Restrictive beliefs can impact so many areas of life and pleasure. If something is confusing you and holding you back, ask, ask, ask for help.
This week, 72-year-old Paulette gives us a window into growing up in a conservative time and culture, and how those tight-lipped and sexually discouraging tropes impacted her lifelong ability to experience pleasure.
Paulette is a cisgender female. She describes herself as mixed Black/Latinx, heterosexual, monogamous, and post-menopausal. She describes her body as “thick.”
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I’m sex educator and sexual communication coach Leah Carey and this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey friends. Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Paulette. Our lived experiences are radically different. She’s in her 70s, I’m in my 40s. She’s African American, I’m white. She was raised Catholic, I was raised in a non-practicing Jewish home. She had a 38 year marriage, I’ve never been married. And yet, Paulette and I connected deeply on experiences of body image, how we experience turn-on and so much more. This is part of what I love about these conversations. While the details will be different for each of us, we can see and recognize each other through our stories about sex and sexuality.
Paulette is a 72 year old cisgender female who describes herself as African American and Hispanic, straight, monogamous, single since the death of her husband, and post menopausal. She describes her body as thick. I am so pleased to introduce Paulette!
I am so happy to be speaking with you. And thank you because to be honest, I have been having a challenge finding post menopausal women to speak with me so I was absolutely thrilled when you said yes. Thank you for being here.
PAULETTE: You’re so welcome.
LEAH: So let’s just jump right in. The first question that I ask everyone is what is your first memory of sexual pleasure?
PAULETTE: That’s a great question. I want to say when I was young, believe it or not. I was curious about it and I’m not sure where the curiosity came from but I remember liking a little boy and being around him felt great. And then all of a sudden, we just started kissing and I loved it.
LEAH: Do you know how old you were approximately?
PAULETTE: I might have been about 8 years old.
LEAH: Did you have any idea what kissing sort of meant? That this was a thing or was it just sort of the natural evolution of the way that the two of you were with each other?
PAULETTE: It felt as though it was something that we were sneaking to do and that we couldn’t allow other people to know that we were doing it because we were young.
LEAH: Yeah. How long did this go on for?
PAULETTE: I would say for a long time. For a long time and not just with him but as I think back, that has always been preference in terms of interaction with the opposite sex.
LEAH: When you say that’s your preference, do you mean kissing?
LEAH: Oh, okay. So you knew from an early age what felt good to you?
LEAH: And at what point did you begin to desire hands on body contact?
PAULETTE: I think I was a little older and kissing became more than just lips touching. There was being taught how to, back in my day, French kissing. That’s what we called it.
PAULETTE: And I did it, liked it, and became very good at it.
LEAH: So in those earlier days, when you were 8 or 9, before you learned “French kiss”, what kind of kissing was it? Was it dry pecks or was it something more than that but less than tongues?
PAULETTE: It was just lips touching and for long periods of time. It wasn’t just the peck. It was like, “Oh, I like you” or “I like what we’re doing” or “You’re my girlfriend. You’re my boyfriend.” That’s what it felt like.
LEAH: Yeah. When I hear you, it brings up this feeling of sort of sweet innocence for me. Does that feel that way for you?
PAULETTE: It felt that way at that time. But I also knew it was something that we weren’t supposed to be doing and so because of that, I was very, very diligent in keeping it a secret.
LEAH: And at what point did you become old enough that it didn’t need to be a secret anymore? What was the “appropriate” age for you to be having contact with boys?
PAULETTE: Well, that’s tricky because although I knew that I wasn’t supposed to based on parental guidance, I did it and I remember I thought, “Oh, well at 16, a lot of my friends had boyfriends and their parents knew it.”
And so I went to my mother and I said, “Oh, can I have a boyfriend?” And she looked at me like I was crazy. “No, you’re too young.” And I’m like, “Too young? How old do I have to be?” And for her, it was 18, 19, 20 years old. But there was also an undercurrent of girls not being too promiscuous, girls not messing around with boys, especially in an African American family and the West Indian family. You don’t want to bring shame on the family and so they didn’t talk about birth control. They didn’t talk about sex. So all that I knew, I had to learn on my own.
LEAH: And where were you learning that from?
