THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Cameron & Evie College Freshmen

Love! <3 

Evie and I have been dating for over a year and a half, but it seems like a whole lot longer. We’re writing this together, curled up in my dorm room in Providence, Rhode Island. Even though we go to different schools our dorms are only 5 minutes apart, and we make time to see each other everyday. We technically went on our first date freshman year of high school. It went… poorly. I got so nervous I threw up. This sounds really bad but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, I promise. Evie could not have possibly handled the situation better, but I was still mortified. Unsurprisingly, we didn't really talk much after that.

Fast forward two years, and we found ourselves in the same friend group. We started hooking up in the spring of junior year, meeting at the beach halfway between our houses. This simple beginning became a fun and healthy relationship that has helped us both grow more than we ever imagined. 

We pretty much do everything together. We spend lots of time with one another, just being in the same place but working on our own homework or doing our own thing. But we also make art together, go to concerts and other fun things. We wrote and illustrated a children's book together for our senior year art class and dressed up as one another during halloween senior year and won the costume contest. Although not an entirely original idea, it worked very well because we have very contrasting styles and interests. Even though we love each other and function as a unit, we are still very different people. The term opposites attract really comes to mind while  writing this. 

These differences have helped us grow in many ways because they’re learning opportunities. Would Evie go to a rap concert if she wasn’t dating me? Nah probably not. Would I go to a chorus performance if I wasn't dating Evie? nah probably not. Although the is a pretty generic example it can be applied to all of our contrasting interests, of which there are many. One of the most important for me has been Evie’s influence on my school work. Her good study habits and love of school really helped me change my perspective on school, ultimately helping raise my high school GPA. Another one of our differences is how we handle stress and make plans. I would consider myself the type to just go with the flow, I don’t really need a destination or a plan. Evie likes making plans and sometimes gets stressed when we don’t have a plan. But just like she’s helped me with school work and study habits, I’ve helped her with feeling less stressed and more chill. We have different friend groups and go to different schools, but we’ve found a way for our differences make us closer. More than anything, we are honest and talk about how we feel. Open communication is everything to a good relationship. 

This kind of love is the only thing either of us want. It makes us happy and helps us to grow and become stronger people. As a couple, we’re usually the outlier in both our high school and college friend groups that are so immersed in hook up culture. There are so many different kinds of relationships that can bring people joy, and we’ve found ours <3 

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THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: College Junior Boy

Growing up, I always felt different.  Watching my friends begin to experience attraction towards each other, and proceed to explore that attraction with other kids, made me feel separate from the group.  I had the same curiosities but no outlet to express them.  That sense of “other” continued into high school as those around me began to crush, flirt, hook up, date, and all the while talked about who crushed, flirted, hooked up and dated with whom.  Within the realm of sexuality I felt separate from my community.  In fact I felt completely alone.  I turned to TV, movies and the internet for solace.  Sometimes I sought solidarity, but more often I sought escape.  I escaped into the TV lives of high school characters, whose lives seemed glamorous and fun when compared to my own.  Television and movies provided the space for me to turn away from my often times annoying sense of difference. 

            Though I escaped into other worlds often, I also knew not to let my own high school experience pass me by.  I went to parties, and for the most they were enjoyable.  Enjoyable, though also exhausting.  They constantly reminded me of the differences I felt so strongly in myself yet worked to hide from others.  I would always scan the room for possible issues that may arise.  Which girls could be looking my way, whose looks I might have to deflect?  What excuse would I use if someone told me a friend of theirs thought I was cute?  How would my dancing be perceived by the people around me?  How highly pitched could my laugh resonate around a room without it sounding too gay?  All of this running through my head while attempting to maintain an appropriate external expression of pleasure, no matter the anxiety I may have felt internally. 

            Like many people I know, I didn’t have penetrative sex in high school.  But I also didn’t give or receive oral sex, kiss, hold hands with or touch someone I felt attraction towards, or made it known that I thought someone was cute.  None of this happened until I was 18, the summer after graduation.  And when it happened, it all happened at once.  The first person I ever openly admitted attraction towards was also the first I had sex with.  He also happened to be a man I met through a dating app and had known for only a brief time.  For a while this caused me a lot of shame, for it seemed like my first encounter story differed so greatly from those of my peers, the ones I had spent hours debriefing about in high school.  However, despite any shame I felt, the worst part about my first time was how amazing it was.  Amazing, yet to be kept to myself.  I was not out to my friends at the time, and so this wonderful experience had to remain within the confines of my own mind. 

