Sex + Love

Choose Your Own Adventure

Sexual experimentation doesn’t determine anything. It just helps you figure out what you want.

Illustration by Leanna

“KISS! KISS! KISS! KISS!”

The sound echoed down the hallway. My kindergarten class was in the bathroom. I had let them go by themselves for the first time ever, figuring that, in the three months that I’d been an English teacher in Taiwan, they had successfully gone to the bathroom about four hundred times with my supervision. I desperately needed to wolf down an energy bar. They would be fine in the bathroom for two minutes alone, right?

Wrong.

I raced from my classroom. I tore open the restroom door. There, in the middle of 20 tiny toilets, were all 10 of the boys in my class. They were standing in a circle with their pants down around their ankles and holding their tiny little-boy penises, trying to touch each tip to the other, shrieking, “KISS! KISS!”

The penises were kissing. The girls were standing in a circle around the boys (it was a unisex bathroom), gleefully clapping their hands. “TIGER CLASS!” I shouted. That was their class name. They turned and looked at me. It went quiet. “Tiger boys,” I said, very calmly. “We don’t touch our penis to our friend’s penis.”

Louis,* the undisputed ringleader, looked up at me, his jeans and underpants in a heap around his ankles. “Why?” he asked. “Because, um, because,” I said. “That’s rude. We don’t ever do that.” “Oh,” he responded, and pulled up his pants. The rest of the boys followed suit. We all trooped back to the classroom together. Using puppets, I started a lesson on the sound the letter R makes, and my kids promptly forgot about their adventure in the bathroom.

But I didn’t. I was wracked with guilt. I was a horrible teacher. I had obviously fucked these kids up for LIFE. I had taught them that it wasn’t OK to experiment with their bodies, that curiosity should be stifled! In 10 seconds, I had instilled in them fear and negative feelings regarding their bodies, and I would never, ever forgive myself for it. NEVER. Tearfully, I told another one of the teachers at my school, a middle-aged lady, what had happened. She laughed: “Kids will be kids, honey. They’ll be fine.”

But would they?

I couldn’t stop beating myself up. At 23, I had had a typical, knee-jerk adult reaction to something that all kids do: experiment with one another. I took something natural and treated it as though it were distasteful, and I had put a stop to it without ever giving them a reason why. I hadn’t even been able to think of a reason! Who was I, my mom???

It was a helping-kids-grow-up-in-an-open-minded-supportive-environment-where-they-love-their-bodies FAIL. I still feel crappy about it. And maybe my kindergarteners won’t remember the incident at all. Maybe the moment when all the penises were kissing will get lost in the hazy cloud of childhood, overshadowed by pillow forts and parents who fight and sugary cereal and dead hamsters.

I mean, I know lots of childhood experiments like this got lost in my memory. It was only later, in my 20s, that I looked back at some of the experiences I had and went, “Oh wow, I can’t believe I did that.”

For instance, when I was six, I can remember taking all of my clothes off with my friend Emily* to prove to her that she was so wrong, that Barbie couldn’t possibly pee, because “Barbie doesn’t have a pee-hole, and I do.”

Y’all, as little kids, lots of us played with our friends and neighbors in a way that our parents would have found profoundly disturbing. Jeez. IF ONLY THEY KNEW what went on when some of us had friends over. We played doctor. We examined one another. Some kids do that. It’s part of growing up.

Human beings are sensual creatures, and never more so than when we aren’t old enough to attach meaning to these experiments and explorations of each others’ bodies. Years later, in our teens, experimentation continues, but it’s, um, more advanced.

In the eighth grade, a friend of mine yanked off her swimsuit bottom in the locker room to show off her newly grown pubic hair to the rest of us. There was a crowd of about five girls looking at her crotch. I was shocked. I couldn’t look away.

Freshman year of high school, my best friend decided that we should compare our boob growth by keeping a chart. Every week we either earned a smiley-face sticker or a frowny-face one. This involved a lot of us standing in front of her mirror, topless, with measuring tape.

Uh…I really liked it. I really liked looking at her boobs. They were really nice.

At 15, I was kissing boys. Oh my god, I liked that, too. I liked kissing boys a lot. At 17, I had my first girl-kiss, and I loved it, but it took me years of kissing and sleeping with boys and girls to understand that I maybe liked girls better. These days, I’m a happy homo, but you know what? None of the experimenting I did as a kid or as a teenager “made” me that way.

