Things weren’t so pleasant between me and Sonja’s mom, though, from that point on. I loved this lady so much that I called her “Aunt Kate,” and she had always considered me a “great influence” on her daughter. Not anymore. After her spy mission into my bedroom (well, technically my boyfriend’s), she looked at me differently—she seemed warier, less warm. She started lecturing Sonja and me every time we left their house to meet up with our guy friends: “BE SAFE!” she’d scold, with the terrified glint that adults can sometimes get in their eyes when they think of teenagers having sex. None of this was a huge deal, but it was my first brush with the kind of judgy feelings that other people will often hold, and sometimes express, regarding another person’s totally personal and private sex life.
Now, that is completely unfair, and I hate it. But I think it’s something you should know if you can already tell you’re probably gonna break a few rules, customs, and possibly laws on your way through life. Because while I wish the world were not so, and for the most part I do see things getting better, there’s still a long way to go and plenty of assholes out there who think a young woman is supposed to be modest and “pure” and, in a heterosexual hookup, to be the one putting the brakes on sex (because of course a guy can’t possible rein in his own horniness). I don’t want you to let such assholes keep you from anything that makes you happy in life, so you gotta be prepared for their judgment.
First, realize that they are just telling you their (unsolicited) opinion. When someone talks shit about your sex life/body/outfit/musical taste/whatever, it’s not like they’re providing you with facts. “Slut” is not a fact, it’s just a way that people try to rein in and control female sexualities, based on their own ideas, values, and fears around sex. My hypothesis is that anyone who uses slut as a pejorative has the idea that there’s something shameful about having lots of enjoyable premarital sex with any number of people. Opinions based on shame are among the most spurious, because shame doesn’t teach us anything. (Shame, I should say, is not the same as guilt—you feel guilty about stuff you’ve done; you feel shame about who you feel you are. Feeling guilty about bad shit you’ve done is not a terrible thing: it teaches you why you shouldn’t compromise your values in the future; shame tends to isolate you and send you into a spiral of self-hatred.) And when it comes to having sex, shame is disproportionately heaped onto us: women and girls.
In my eighth grade class, a lot of girls (like me) were disparaged for having sex. We were called “sluts,” “easy,” “bad,” all that stuff that’s meant to cause shame. But at the same time, other girls were made fun of for not having sex. Once I saw that unwinnable game for what it was, I felt even more confident in not caring about what other people my age were doing or what they might think of me exercising my ~budding sexuality~ (can we agree to collectively forget this was ever a term, by the way?). And from that point forward, I knew that as long as I was making choices that I thought were safe and responsible, I wouldn’t beat myself up for choosing my own adventure instead of conforming to other people’s ideas of how my life should go. Since then, I have never thought it weird or wrong to four-way kiss my friends or do a nearly-nude photo shoot in a hot tub filled with McDonald’s cheeseburgers (yep, this actually happened) or basically live my life like a series of accepted dares. Instead of politely declining an impromptu stick-and-poke of a friend’s initial, a naked Slip ’n Slide race, or swapping outfits with someone I barely know in the middle of a party, I just did them. And I’m glad I did, because they ruled.
I’m not saying that the only consequence you’re likely to run into for any of this stuff is extreme side-eye from your peers. One night from my freshman year comes to mind, when I got caught smoking weed in a parking lot at night, and my mom had to give me a super-fun and not-at-all-hellaciously-terrible ride home from the police station. But even if your thing isn’t against the law, depending on what where you live, how you were brought up, and what you want to do with your life, you might face criticism or even rejection from friends, family members, or potential employers (this last thing is dependent on how public your Facebook photos/Twitter feed that includes something like [email protected] HAD SO MUCH FUN DRINKING ALCOHOL OUT OF YOUR LACROSSE TROPHY LAST NITE” might be). So be aware of how much you’re putting out there and who might be looking at it, and think about how you might handle it if someone you wouldn’t want to see it, does.
I’ve found the following thought progression helpful in holding other people’s opinions of your choices—in any arena—at arm’s length. When you’re worried that something you’re considering doing will suck in the long run, back away from it for a sec and try to figure out why you feel that way. If you realize that you actually don’t agree with this thing you’re thinking of doing—e.g., going to college when you’d really rather work and save money for a few years, or making out with someone who your friends think is perfect for you but you think is kind of gross, or taking a prescription that isn’t yours because it’ll make people think that you’re “ballsy” and “different”—don’t do that thing. If it’s because people keep telling you not to do it, and you really want to please them and/or fit in, but none of their reasoning makes any sense to you, ask yourself these questions:
• Is what you’re doing illegal, and is there a chance you’ll be caught?
• Are you harming yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally by doing it?
• Does it go against your (not your community’s) core values?
• Do you think you’re going to regret it later?
• Do you really give a shit what your peers might say or feel about your decisions?
If you’ve answered no to all of the above, party on, Wayne. (Just try not to let your best friend’s mom catch wind of it, OK?) Because I promise you this: not everyone is going to like what you do all the time, so you might as well shred in a way that feels true to your heart. Sorry to be a warm slice of cornbread, but it’s true. ♦
This post is generously sponsored by MTV’s Awkward, which airs on Tuesdays at 10/9c. The content was produced by Rookie.