            Far from a fairytale story, my first sexual experience was overwhelmingly positive and enjoyable.  I met the guy the week before at coffee. I felt comfortable with him. We hit it off, and decided to meet up at my house.  I was upfront with him about my inexperience, which he neither fetishized nor shamed me for.  I was slightly nervous in the moment because of how my first time was unfolding so unlike any movie I’d seen or story I’d heard in the past.  But I soon came to appreciate the differences between the facade of first times and my own first time.  Whereas most teen movies show the character’s first time happening in a setting like a party, I was in an environment in which I felt completely comfortable.  Unlike many of my friends, I was totally sober at the time and felt clear-headed.  Rather than put pressure on me to know what I was doing, my partner guided me gently and consensually.  The person I chose to first have sex with may have not known me well as a person outside of a sexual context, but because of my high school health class I went into it confidently that at the very least it would be safe and consensual because those were the priorities I communicated.  The sex we ended up having was communicative, mutually pleasurable, respectful, intimate and fun.  And to this day that is exactly the sex that I seek.  I have never had sex drunk, unsafely, or with someone I felt uncomfortable communicating with. 

            I feel lucky to be able to say that my sexual experiences so far have all been positive, and that I now can talk openly and honestly about them.  I finally let go of the shame I felt for hooking up with people I met through apps because I knew I had the tools to ensure that I stayed safe and have mutual comfort prioritized.  Just like how an experience that mimics social standards doesn’t translate directly to enjoyment, an experience that differs from the norm doesn’t have to result in disaster.  The context within which I meet my partners is not what matters.  What matters is being an advocate for myself and my safety, never shying away from saying no to anything or anyone that feels wrong, asking for and giving consent, and allowing myself to enjoy whatever feels right to both my partner and I.  For a long time I felt left out of the world of sex, and wished that I had gotten the chance to explore more in high school.  Now looking back, I appreciate the time I got to spend maturing and growing outside of the hookup culture, because I know I will never take the privilege of sex for granted. 

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Rising College Junior

Looking back to high school, I can clearly see how poorly timed this boy was. In a
period when I was feeling unprecedentedly small, the flirting and attention he
brought seemed to relieve my isolation; being noticed was a potent but superficial
feeling. However, this boy did not only exist as a remedial fantasy, and eventually, I
could no longer ignore that high school came with expectations of what young men
and women do together. One night, I found myself slightly drunk in an upstairs room
of a random classmate’s house. And as I kissed that boy, every alarm in my body
rang with a siren that told me that this was not what I wanted. So I stopped. I told
him no.

And after I rolled off of him, and slinked my way out of the room, nothing about it
felt unique or empowering. At the time, I thought it would be my social downfall, but
ultimately, even with the charm of being noticed, I knew my boundaries– what I
wanted, and how I wanted to feel. In the few conversations that this moment from
high school has ever come up, people seem to be surprised by my self-awareness
and my ability to say no. Sadly, others have found this “no” to be impressive, and
through these brief moments of hindsight, I have learned to see the value of Shafia’s
education.

Shafia’s honest, inclusive, and engaging lessons helped me to understand my
sexuality on a holistic level. Every day in class, we deconstructed the warped
expectations and pressures surrounding sex, and in their place, I was given the
opportunity and tools to develop my own boundaries defined by my own terms. The
scenarios, games, and discussions in class did not give me the words to say “no” that
night, so much as they showed me that I deserved and was capable of making my
sexual experiences healthy, safe, and fun.

These principles I built in Shafia’s class have proven to be a valuable tools in
navigating the ever-evolving process of understanding my sexuality. In a culture
where sex carries disproportionate social weight, there is a certain freedom that
comes from the ability to have my own relationship to sex, and for me, this freedom
has given me confidence in my ability to consent; knowing the power of my “no” has
allowed me to explore how it feels to say “yes.” As I have changed in my years since
that night in high school, so too have my boundaries, and as I gain more positive
experiences, these boundaries will continue to adapt. However, what will remain are
the lessons learned from Shafia that taught me to see my sexuality as it uniquely
relates to my own life.