What’s an experiment? It’s a trial without an answer. We’re venturing into the unknown. We can’t be certain of the outcome—that’s why we’re experimenting in the first place. Nothing can “make you” gay or bisexual or straight or trans. You don’t get “turned” by incidences in your life. These exploratory adventures help you figure it out, but they don’t determine your sexual identity.

You could be a girl who says she wants to marry her girl friend at the age of four, who fools around with the neighbor boy at eight, who practices kissing her best friend at 12, who kisses boys at 14, and who develops a totally consuming crush on a cool girl at school at 15, and what are you?

You’re you.

Anybody walking in on you at any one of these moments might jump to conclusions and make a snap judgment about your sexuality, but they’d be wrong. Liking boys now doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be straight forever (although it might). Jesus, I identified as totally straight until I was 20.

On the other hand, liking girls now doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be bi or a lesbian. A friend of mine had only girlfriends for 32 years of her life, and then she dated and married a guy this winter, surprising everyone.

Only you know what you like. Only you decide if you’re straight or bi or gay or queer or asexual—or whether you want to label yourself at all. Some people know what they are right away. Some people take years to figure out what they like. Some people are 65-years-old and still figuring it out. It can change. You can spend your life learning about your preferences.

Nothing that you do now locks you into a label.

All right? All right. ♦

* These names are not real! But the people are.

62 Comments

  • LermWorm March 12th, 2012 7:11 PM

    I think you’ve balanced out the slight cosmic bathroom misstep with this article. Thank you for such an interesting take on this!

  • MissKnowItAll March 12th, 2012 7:14 PM

    Every time I read Krista’s articles’s I’m profoundly amazed at her amount of insight. I hate all the labels that people try to stick on you in high school. In middle school, people labeled me a prude because I didn’t want to kiss my best guy friend. In my freshman year, I remember ogling all the hot junior guys. That same summer, I developed a crush on an older girl friend. How you experiment does not define you. Don’t let others do it to you.

  • AllieBee March 12th, 2012 7:14 PM

    Couldn’t have said it better myself! I love Krista’s articles! And the part about the totally consuming crush on a cool girl at school. *AHEM* Mucho worse if it’s your best friend. Just saying!

    http://thatalisonwonderland.blogspot.com/

  • darksideoftherainbow March 12th, 2012 7:20 PM

    pure EXCELLENCE. i think i’ll have to print this and keep it for myself for when i have kids. growing up sometimes makes you forget what you felt when you were a kid and this would be perfect for remembering.

  • Claudia March 12th, 2012 7:22 PM

    This is such a great article! It really shows how it it for us teenagers at this age and I’m glad to know that it’s okay for all of us to experiment, though some of us might not. Thanks!

  • landlockedblues March 12th, 2012 7:40 PM

    This ressonated so much with me to the point that it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Rookie, I am somewhat more at peace with the inner turmoil that is “trying to figure myself out.”

  • moonchild March 12th, 2012 7:43 PM

    OKAY. I’m sorry that this doesn’t totally relate, but I just had a great idea for the exploration theme:

    “Literally the Best thing EVER: Adventure Time!!!!!!!

    *o* Oh snap!

    Someone should totally do that.

    • Toria Crux March 12th, 2012 9:34 PM

      That would be AMAZING!!!!!!!!!

  • TheAwesomePossum March 12th, 2012 7:51 PM

    I go to this uber semi-strict Catholic school, and we’re constantly bombarded with the message NO TOUCHING EVER OR ELSE YOU WILL DIE IN A FIERY PIT OF YOUR CORRUPTION. We’re not even allowed to have poke wars. This made me wonder if these rules have affected some of the kids in my school (and I mean that they might possibly take it into the complete extreme opposite direction because our school tries to keep them so “stifled”. Or whatever. Bleh.)

    • queserasera March 12th, 2012 8:01 PM

      whoa, that sounds scary and unhealthy because one of these days those sexually repressed kids are going to explode; i totally see your point!

      • MissKnowItAll March 12th, 2012 8:35 PM

        Sorry, but when I read your comment all I could think of was exploding teenagers..

    • taste test March 12th, 2012 11:51 PM

      uber-strict catholic schools are lots of fun, no? I go to one too and I totally understand what you mean. I’m afraid the abstinence theology/sex ed we’ve been taught and its unfortunate implications have effed up some of my classmates on the subject of sexuality.

