Do you remember what figuring out sex felt like as a teenager? I’m not talking just about penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse. I’m talking about everything that has to do with sex: crushes, kisses, and whatever the hell “third base” was. Taking those steps from childhood into adulthood were scary and exhilarating, something that I was reminded of recently when I started cleaning my childhood stuff out of my parent’s basement. Tucked in the drawers of a vanity stand I found hundreds — literally hundreds — of notes that I’d passed back and forth with friends in middle and high school. Written in pink, blue, and black ink — some in pencil, some in marker — I found written evidence of exactly what it felt like to figure out sex and sexuality.
Some of it was great — like getting a crush or finding out a crush liked you or doing something for the first time — and some of it was terrible — like the way we referred to other girls as “sluts” or the pressure so many of us felt to do things before we were ready. What stands out the most, though, is how curious we were about everything and how we were trying so hard to seem nonchalant. I remember that feeling. I remember feeling like my skin was on fire and that everything was so important all of the time and I can hear it just under the surface of these “casual” notes to my friends. We all cared, so much.
We tend to write off teenager’s feelings about sex and relationships, but as I dug through the giant box, I realized that there was a lot of wisdom in these intricately folded notes. Here are some things I learned about sex from my middle and high school notes with my friends. (All names have been blurred or cut out because while I'm fine with embarrassing myself on the internet, my childhood friends do not need that.)
1. Boys Learn To Push Girl’s Boundaries At A Young Age
There is so much that makes me sad for me, my best friend, and middle school girls everywhere and forever here. Not only was this boy taught that the way to get what he wants from a girl is to literally follow her around and touch her without her consent, but it's clear in how my friend wrote about it that she felt extremely conflicted about "letting" him do it. On one hand, she liked the attention — and probably liked the kiss. On the other hand, she was worried that going to fast made her "slutty."
We're talking about some dirty dancing and a kiss here. Consent violations and slut-shaming starts early.
2. It Doesn’t Matter What You’ve Actually Done, Only What People Think
This was just one of many examples, especially from my middle school notes, of how concerned we were with what sex acts we thought people were doing. I came across ones that had to do with rumors about my own sexual activity — that I had sex with an older guy in an elevator; that I was a lesbian; that I let so-and-so "finger bang" me — so I know for certain that most of what we said about each other wasn't true. But did that matter? Nope. And did we talk about the guys? Nope. This was all about policing other girl's sexuality, a trend that (unfortunately) seems to have continued even as I've become an adult.
3. Pressure To Take Naked Pics Existed Pre-Cellphones
So for some background, I was involved with a guy who was a bit older than me (not a lot older, we're talking like, 14 and 17 here) and he asked if he could take some nude photos of me on film that he would print in a dark room. In this note, I'm debating the pros and cons with one of my good friends. She's definitely playing the cooler head, bringing up all of the arguments that we give to teenagers today about why they shouldn't send naked selfies. I guess some things we really can't blame on technology.
4. You Don’t Get Anything You Don’t Go For
No dude, go for it! DO NOT GIVE UP!!! I'll just go get my message, put my shit down in the hall, go get food, and meet you in the hall, OK?
OK, but why shouldn't I give up? I mean he's a freaking junior and I don't even know him! Also I'm afraid he thought we were making fun of him, if he did see talking about him D town. I would, if I thought someone was talking about me.
Not everyone thinks that way though! It's good to have crushes... you get nowhere without them. And don't the age thing bother you... I speak from experience. :)
This is later on in the same note, where I'm encouraging my friend to go hit on a guy she likes. I never understood not going for what you want — still don't — and I love that I already understood that you don't get what you don't go for at age 14.
5. Sex Takes Planning
This one had me dying laughing, mainly because of the bravado exhibited by whomever I was talking to. I also loved that I asked him (?) if it was going to be "drug and alcohol free" because even though I was a little punk rocker, I was square AF.
6. Kissing Boys Will Make You Crazy
Oh man, I feel so hard for my bestie here. She kissed a boy and she likes him and now she feels like she's losing it. Little did I know at the time that we would have this exact conversation approximately 19 million times in the future.
7. Flirting Leads To Things Sometimes
FACT: Flirting does, in fact, sometimes lead to something. (But not always.)
Images: Emma McGowan