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Madison, Rising College Freshman

The first day of freshman orientation might as well be judgement day. If you wear some running shorts and a t-shirt, you don’t care enough. If you wear a tank and some new jean shorts, you care too much. Better wear makeup to look presentable, but not too much or you’ll be deemed “extra.” There is a middle ground that everyone fights to find, but can’t because it doesn’t actually exist. Regardless of what you wear, seemingly every other kid passes judgement. So of course, the night before orientation, I sat in my room trying to piece together an appropriate outfit for the next day. I settled upon some blue jean shorts and an olive green t-shirt from h&m. This was my version of the sought after “middle ground.”

For most girls at my school, freshman year seemed to go a little like this: wear cute clothes (without trying too hard), make lots of new friends (whether they’re real or not, nobody cares), do well in school (to set up your next chapter), and get the attention of an older boy (preferably a sophomore). At the time, these steps seemed so important. If you followed them you’d be set, and if you didn’t you’d be lost. So we did. It was fun, but it was absolutely exhausting. Monday through Friday was all about getting through the week without sweating in P.E., or tripping and eating the floor in the forum between classes. Friday and Saturday were for getting dinner or going swimming with friends. Sunday was for homework. Then start all over Monday. Freshman year, I developed into a social animal.

Sophomore year was a little bit different, with a little more emphasis on doing well in school, and a little less on the clothes. Friends and boys seemed just as important as they used to. It became a competition as to who took the most classes and who got to the ACT/SAT tutor first. If you didn’t have a tutor by the spring of that year, you might as well be screwed for the college process (which was a total joke, we were 15). The school week was more about who was in the library and who wasn’t. Even if you didn’t have much work, you would sit in the library on your computer to at least look like you gave a crap about your future (I was one of those kids). This year, I thought that I had developed maturity.

Junior year continued on the same path. School grew to be more important than clothes, friends, and even boys at times. The number of A’s on a report card and the score on a standardized test were the most important piece of the puzzle. Memorize the right answers rather than how to get them and you’ll be just fine. My curiosity was pushing daisies. I was lucky enough to have parents who cared enough about school and grades to give a gentle push without being on my back all of the time. The only thing they truly cared about was my best effort. Unfortunately, that was not the case for most of my friends. While their parents were riding them about grades and scores, my parents weren’t, so I decided to take care of that myself. Below a 90 was not the end of the world, but it wasn’t good. I worked myself harder than I ever had before and developed a work ethic that impresses me today.

Senior year carried out that same work ethic for the first semester of the year. I applied to the schools I had most interest in early and was lucky enough to get in, saving me hours of more applications to fill out for regular time. I worked the hardest I ever had in my life and it paid off. My parents were proud and I was proud. I was finally able to sit back and relax for a minute. Because of the nature that I had worked through junior year and the first bit of senior year, it felt weird to take a night off every once in a while. I was able to see my friends without stressing about what I should have been working on instead. Finally I was able to find myself and put time into what mattered to me, so I took two independent studies at school (one on addressing sexual assault and consent, and one on refugee resettlement). Senior year was all about finding and understanding myself and my friends. Every single one of us had different things (and hard things) going on in our minds and at home. During this time, I developed a sense of empathy.

From all of what you just read, you could assume that I had a terrible high school experience and that I just love to complain. Neither of those thoughts ring true. I had a pretty wonderful high school experience. I made the best of friends who I will keep for the rest of my existence. I developed a strong work ethic that will serve me well in the years to come. But most importantly, I got to know myself; I developed a strong self-awareness that has benefitted me greatly. I grew into a (mostly) confident young woman with an idea of what I’d like to leave in my wake, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Rising College Sophomore GIRL

I’ve always been acutely aware of two things in my life: 1. I am a brown multiracial woman and 2. I am fat. Now before I start, I hope you, the person reading this, understands that I call myself fat with pride. It is a fact, and frankly I’ve become too tired of carrying around the shame this small three-letter word holds. Now that that’s clear, I can get started.

Being brown and fat in a society like today’s is hard. You can be brown and thin. That’s manageable. But brown and fat? Man, sometimes I feel doubly screwed. Things are changing though. Big female and male models are taking up more space. It’s exciting, but also alarming. Alarming because again I see that there is marketing being done to project the “right” kind of fat. This fat is toned. Has a relatively flat stomach. This fat is not my body. And it hurts. Is this body desirable? Can I even make it desirable? Quick answers: yes and yes.