    • Lolita March 13th, 2012 12:15 PM

      Hi! I couldn’t resist to write a few things! I live in Spain (if that matters) and I definetely prove that girls or teens in general who go to catolic schools (in Barcelona there are a lot) are more obssesed and (slutty?) about sex. Having been repressed by their schools, parents… have made them people who act strange about it. Luckily, I’ve grown up in a really openminded family and school and we’ve always talked about sex really naturally. I just feel a bit sad about all this kids who have been isolated and recrimined for all this things.

    • TheAwesomePossum March 13th, 2012 4:07 PM

      Thanks guys! I feel like those exploding teenagers (lol) explode the way they do because, aside from being stifled, they want to prove a point. They want to prove that they don’t have to listen to the “administration”. But in the process they completely fail to form and disregard their own personal boundaries.

  • queserasera March 12th, 2012 7:58 PM

    “You could be a girl who says she wants to marry her girl friend at the age of four, who fools around with the neighbor boy at eight, who practices kissing her best friend at 12, who kisses boys at 14, and who develops a totally consuming crush on a cool girl at school at 15, and what are you? You’re you.”

    I love this so much, this is so so true, but with the rigid mold set by the society and all, it’s difficult to remember that. Thanks for this!

    http://mercurialmanic.blogspot.com/

  • moonchild March 12th, 2012 8:08 PM

    This is perfect. Like, I mean, totally and absolutely, came-at-the-right-time perfect. I was ACTUALLY JUST WISHING TODAY that someone would do an article on this.

    Thanks. This helped a lot. :)

  • Violet March 12th, 2012 8:10 PM

    My only complaint is that this awesome article is too short.

    • Maddy March 12th, 2012 9:00 PM

      Exactly. Luckily, we get more each month!

  • eeEmilyee March 12th, 2012 8:25 PM

    This is so amazing and helpful and just wonderful.

  • EmilyJn March 12th, 2012 8:30 PM

    great article. even though it’s totally within their choice, I always feel a bit sad when friends say they don’t want to have sex until they’re married because they’ll miss out on experimenting and as you said – figuring out what they might want

  • Nomi March 12th, 2012 8:39 PM

    This was actually a really great article. Thanks so much!
    I’ve thought about it a *LOT* and I’m 99.99% sure I’m straight as a line, but I love boobs (duh, they’re fucking amazing) and when I was seven I would kiss my best friend on the lips all the time, much to the horror of our moms. I’m also very, very sexual with some of my closest female friends. But it’s all playful and not really arousing–when I’m fooling around with my boyfriend, it’s much different.

  • KinuKinu March 12th, 2012 8:54 PM

    So embarrassing but i used to be in this preschool and there was a board that was on an angle against the wall.This boy and I would go behind there every 5 minutes and kiss. Oh god…..I have never told ANYONE THAT.
    It was hilarious when you said we experiment with each other in ways our parents would think profoundly disturbing.SO TRUE!!
    great article Krista girl! This is why I ♥ ROOKIE
    ROOKIE 4 ever and ever and ever and……

  • necroticbird March 12th, 2012 8:58 PM

    AMEN! This is so insightful and thoughtfully written. I feel like there are so many people in the world that will truly benefit from reading this, so thank you.

  • Maddy March 12th, 2012 9:02 PM

    I agree with everyone, this was a super great one, like all of Krista’s. The whole “you’re you” thing? Perfect. The awkward, embarrassing moments with neighbors that you regret and hope they forget? Yep. I wish I could kiss someone. I just don’t, like, get close to anyone? Classical “afraid of rejection”? Who knows.

  • Cruicked March 12th, 2012 9:12 PM

    I really needed this today. Thank you.

  • kirsten March 12th, 2012 9:17 PM

    Exactly what I needed to read right now.
    Thanks, Rookie and Krista.

  • ayasia March 12th, 2012 9:24 PM

    you are a beautiful writer, i love the way you portray your thoughts.

  • Ruby B. March 12th, 2012 9:48 PM

    Perfect article!

  • Emilie March 12th, 2012 9:53 PM

    love this.

    that is all.