PAULETTE: Oh, in the street with my friends.
LEAH: Which is super reliable information, I’m sure.
LEAH: So you mentioned before we started recording that you grew up in a Catholic home, what were you learning or hearing in your Church about relationships and sexuality if anything?
PAULETTE: Not very much. Again, I just don’t remember sex being discussed openly. There was a real taboo around it, but I do remember that my brother, he was able to have more latitude than me.
And it just takes me back to when I started menstruating. I was in elementary school and it was a hot day and all of a sudden I felt very wet between my legs and I didn’t know what it was. And I went to the bathroom and there was all this blood. Well, where is this coming from? So I had my girlfriend go get my brother. He came into the bathroom. I told him what happened. I said, “Go tell ma”, because we live two blocks away from the school. So he went home, he came back and he says, “Ma said to just put some toilet paper between your legs and come right home.”
Okay. So I did. And when I went home, it was now, “You’re a young lady and this will happen once a month and during those five days, you have to be extra, extra clean and you must bathe.” She sent my brother to the store to buy me some sanitary napkins. “Keep your legs closed and your skirt down.” And that was the end of it.
LEAH: Wow. It sounds like you had not been pre-prepared for this at all.
PAULETTE: At all.
LEAH: So not even the class in school where they separate the boys and the girls?
PAULETTE: At all.
LEAH: That must have been shocking and horrifying to look down and find yourself bleeding and have no idea what was going on.
PAULETTE: It was.
LEAH: Did you think you were dying?
PAULETTE: I didn’t think I was dying but I do remember feeling that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t know anyone else that had their period that time. So it was like, “What is going on?” And when I go home, I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll get a little bit more explanation as to what is going on.” And when I look back, I didn’t. I still didn’t know anything.
LEAH: Yeah. In that conversation with your mom, did she sort of go into the birds and the bees and like now you’re dropping eggs which mean you could get pregnant or was there any explanation of how those things go together?
PAULETTE: No. “Keep your legs closed, your skirt down, you’re a young lady now.”
LEAH: Wow, so how did that leave you feeling about getting a period and being a young lady?
PAULETTE: I didn’t like it, never liked it. I always felt that that time of month, I was being punished for something.
To this day, I mean I remember as I was growing up and you go into the doctor and the first question they ask is, “Oh, when was your last period?” And I never knew because I would always block it out. And I realize that in order for me to be treated properly, I would need to know. It seemed that it was vital information because I was always asked, “When was your last period?”
PAULETTE: And I was always like a dummy, “I don’t know.” “Well, did you get your period last month?” “Yes.” “But you don’t know when?” “No.” And I didn’t, so I started writing it down.
LEAH: At some point in here, did you start becoming interested in having more serious sexual contact with the boys who you had been fooling around with?
PAULETTE: What I realized was I never really enjoyed sex and that’s penetration. And I never knew why but as I grew older and thought about it, it was the foreplay that I enjoyed but I didn’t enjoy the penetration.
And I think that that had a lot to do with the constant not having sex. My mother telling me that not to have sex because you could get pregnant and you don’t want to shame the family and yada, yada, yada. And I think that had a deep psychological impact on me. I didn’t realize it at the time but as I look back, I think it did.
LEAH: Something that I hear somewhat frequently from women that I talk to is this sentiment that “I don’t really enjoy the penetration, I enjoy the touching that happens before the penetration.” And often, it turns out that the problem is that they don’t enjoy penetration because the touching gets rushed and so they don’t get fully turned on and therefore, they don’t have enough lubrication to enjoy the penetration.
PAULETTE: It always felt that it was too short. There weren’t enough emotions. I just found with foreplay, it could be just you could manipulate it for as long as you wanted it. And I’ll give you an example of that. I fell in love with this guy when I was about 16 or 17 years old and I mean at the time, I knew that I liked him a lot but I didn’t realize it was love until 50 years later.
PAULETTE: You go through your entire life and you’re still thinking about this person and the kind of pleasure that that kind of person brought to you, for you.
And I remember one night, I was going to a party and he was going to a party and of course, two different parties. But we had this electric connection to each other that whenever we ran each other, the evening was stopped, whatever we were doing and we would be together. And I remember this one Friday night going to his house and being in his basement the entire night and all we did was kiss. And we never had sex. We just kissed the entire night.