I’ve had two boyfriends; both of who were in the later years of the nineteen I’ve been living. While I’d love to say that before them I was secure in my belief of my self-worth and desirability, that’d be a lie. I knew I was a smart, kind, attractive and outgoing person, but to have someone else (especially someone of the opposite sex) acknowledge those traits made it more real. Why that was the truth is in and of itself an entirely other conversation. I learned a lot from them both. I learned what I need in a relationship, what works/doesn’t work etc. I also learned (after our breakups) that I was attractive before they asked me out and that I would continue to be so after. Like a quote that I found and adore, “You not finding me attractive is not going stop me from being attractive.” Big revelation number one: I am an inherently beautiful person and that beauty is not contingent on anyone. Big revelation number two: sex shouldn’t make you self-conscious.

My second boyfriend and I had been dating a few months when we decided to have sex. We were both virgins. Yes, I was a freshman in college and still a virgin. Totally normal and completely not embarrassing. I won’t get into the detail, but to sum it up in one word, I’d say “fun.” It was fun. We laughed, communicated our needs, embraced the awkward mishaps of getting to know the other person’s body, and most of all I felt comfortable and safe. I didn’t think about my body at all. Wasn’t scared that my tummy rolls or stretch marks on my breast and hips would scare him away. I didn’t want to, as a matter of fact, I didn’t even think about, hiding myself from him and that was part of my big revelation number two. Me, a brown, fat woman, was capable of experiencing this level of intimacy – I was worthy of it. And when done right, I had no reason to care about the shape of my body. Even though we broke up, I cherish that moment we shared, and use it to build my expectations of all my future sexual experiences.

Knowing and practicing that my body is worthy of love are two very different things. I, of course, will have days when I don’t feel attractive. When I’ll cover myself up from the world, but that’s okay. For as many days that I find myself feeling ashamed of my body, I will celebrate it and show it off to the world. This brown fat body is worthy of being seen, of being cherished, and of being proud.

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: 19YR OLD college freshman Girl

Ever since middle school I always thought high school would include having a boyfriend, losing my virginity to him, and a bunch of other great things. Once freshman year began, I started hanging out with the ‘hot’ girls of our grade. We went to upperclassmen parties and many of my friends, as time went on, hooked up with guys. Boys became an integral part of our conversations; we talked about who hooked up with whom at what parties and how it was.

This did not bother me until the spring of sophomore year when most of my friends had lost their virginities. I felt like there was something wrong with me. I hadn’t even really made out with a boy. Other girls hadn’t lost theirs, but I felt left out of the conversations with my friends because I felt I had nothing to add. At the same time, I began to form closer relationships with the boys in my grade. This, in some ways, validated me because even though I was not in a romantic relationship with any of them, I felt special because none of the other girls were close with these guys.

This all came to a climax at a birthday dinner for one of my friends in the winter of junior year. As we sat around drinking and talking, one of the girls proposed that we play ‘never have I ever.’ A game I truly hate. The game entails people going around in a circle, saying something that they have never done, and then those who have done it, must drink. This not only puts everyone’s private life on full display, it alienates those who have not done the activities in question. They went around saying things like “never have I ever liked the taste of cum” and “never have I ever 69ed.” Not only was I incredibly uncomfortable, I felt extremely inadequate and upset. When it got to me, I said I didn’t want to play. After they made me participate, I said I had never hooked up with anyone that went to our high school. Everyone drank. I felt excluded and embarrassed. I got up and went to the bathroom and texted my other friends to ask if I could hangout with them. When I returned to the ‘never have I ever’ game, it had changed. My friends were going around telling stories of losing their virginities. At this moment, I got up with tears in my eyes and left.

In the spring of my junior year, I started hooking up with one of my guy friends. Even though I wasn’t that into it, I was glad for the experience and to have someone to talk about with my friends. I felt validated by the fact that someone wanted to make out with me at parties and that everyone knew. Even though I was slightly obsessed with the idea of sex and losing my virginity, I knew deep down that I did not want to lose my virginity to him. I felt uncomfortable in my body in every way and could not imagine being fully naked and vulnerable like that with someone. I didn’t feel connected to him sexually, we were just really good friends who made out when we were drunk, and because I knew that, I was too afraid and uncomfortable to have sex with him.