  • taste test March 12th, 2012 10:27 PM

    this is a fantastic post. thank you. I decided a long time ago to not worry about identifying myself, and sometimes I feel like it’s a cop-out, like I should be out there trying to shove myself into one label or another and seeing what happens. this makes me feel a lot better about what I am doing.

  • morganosaur March 12th, 2012 10:46 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this article!

  • Lauren March 12th, 2012 11:22 PM

    This is so incredibly relevant to my life right now; I’m so glad that someone did an article on this, and wrote it so well. I’ve been experimenting a little bit lately and I’ve been feeling a little iffy about it simply because I had never ALLOWED myself to do so before, but this article has really eased a lot of my anxieties about self-identification and/or experimenting. Thank you so much.

  • tankgrrrl March 12th, 2012 11:28 PM

    Thank you for writing this.

  • beatricks March 12th, 2012 11:48 PM

    I wish I’d seen this when I was a teenager. Still pretty nice to hear now, too. :)

  • fishintheC March 12th, 2012 11:51 PM

    I deffinitellyy had experiences like this when I was young (like baby young)….actually exactly in kindergarten. And your article gives me the confidence to kiss girls even if I’m straight as they come, and do whatever, because it’s all good.

  • yesterday March 13th, 2012 12:35 AM

    wow, thank you so much for this article! i want to print it out and take it with me wherever i go :)

    • KinuKinu March 13th, 2012 12:18 PM

      yes!! That would be soo cool.

  • Diane March 13th, 2012 1:54 AM

    Amazing. I’m so touched by this article, from its bathroom beginnings to the very end. And I absolutely agree with queserasera and Taste Test’s comments.

    I’m sick of labels and the animosity that some display towards certain groups of people. I hate that they feel they need to discriminate these individuals and publicly tell everyone what they think. Who cares? My body is mine, and has nothing to do with you. Ugh, the nerve.

    /Rant over.

    Anywho, great article and thank you so much Krista. Made my day :)

  • blairrhiannon March 13th, 2012 1:58 AM

    Its still not ok for them to be experimenting in public…. no one wants to see that, but otherwise, experimenting with your sexuality is fine.

  • chelsead March 13th, 2012 2:23 AM

    this made me cry a bit. Thank you, this is what I needed. I am almost 20 and I’m still figuring myself out…

  • whodatgal March 13th, 2012 2:38 AM

    this article is awesome <3

  • Susann March 13th, 2012 3:10 AM

    I never felt much like experimenting.. but I guess there’s nothing wrong about it.

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com/

  • Caden March 13th, 2012 3:46 AM

    I really loved this article. Very interesting read. I’m a bisexual and have been in love with both a man and a woman. Thank you for reminding people that it’s very rare for one to actually fit into the moulds that society expects!

  • karastarr32 March 13th, 2012 4:24 AM

    Thank you.

  • kier March 13th, 2012 4:33 AM

    being trans is not a sexual identity, it’s a gender identity. could you please rectify this mistake?

    • Tavi March 13th, 2012 11:44 AM

      Ah, thanks for this. Fixed it.

  • Zoe with two dots March 13th, 2012 5:14 AM

    Thank you for such an amazing article! This is so timely, just as I’m trying to figure things out.

    And what you said about doing weird things as a kid? Just reminded me of when my friends and I were 12/13 and we had a sleepover. We were playing truth or dare, and someone decided we should all get naked and dance the macarena through the loungeroom, at 2am. Oh wow, that’s hilarious looking back.

    And now? I’ve done things with 2 different guys, one of whom is my best friend that I’m losing my virginity to next week. But I’m attracted to girls too. Whenever my best girlfriend sleeps over, we always wrestle in bed together and she grabs my boobs, but every 5 minutes she makes sure to emphasise, ‘I’m STRAIGHT, honey. You’re the flexible one.’

  • SJ March 13th, 2012 9:40 AM

    Krista, this is awesome.

    Don’t stress about the kindergarteners incident. What’s done is done and you’re right, this will probably get lost in their childhood memories. I remember maybe 3 things from kindergarten and even those things are super hazy (speaking of- does anyone know of a movie or show for kids where a boy refuses to take a bath so his mom makes the bathroom into a jungle, a ship, and maybe something else to convince him to get in the bathtub?).

