Tori Amos

On a Sultry, Southern Sunday

Originally posted March 22, 2014

I’m a Southern girl.

That means I always send thank you notes, order white gravy with my biscuits and often depend on the kindness of strangers.

Oh, and I never touch myself (as Anastasia Steele would call it) “down there.”

OK…maybe that last one is a bit of lie.

You see, in the South, that kind of thing was never talked about—especially with girls. Good girls simply didn’t have those urges. It was sort-of “damning by omission.”

Now boys on the other hand: according to the church, they needed to control themselves.

So imagine my confusion at age 12 when I…well…needed to learn to “control myself.” I felt sort-of like a freak. Why I was afflicted with this “boy issue.” And honestly, why was it such a bad thing?

Years later in college I finally realized the truth about female sexuality. The late night chats about what kind of porn girls liked, TV shows with vibrator jokes and the official angsty college-girl icon, Tori Amos, lifted the veil from an otherwise obscured understanding of my own body and sexual tastes.

But the shame was cemented inside of me.

I was, as many would say, a late bloomer. I was 19 when I gave my first blowjob and 21 when I first had genital intercourse. There was no tangible reason for why I chose to refrain from sexual exploration during my teen years other than to say, “I had better things to do.”

But I think some part of me had tamped down my desire as a pre-teen in order to save myself the secrecy and embarrassment I often felt before, during and after I touched myself.

Now, several years later, as I share pieces of my erotic journey through fiction and poetry in my new book, I am reminded of how very innocent pleasure is and how the archetype of the Virgin is a sovereign being, her body belonging to no one but herself.

Below is the Virgin’s poem, based on my own experiences of erotic awakening, my adolescent faith in Jesus (for whom I still feel deep reverence) and the conflict that often arose between the two.

On A Sultry Southern Sunday


On a sultry southern Sunday

Hazy honeysuckle in the heat

Christians soldiers fan themselves

With folded programs for relief


The preacher, collar stained with sweat,

Says, “Turn to Psalm 23.”

Daddy glances towards the acolytes

But I’m not where I should be


I’m lyin’ down in greener pastures

Inviting a quickening breath

Restoring a sad, scarred soul through

My valley of the shadow of death


Bring those quiet waters

To a rolling, raging boil

Let my fingers do the prayin’

Anoint my head with palm oil


Break your rod, keep your staff

Hungry hands need to feed

And your wafer-scrap holy bite

Leaves me writhing in hollow need


And after the shepherd’s spoken

The flock, freshly blessed,

Head to brunch to gorge their guilt

In feasts of righteousness


They’re born and bled to hide behind

The good book of the past

Tissue thin leaves won’t cut their skin

When they turn the pages too fast


But on a sultry southern Sunday

When I’m upstairs all alone

It ain’t no low-swung chariot

Comin’ for to carry me home