Me, 16 years old, trying on the idea of boobs

Letter to a Very Sexually Active Teenager

Dear Teenage Kathleen,

Today, as Grown-Up Kathleen, you considered buying a T-shirt that says, SLEEP WITH WHOMEVER YOU WANT, because:

  1. it’s a message you agree with;
  2. it’s a message you wish you’d agreed with sooner; and
  3. it’s a message that is grammatically correct, which pleases you.

Ultimately you didn’t get the shirt because you thought it would be hypocritical to wear at this point — since you are, for the first time ever, happily sleeping with only one person.

But I’m not here to talk to you about love — or at least not about loving other people. I’m writing because waffling about the sex T-shirt made me think of you and what you’re going through right now.

It’s okay that you’re having sex, Kathleen.

I know that it doesn’t always seem like it because you live in the suburban Midwest with its small-town grapevine and vaguely Christian ethics. Plus, boys can’t keep their mouths shut. And when their friends find out, their friends’ girlfriends find out, which means soon their friends’ girlfriends’ moms are talking about it — because that’s the sort of town you live in (for now).

Wanting boys while being “pure” is not easy. The little old ladies with their crucifix necklaces at Walgreens — the ones that always seem to be there when you’re buying condoms — don’t make it any easier. (But I’m proud of you for acknowledging your sex activities to the extent that you buy prophylactics, by the way. Good job.)

Also, while we’re practicing self-admiration, nice going with your grades and shit. If it makes you feel any better, you will never work so hard again. In fact, your feverish efforts to maintain straight A’s make me hesitant to give you any advice at all — out of fear that your doing things differently might change something about where we are now. The weird ways you handled things and struggled to cope are what got you (me, us) to here — where, by the way, I am incredibly happy. (Thank you.) I wonder if you could have studied as hard as you did if you hadn’t also been so lonely and tirelessly horny.

Now, from where I’m sitting, your difficulty balancing boys and books seems endearing. But I know it’s not so endearing for you. Hence this letter: Just because you’re fucking doesn’t mean you’ll get a bad report card. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, no matter what the moms in your neighborhood whisper about. You are not some female character on a sitcom. You are not the ditzy sex thing or the grades-focused nerdy gal. It is not either/or. In fact, for now you are many things, including sexual and studious, and you are great at many things, not just sex and studying.

So, for your next challenge, I encourage you to try and practice some self-love (and no, I am not talking about masturbation; you’re already great at that). What I mean is: try not to judge yourself — or others for that matter. I know you tend to be hypercritical of other girls’ sexual decisions and mishaps because of how scrutinized you feel. And that’s understandable. But calling girls “sluts” or some other derivative is nothing more than a defensive reaction to your own self-loathing. (Also try not to call girls bitches just because they’re hot and have bigger breasts than you.)

Advice always comes from a place of regret, Kathleen. Know that, too. Use it to filter the advice you’ll continue to get throughout high school from well-intentioned grown women about being more of a “lady.” Try not to hate them, but don’t internalize their criticisms, either.

Want an opportunity to practice this particular brand of self-love? Pretty soon your supposed best friend will find out you’re not a virgin and will say, “You’re going to be pregnant by the time you’re 20” — as if that’s the worst thing ever. (It’s not, by the way — but that’s not the line of reasoning I’m encouraging you to take in this particular instance; please keep using birth control.) This is how I’d like you to respond: “Get fucked.”

And last but not least, let’s talk about the potential ramifications for your love life of this kind of attitude, this “I Don’t Care If You Think I’m a Hell-Bound Slut” stance. I know you’re worried that if anyone calls you a slut — if a “reputation” like that accumulates around your name — the skinny intellectual boys you gravitate toward will run. There will be a diaspora of nerds and you will be forced into celibacy.

Well, you won’t. Feeling alone will be something that you’ll contend with into and throughout college — it’s a human predicament, and is not limited to you or to your perceived shortcomings. But, loneliness aside, there will be more boys, I promise. Don’t act out of concern that there won’t be.

You’re not in charge of much right now, and that’s hard. You’ve got your body and you’ve got your books; sex, along with those AP tests you love so much, is one of the few things within your control. Own it a little, sweetheart.

Your loving self,

Kathleen