of our teen years, my newly minted husband and I crossed the Atlantic to spend our honeymoon on the Grecian island of Corfu. As our airport taxi wound through the narrow streets of the city, it was hard not to notice the abundance of billboards splashed with topless women. They were a none too subtle reminder of the theme of the coming night. I couldn’t help but feel the pressure of making it the most romantic and memorable experience of our virginal lives.

The stark white room we were given when we checked into our cliff-hugging Club Med did not help matters. With its bare walls and twin beds, it didn’t have the honeymoon vibe we were hoping for. Nonetheless, we succeeded in the deed, even if we failed in the superlatives.

The next day, my husband and I left our Spartan boudoir and headed out on a group snorkeling excursion. Memories of the ads we’d previously observed came sashaying back as we realized that on the white sandy beaches of Greece, women-with-tops-on was the exception, not the rule. Good eye contact became essential to survive so far from my comfort zone.

On the final evening of our honeymoon, we decided to stay up all night. Swimming in the pool by ourselves at 3 a.m., my husband, who was quickly adapting to the prevalence of bared breasts, tried persuading me to give public toplessness a try. I wouldn’t even consider it.

I have indeed gotten less bashful as I age. I’ve progressed from the overly-modest Lands’ End one-piece of my youth (thanks for that, Mom), to the wild-and-crazy “tankini.” However, I can’t bring myself to sport a bikini in public. Why expose all of that cellulite when it can be covered up?

I and a handful of ladies from the senior center seem to be the only women who haven’t made the jump to bikinis. However, from what I’ve seen on the beaches of Florida and down the lazy rivers of Orlando’s water parks, it’s hard not to miss the halcyon days of the skirted grandma suit.

Despite my now fond familiarity with sex—an activity that my husband and I have practiced, polished, and perfected for over 25 years—a recent trip to Prague reminded me that I’m still an uptight American.

My husband and I have become travel and history enthusiasts and incorporate museums of all types into our vacation itineraries. So, when the opportunity to visit The Museum of Sex Machines presented itself, we thought, “Why Not?”

There were stimulators of all shapes and sizes, elaborately buckled wearables, and moving contraptions with hidden mirrors and pop-up penile surprises from every period of the modern era. Human imagination and ingenuity can sometimes go horribly, horribly wrong. I alternated between complete perplexity and school-girl giggles.

“Why isn’t anyone else in here laughing?” my husband asked as he and I observed the serious faces of the other patrons.

I couldn’t say. Maybe only prudes giggle.

I once thought that all old black-and-white photos are of rigidly posed people frowning at the camera. Now, I am all too aware that plenty of men and women from generations past loved dropping their drawers or raising their skirts for that real money shot.

While I waited for my husband outside the men’s restroom at the end of our tour through the museum, I did not spend any time looking at the photos on the surrounding walls. I’d seen more nudie pics in one hour than in the entire rest of my life. Instead, I stared fixedly at my feet thinking that all my years of marriage hadn’t prepared me for this.

Prague wasn’t through with me though. My husband and I decided to treat ourselves to massages. He opted for a head and foot rub. I chose a full-body massage.

Mae, my masseuse was a shockingly strong Thai girl who weighed about 12 lbs. She instructed me to take off my robe and lie face-down on the table. American masseuses would step out of the room at this point in the process to give the reticent woman in the bathrobe a moment to slip between the covers. Mae wasn’t leaving. I climbed on as told and with my chest pressed against the table, I took off my robe and handed it back to Mae. I was relieved when I felt her lay a towel across my legs and back but startled the next moment when she climbed on top of my legs and buns to leverage her full weight for my back rub. When the time came to remove the sheet and add massage oil, Mae surprised me again. I was not expecting her to uncover my derrière entirely—but why not? She’s a girl. I’m a girl. And bun rubs feel good.

I had my doubts about what might happen next but was relieved when Mae held the blanket in front of her allowing me to modestly flip. Soon, I entered into that hazy nirvana that comes from having one’s head and limbs expertly massaged.

Then, she ripped my sheet off.

Thankfully, my modesty-protection instincts were finely honed and my hands flew to cover my girls before they became the next thing Mae massaged.

“Es good?” Mae asked, confused by my Puritanical move.

“Nope. No es good.” I said, shaking my head and reaching for the blanket.

It felt like an anti-climatic ending for what was really a very nice massage, but I’m sure Mae will recover. I will recover too.

Prudishness is my burden to carry, but I blame it entirely on my culture and upbringing. If I had been born in Corfu or Prague, I’d be able to bare my boobs with the best of them.

I console myself with the knowledge that my inhibitions seem to be loosening with age. I plan to return to Prague when I’m eighty and let Mae finish that massage.


Stacey Tol is happiest playing Jackbox games with her family and slurping boba smoothies, but is usually doing something else.

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