And for me, I left his place dripping wet but let me tell you how naïve I was, I didn’t even realize that I was having orgasms. I just knew that I was drenched. But it was an evening of just delightful pleasure and it never stopped. And every time I was with him, that’s what happened and I dubbed it as we could make love just kissing.
LEAH: Aww, how lovely.
LEAH: I want to invite you to imagine for a moment what your ideal sex life looks and feels like.
Who are you with?
What type of sex do you have together?
How do you feel while touching them?
How does your body feel when they touch you?
Or … would you like to have LESS sex than you’re currently having?
If you don’t know, or if that vision of your ideal doesn’t look at all like what’s currently going on in your bedroom, I can help.
With personalized sex and intimacy coaching, we’ll explore where you are, where you want to be, and the steps to help you get there. There are no right or wrong answers, just the answers that work FOR YOU.
I understand that exploring your sexuality and all that goes with it – your body image, your belief in your lovability, and more – can be terrifying. Believe me, I sat in the middle of that fire for decades. I know how painful it is. But I also stepped out the other side, stronger, more confident, and more certain of my own lovability and desirability. You can do the same.
I work with couples and one-on-one – whether you’ve never explored your sexual desires before, or you want to explore things you’ve never done before like BDSM or non-monogamy, or if you and your partner need some help figuring out how to communicate together about sex.
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LEAH: What was your first experience of penetration and how did you decide that you were ready for it?
PAULETTE: I’m not sure if I decided I was ready for it as much as I was going out with this guy and I kind of figured, “Eh, what the hell. You’re 20, 21. I mean how much longer are you going to hold on to this virginity thing?”
But in the back of my mind, it was, “Yeah, but if you have sex, you’re going to get pregnant.” And I couldn’t do that to my mother. I couldn’t embarrass her like that. So I’m not sure if that was part of why I didn’t enjoy it too. Because I was carrying a lot of that and during that period, no one talked about birth control.
LEAH: I was just going to ask. What kinds of protection were you using if any during intercourse?
PAULETTE: Nothing because nobody talked about it. You didn’t know where to go to get it, so no.
LEAH: Did you get pregnant?
PAULETTE: I didn’t. I didn’t at that time. The funny thing is okay, so fast forward, I’m sexually active and I know I don’t want to have any children so I’ve got to get some birth control. And I want to say that that was during the time when birth control had not just come out in the market, but it started being talked about as another means of birth control and it was easier for you to get.
And I was an adult at this point, so I started taking birth control pills but I have this aversion to taking pills. So I would always forget it as small as they were, I would always forget it and have trouble taking them. And of course, I missed a couple of days or whatever, I did get pregnant. And I was terrified. I was terrified and there were a couple of things going on in my head. One, I wasn’t married. Two, what would I tell my mother? I would be this big disappointment. And the other part of it was I couldn’t endure that pain, giving birth. And I think I became so traumatized of the knowledge that I had a miscarriage.
LEAH: Oh, wow. How old were you?
PAULETTE: I was maybe 22, 23.
LEAH: And having had that pregnancy and miscarriage, did that change your relationship with sex at all?
PAULETTE: No. Matter of fact, I got pregnant again. I was in a relationship, committed relationship and again, I got scared out of my mind. I thought about giving birth and the pain that that would conjure up and I had an abortion.
LEAH: And how old were you at this point?
PAULETTE: In my 30s.
LEAH: And what was that experience like for you?
PAULETTE: It was okay. Strange but I don’t recall going through any guilt trips about it. I just knew that I could not deal with pain of giving birth. That was one aspect. The other aspect was again, I wasn’t married and it was like, “I can’t do this. I cannot do this.”
LEAH: So in your generation, to be in your 30s and unmarried strikes me as somewhat unusual. Is that correct?
PAULETTE: Yeah. But that was not a priority to me. I was very independent. I knew that getting married, I’d have to give up some of that independence and that was scary for me. That was very scary for me.
LEAH: I can relate to a lot of that but I am from a generation where it’s much more accepted.
LEAH: Yeah. So during this time, we’ve moved from your 20s into your 30s. You’re unmarried. You’re sexually active. Did you have a series of monogamous relationships or were you someone who had sex outside of relationships?
