Barbie turned 50 this year and, while I doubt we’re going to see a “Menopause Barbie” on the market any time soon, I think the doll’s reputation as a poor role model for young women is not entirely deserved.

Women learned a lot from Barbie, especially when it came to sex. In fact, Barbie was the first sexually liberated woman I knew. She was the star of her own show with Ken as a mere sidekick — available whenever Barbie desired male company.

Sexual experimentation with Barbie was all about exploring those wonderfully vague, unformed, okay-I-know-this-feels-good-but-I-don’t-really-get-it feelings of early adolescence.

As Christine told me, “I remember my Ken and Barbie necking, and I know I had Ken lie naked on top of Barbie. But I pretty much left it at that — I think I didn’t know what to do next.”

Clearly some of us were a little more sexually advanced than others.

“Our Barbies and Kens were usually bi-sexual, with multiple partners over brief periods of time,” AB tells me. “There was foreplay, orgasms — everything.” AB says her “sophisticated” Barbie play might have had something to do with the fact that she played with Barbies until she was 14.

Some women even practiced responsible Barbie sex. Susan’s Barbie was a secretary, she tells me. “At one point I had her getting ready to go into her male boss’ office. I remember knowing that Ken-boss man was going to put the moves on her and making sure that my Barbie grabbed a birth control pill from her desk drawer and popped it before going in to his office. I have no idea how I knew about birth control.”

Okay, maybe she had a few things to learn about office sexual politics, but Barbie did teach us a few things about the harsh realities of dating.

“Barbies were like today’s 30-somethings in the world of dating: A bunch of really good-looking dolls all vying for the attention of one guy — and all the time not realizing he doesn’t even have a decent package,” laughs Sylvia.

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