  • Abby March 13th, 2012 10:12 AM

    Haha this reminds me of when I had a fail like that…. I was babysitting these siblings, a boy about 7 and a girl about 5. They were in the bathtub, and the boy stood up, done, and the girl pointed up at his crotch and shouted “PENIS!!!” I’m pretty sure my head exploded. I asked her not to do that, and when she asked why, my brain was so frozen that I said, “It’s rude to point.” I KNOW. EPIC FAIL. I felt terrible. I STILL feel bad about it ha.

    • Rachael March 13th, 2012 8:04 PM

      Ha ha, I think that’s a good answer! It IS rude to point!

  • AnguaMarten March 13th, 2012 3:27 PM

    this is great. i myself am curious about my sexuality… i’ve never done anything with anyone, boy or girl, except for a truth-or-dare peck on the lips with one of my female friends. i wouldn’t call myself bisexual, though. i’m attracted to guys and i’m attracted to girls, but in completely different ways. with girls, it’s more sexual but not really emotional (like, when i jack off, i watch lesbian porn) but with guys, i can really imagine dating and marriage.

    and as for the penis/bathroom thing? don’t worry about it. it might have been better if you had said “we don’t do things like that at school, but what you do at home with your friends is different” or something, but i doubt you caused any lasting damage.

    • grrlfriend March 13th, 2012 7:06 PM

      Just wanted to say I am in a similar boat but I’ve had a tad more experience with both the ladies and the guys. If I had to (WHICH I DON’T!), I would identify as ‘pretty straight,’ and I tend to imagine myself in long term relationships with men. But then, I find women and lesbian imagery pretty hot!
      Sometimes I wonder though, how much of this is just due to the society we are raised in? So many heterosexual relationships are modeled for us, it makes sense that we see ourselves in those types of relationships on, and because we are in to dudes (and maybe also because being in a lesbian relationship can be less comfortable to navigate in the public sphere), it is like, hey, why not stick with them?
      I am not saying that we are being dishonest with ourselves, or even close-minded, but simply taking a moment to reflect on how connected we are to the context in which we live.

  • Gretchyn March 13th, 2012 4:05 PM

    Why am I near tears over this?
    I love you for writing this article

  • karastarr32 March 13th, 2012 4:32 PM

    “Only you know what you like.” I may have to quote this. To everyone. Just saying.

  • mayaautumn March 13th, 2012 5:35 PM

    This is so well written and really interesting! Love the cartoons too:)

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • grrlfriend March 13th, 2012 6:51 PM

    Hey! Made an account to comment!
    I was really happy to read this and the comments and see all of us so open to being open. Way to be! However, it got me thinking of some weird gendered norms though. I know this is a girls mag, so I am not expecting to see boys commenting, but I couldn’t help but imagine that they, in general, wouldn’t be as casual with kissing dudes. For example, even though the guys I know are just as liberal and free-thinking as the girls in many respects, they seem less able to express or explore non-heterosexual behaviours. There are certainly some weird social gender dynamics going on. Does Rookie find them as interesting as I do???

    • AnguaMarten March 17th, 2012 12:00 PM

      maybe it has to do with how lesbian relationships are often exploited for the pleasure of straight men. so experimenting as a woman has become more acceptable. i wish it were the same way for guys.

  • raggedychick March 13th, 2012 9:50 PM

    oh me and a friend of mine did some WWEEEIIIRRRDDD things when we were younger
    I honestly can’t explain what we played, but they were…weird games. And I totally get this article. ALL of my younger cousins have tried to play the “doctor” game. All of the adults we’re beyoooond mad but whatever. Kids will be kids.
    I thought it was funny when they told me about it.

    And I love everything you write, Krista ;w; it’s always so beautifully written and cheers me up <33

  • Ellie March 14th, 2012 4:33 PM

    I remember those…really…really…weird games I played with the neighbor boys in preschool and kindergarten and…yeah…wow. I’m still friends with both of them, and I really hope they never, ever bring our very young childhoods up.
    This is such a great article! So happy I read it!

  • whodatgal March 14th, 2012 5:48 PM

    Rookie has sooo changed my perspective on sexual stuff. Wow. You guys rock this. <3

  • reina roja March 24th, 2012 11:22 AM

    GREAT ARTICLE

  • taratwinkle May 15th, 2013 10:29 PM

    Thank you, this is brilliant! I love how it offers a different perspective on the message that is constantly blared, that you should fit in a very small box, that you are either the sporty girl, the slut, gay, etc. Really well written too!