PAULETTE: No. It had to be a relationship. I couldn’t just sleep with anyone. I had to care about them.
LEAH: And so as you got into your 30s, how was sex feeling to you? Has the experience of it changed at all?
LEAH: So really still enjoying the kissing and the touching but less so the penetration?
PAULETTE: Yeah. And so now, my girls and they’re my girls’ spiritual daughters and they’ll say, “Well, don’t you want a companion? Don’t you want to be with someone?” And it’s like, “No, I’m good.”
I’m good for a variety of reasons. I don’t want to be in another relationship at my age because I don’t miss the sexual part of it. I don’t need that. The companionship, I like being alone. I like my company. So at 72, I’m good.
LEAH: Yeah. So we’ve skipped a portion of your history here because I know that you were married and you also told me that you have two children, so are they biological children or adopted?
LEAH: Okay. So you have never gone through the birth experience?
PAULETTE: You’re not surprised, are you?
LEAH: Not by the way this conversation has gone.
LEAH: And so at what age did you get married?
PAULETTE: How old was I? I want to say 35.
LEAH: And what made that relationship different hat you decided that you were ready to make a commitment?
PAULETTE: What happened? I settled down. I stopped partying hard. I had my first son and I thought, “Okay, I want to do life a little differently.” And I met someone and unbeknownst to me, feelings for him grew and I wasn’t even aware of it. My friends were.
PAULETTE: And they would tell me about it and I would tell them, “No you’re wrong. He’s not the type of person that I will fall in love with. I’m not even attracted to him.” And then I found me feeling certain ways when I didn’t’ see him. And then before you know it, full blown relationship, spending a lot of time together, I didn’t want my son to be around a lot of different men and so it became real serious, real fast. And so we were dating maybe five years and then we got married.
LEAH: And I assume based on what you’ve said, your experience of sex remained the same in terms of not enjoying penetration. Did you have that really enjoyable sensual experience with him?
LEAH: Did you miss it?
PAULETTE: I did and I thought that I could teach him what I liked and what I wanted but he wasn’t teachable. And when you’re talking about a black man, that’s kind of an attack on their ego because they already know, they think they do. And for them, during that time, that era, it’s not about the pleasuring. Their pleasure, they get what they want and for me, it was the woman was secondary. And so, for me, it was like I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I couldn’t even teach him how to kiss me the way I wanted to be kissed. And I would try to demonstrate but because he wasn’t used to that, it wasn’t pleasurable for him. And so, I found that the more I tried to get him to do it the way I wanted it, created a chasm between us. And so rather than deal with that, I just shut down in terms of not getting what I wanted.
LEAH: Were you continuing to have regular sex?
PAULETTE: Yeah, but then I would always find ways not to.
PAULETTE: And I was okay with it.
LEAH: What about him?
PAULETTE: He was okay. He was okay because I think the other part of it too was that he was older than me. And so I think he kind of enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t all over him all the time. Although I do remember during the beginning of our relationship, oh my God, it was non-stop. We were like rabbits.
PAULETTE: But after I realized that I wasn’t going to get what I needed and wanted, then it kind of slowed down a little bit.
LEAH: How did that lack of fulfillment of your needs and desires affect the emotional aspect of your relationship? Did it bleed over into other areas of your relationship?
PAULETTE: I don’t know how to answer that except I would become distracted with my boys, putting more time and effort and energy into them than the relationship if that makes any sense.
LEAH: And you think that if there had been more of a sexual connection, that you might have spent some of that attention and energy into the relationship?
LEAH: How long did that relationship last?
PAULETTE: 37 years.
LEAH: It’s a long time to feel unsatisfied.
PAULETTE: It is, yeah.
LEAH: I’m curious hearing you say that you enjoy your own company and you don’t need any of that and I’m not questioning that. I absolutely believe you. I also wonder if someone showed up who wanted to kiss you and pleasure you in the ways that are really pleasurable to you. Would that change your mind? Would you be like, “Maybe, I will have some of that”?