By March of my senior year, I conclude that I will never have sex with anyone and that my entire high school career was invalid. I started to think that if I could just lose my virginity to anyone, I’d be happy. I ended up having sex with this boy that I had a massive crush on for the entirety of high school. He was one of my closest guy friends. The sex itself was weird and uncomfortable, but because it was someone I knew really well and someone I cared about deeply, I didn’t even care. We ended up hooking up for many months afterwards and eventually started dating. Looking back, I am sad that I cared so much about having sex. It felt like everyone was having sex and that I was missing out and not experiencing high school. I thought that having sex would change me in the sense that all of my insecurities would just go away, but it really didn’t do that. I thought I would feel like a different person, but I was exactly the same. What I realized is that sex doesn’t define you. Sex doesn’t define your attractiveness. Just because you are not having sex, doesn’t mean that you are less attractive than those who are.  What matters is that you are happy with your choice and don’t let other people’s actions affect your own. Everyone is different and just because you are not having sex, doesn’t mean that people don’t care about you or value you. 

 

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Sam

Freshman year I aimlessly wandered the halls of my high school, full of confidence as well as fear. I had very few friends in middle school, was uncomfortable with my body, and was not friends with anyone at my new school. My confidence grew out of my place on the Boys Varsity Soccer Team. I felt better, stronger, and smarter than the people around me. I was over confident. As a result, I wasn’t able to make many friends and any happiness that I felt was superficial. Half way through the school year my ego took a hit. I went down to Junior Varsity. I realized that cliques had formed without me, and my grades weren’t as good as I expected. I was a pretty unstable fifteen year-old. I needed to step back and slow down. I remember overflowing with emotions that I couldn’t comprehend.

Sophomore year, I had a girlfriend. I felt happier, healthier, and livelier when I spent time with her. I learned that feeling good wasn’t about my immediate satisfaction, but thinking of others. This is how I felt my best. I was far from perfect, but doing well.

Junior year was difficult and dedicated to my family challenges and getting into college. I had to buckle down academically as well as deal with family stress. I learned how to tune everything out and focus on my social issues, family arguments, and schoolwork for hours at a time. I stretched myself thin across school, family, friends and my girlfriend. I felt like I was unable to live up to the expectations of any of them. I was so focused on achieving a certain grade in school that I didn’t enjoy the process of learning. My family was disappointed in the amount of time I spent with friends, especially during a time of family turmoil. It seemed I couldn’t give my friends enough attention, so they thought I didn’t care about them. Finally, and often most importantly, my girlfriend was frustrated by the time I spent on everything else. I felt like I couldn’t win. I began to reflect. I wondered what actions I needed to take to replicate the happiness I experienced Sophomore year and had taken for granted.

As senior year began, I felt the intense academic pressure of applying to college. These pressures were exacerbated by difficulties with my girlfriend. We weren’t getting along as well as the previous two years, including weekly fights. My mother saw the emotional strain of the fights and started to pressure me into reconsidering my relationship. I questioned my happiness and mental health. I also felt I needed a change. I told my girlfriend we needed a break to think about how to sustain a healthier relationship; however, my biggest mistake was not insisting on time apart. We talked almost every day during the break and got back together. Within two weeks, we broke up permanently for the reasons we took the break.

The following months were chaotic with intense work for the seventeen colleges to which I applied. When the weight of my relationship and the application process were finally lifted, I focused on myself. So much that I was conceited and forgot about caring for the people who mattered: family and friends. I handled the break-up with my girlfriend poorly as well. I tried to sustain a friendship without giving us time to redefine ourselves. This was a huge mistake because we became even more angry and frustrated with one another. One day, my best friend sat me down and told me I needed to think about how I was acting towards the people in my life. I did and found myself hating the person I had become. I resolved to focus on my friendships and my family. I told my ex-girlfriend we needed to take a break from talking because we were having so much trouble communicating successfully. This improvement with my friends and family made me happy and more connected to the people I cared about.

Looking back on my high school experience I realize the importance of self-awareness and reflection. I also learned that healthy relationships and friendships are the most important aspects of my happiness. As I prepare for college I feel good about the best friendships I’ve ever had and an extremely healthy relationship with my family.