Study Guide

She's Come Undone Sexuality

By Wally Lamb


When I asked my parents how the baby got inside Ma, they both laughed, and the Daddy told me they had made it with their bodies. (1.42)

That's vague, Dad. No wonder Dolores gets a little confused about sex early on.

It was Jeanette who had defined French-kissing for me. (2.21)

Like many kids whose parents don't give them a sex talk, Dolores has to learn about sex from her friends… who may or may not even know what they're talking about.

At the dinner the night before, Ma had acted so… that word. […] Leaning over and giving him those little slaps whenever he teased her. Horny: that was the word. Ma and her stupid risks, her black-lace bras. (5.63)

Dolores hates her mother for being sexual, maybe because she's still mad that her dad left them.

"I want, I want…" Ruth kept saying. Then Larry's breath caught and they whimpered and clung together, their bodies rocking as one. I lay there, shaking and staring and wondering how the poison Jack Speight had let go inside of me could be what Larry let go in Ruth – what Ruth wanted. (11.207)

Being raped by Jack leaves Dolores with a painful view of sexuality. She can't even understand that having sex isn't inherently cruel or dangerous, and that it can be loving and desirable for some couples.

"He goes to the closet and pulls out a suitcase. All that was in it was this pornographic joke magazine…" (11.227)

Ruth shares this story with Dolores, a story about sleeping with her faculty advisor and his taste in porn, to show her that, yes, some men are sick jerks, but she can get away from them and find something else. Larry is definitely an upgrade from this guy.

"Sometimes I think I may be going crazy… sexual thoughts right in the middle of Tuesday-night prayer service." (14.9)

Dante grapples with sexual thoughts even as a teenager. Eventually he ditches the religion and gives into his sexual urges, sleeping with Dolores the night he meets her, and cheating on her with one of his students.

It was clear from the way he'd posed that he was offering his body, requesting—not pushing and ripping like Pig Jack Speight. (14.169)

Dolores likes Dante because she sees him as safe sexually, and not as a man who would force himself on her. Of course, Dante can be any man she wants him to be at this moment, because she's only looking at him in pictures.

It was wrong and dirty—what her hands, her mouth, were doing to me down there. But gentle, too, like she promised. (15.159)

Homosexuality is a difficult issue for Dolores to grasp. She isn't technically a lesbian, but being touched by one feels good, and Dolores isn't sure how to process that.

"I guess I'm just wondering why 'f***' slips out so easily but you can't seem to say the word 'orgasm.'" (17.53)

Dolores becomes pretty repressed sexually, but we can't blame her. At this point, all the orgasms she's had, that haven't come from herself, are from people whom she wasn't even interested in.

We weren't supposed to mail back the pornographic ones. […] But I usually snuck them through. (19.19)

This action shows us that, after therapy, Dolores has become a little more sexually liberal than she used to be.