PAULETTE: It’s interesting that you should ask that question because I want to say in the last week or so, my thought process has been going on thinking a lot about, “Okay, we’re going through this pandemic. A lot of things are slowing down. A lot of things are changing.” I feel it and see it and sense it as a spiritual awakening. And I thought about that, I said, “Suppose you did run into someone going through the mailbox.”
PAULETTE: “That you felt an attraction, would you be open to explore that?” And I don’t know. And sometimes I question myself, “Am I okay because I feel that I need to be okay? Or am I okay because I’m afraid to become vulnerable again and not get what I need? Is it worth it?” So I do ask myself those questions.
LEAH: So there are two topics that haven’t come up yet that I want to ask you about. The first is masturbation. Is it something that you did and did it provide you with the kind of sexual pleasure that you weren’t getting from partnered sex?
PAULETTE: I’ve never masturbated. Would you believe that?
PAULETTE: I have never, ever. And I think the reason why I didn’t is because I didn’t grow up in era where women pleasured themselves and to masturbate meant something was wrong with you. And I think about all the things that you grow up with that you don’t know at the time is going to have such a major impact on your life, but it does subconsciously.
At 72, I will not sleep nude. I’ve tried when I was younger. While I’m grown, I had my own apartment, I’m in here by myself and it’s hot and I can sleep nude if I choose to and so I would start off that way. I’d get out of the shower and I’d feel good and I’d get in bed and midway through the night, I’d be up and in a nightgown or pajamas. Well, I’m going to go to bed but I don’t need any covers. I don’t need to cover my body. I have a sheet on my bed and I pull it up and I cover myself.
PAULETTE: And I realize that all of that is stuff that I heard as I was growing up. Because my son, my youngest son, I remember we were talking one day and he says, “When I come home from work, I like to take my clothes off. I sleep nude.” And I’m like, “What? You do what?”
PAULETTE: And I’m telling you, I said, “What?” He says, “Yes, I sleep nude. I don’t sleep with no pajamas on.” And I said, “Get out of here, really?” He said, “Yeah.” And I said, “But suppose there’s a fire.” He said, “Then I’ll put my clothes on.” I said, “Get out.”
PAULETTE: But in the quietness of myself, my mind, I was like, “Yes. Yes! Go! I’m so proud of you!” because that’s how I raised them. I raised them to appreciate their body and not look or refer to their body as something that’s not beautiful and healthy.
LEAH: Well, that’s an excellent segue to my other question, which is about your relationship with your own body. How have you through your life felt about your body?
PAULETTE: Not good, yeah, really, not good. I’ve always been thick from a little girl. I’ve always been thick and so, I would look in the mirror and I’d see my midriff and it’s like, “Oh my God, disgusting, terrible, if I could only just get rid of this.” And I’ve never really embraced and loved my body.
But I knew when I had my boys, I didn’t want them growing up with hang-ups about their bodies and about other people’s bodies. And so I would bring them in the shower with me. Of course, they were age appropriate. They were two, three years old. And I would have them shower with me and they would ask, “Well, what is that?” “Oh, that’s my breast.” “Well, what is that?” “That’s my vagina.” “Oh, what’s that?” “That’s your penis.” “Oh, what’s that?”
So they grew up not being ashamed of their bodies. And I’ve got to say that I’m really, really proud of that piece for me. Because the younger boy, he gained a lot of weight and he was dating. Well, he’s married to her now, but I remember him saying, “Oh, she’s thick.” And he says, “Oh, she sleeps nude.” And I said, “Really?”
PAULETTE: And it wasn’t so much the nude as much as it was, “Oh my God, she’s thick but she will actually lay in the bed with the light on nude? And he goes to bed nude?” And he says, “Well, mama you know, we need love too.” And I said, “You know you are absolutely right. “And I was so proud of him because he was able to be and do what I couldn’t.
LEAH: How did your feelings about your thickness affect your willingness to get naked with the men who you were sleeping with?
PAULETTE: Oh boy. It played a big role. Most of them never saw any with the light on.
PAULETTE: Yeah! It would always have to be in the dark. There was one guy I allowed him to see me nude because I knew he loved me more than I loved him.
PAULETTE: And I knew that it didn’t matter what I looked like, he loved me anyway. So it was okay. The others, yeah, I think they do.
PAULETTE: But I’m not quite certain and if they see my body, all these rolls, like they couldn’t see them anyway.
PAULETTE: Because I disguised them really, really well.
LEAH: It has always astonished me how different my concept of my own body is from the concept of seemingly anyone else who looks at it. I’ve been so self conscious about my body and the rolls and the jiggles, all of that. And yet it occurred to me, it was some time in the last few years when I was going through my period of sexual healing and body reclamation and it occurred to me that I had never once taken my clothes of in front of someone and had them say, “Oh, never mind, put your clothes back on”, which was of course my fear, that If they saw my body, they would be less interested in me, but never once did that happen.
PAULETTE: So you know of what I speak.
LEAH: Oh, absolutely without question. Yeah.
LEAH: And again that feeling, that fear of “Am I going to look weird? Am I going to smell weird? Am I going to taste weird?” And yet, I’ve never had a partner look down there and be “Oh, you know what this doesn’t look right.”
LEAH: So yeah, as women, we’ve been dealt a load of bullshit about how we look and how we’re going to be perceived that actually doesn’t match up with reality most of the time.
PAULETTE: Very true.
LEAH: We all have a very basic need to be touched, to have some physical contact with others. Some people’s touch need is very high. Some people’s touch need is very low, but we all fall somewhere on that scale. So since your husband’s passing, have you been able to get your touch need met without having a partner?
PAULETTE: that’s an interesting question.
PAULETTE: Prior to the pandemic, I believe how the touch sensory was being met for me was by my tribe, by the village that I created, my girls, my son, other friends.
But in terms of intimacy, it’s strange. I don’t feel it except sometimes. And this is so weird, sometimes I’ll be in bed and all of a sudden, I get this feeling as though I’m being touched and I’m being prepped. That’s the only way that I can describe it.
And I remember the first time, this has all happened since my husband died, and I remember the first time it happened. It frightened me and I immediately dismissed the feeling. I wouldn’t even allow myself to feel the pleasure of it. And then it happened again and I said, “Oh my Gosh, what’s going on?” And then I attributed it to the guy that I was in love with at 16, 17 and we would make love kissing. He has died prior to my husband.
And he was the only one who could make me feel that way so when I did feel that way, I’d say, “Okay, leave me alone please, stop.” And then the next time it happened, it would be more intense and longer because now, I’m allowing myself to feel the feeling, to feel the pleasure of it. And that happens. That happens. And so, what I’ve given myself permission to do is to feel the pleasure of those brief seconds.
LEAH: How lovely.
PAULETTE: Yeah, yeah.
LEAH: Hey friends!
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LEAH: What belief did you have about sex as a child or teenager that you wish you could correct on her on now?
PAULETTE: That it was bad and it was nasty and good girls didn’t do it. Yeah. I think yeah that’s the biggest one for me because I think that had a lot to do with why I didn’t enjoy it.
LEAH: Yeah. Did you ever feel that there was a possibility of a breakthrough to enjoying it or was it just something that didn’t seem available to you?
PAULETTE: I don’t think I gave very much thought to thinking about it being pleasurable. I don’t think that I gave much energy to my one day finding this thing that just blew my mind and talking to my girlfriends who were doing it, enjoyed it, and loved it, I would kind of look at them like they were crazy.
PAULETTE: Like, really? And they just thoroughly enjoyed it and it was nothing that I ever enjoyed except kissing.
LEAH: Well, I’m glad that you had that piece of it that you enjoyed and those memories.
LEAH: Paulette, I have asked you all of the questions that I have. Thank you so much for being here today.
PAULETTE: Well, thank you for giving me this opportunity to kind of think about and go back to the parts and pieces that helped create who I am today. And I’m really grateful for that because sometimes I think about who I am. How did I become who I am? If I could do it again, would do it this way or how I would change it? And I like that opportunity because although there were some pieces that were missing, I think for the most part, it was good.
LEAH: That’s it for today. If you’re enjoying the show, please take a moment to leave a 5-star rating and review on Apple podcasts or, if you’re using another podcast app, go to www.ratethispodcast.com/goodgirls.
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Good Girls Talk About Sex is produced by me, Leah Carey, and edited by Gretchen Kilby.
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Transcripts are produced by Jan Acielo.
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