Why are girls and guys obsessed with losing their virginity? All I hear about from my friends is “the V-card” or “popping the cherry.” Why can’t people just keep it to themselves? I honestly don’t understand why being a “virgin” is such a big deal. —Olivia

Oh, the eternal “V-card” question. Honestly, you are lucky that the kids you know are not as corny as the ones I grew up with; in our school, kids kept little plastic leis around, and when someone lost her virginity, she’d wear the lei to school to signify that she had—wait for it—“gotten lei’d.” Arrrrrrrgh.

I think the “V-card” question is easy for people to obsess over because it is supposed to signify two really important things. One, that you’re sexual: Look! You even got one whole other human being to want to have sex with you! And two, that you’re “an adult.” You can “have sex,” which is for adults, therefore you are one.

One tiny problem: neither of these things is true.

First let’s examine the idea that “losing your virginity,” whatever that means, makes you “sexual.” Really coming to terms with your sexuality isn’t one definitive experience; it’s a long, personal process of learning about what you want, and what feels good to you. (My friend Jaclyn Friedman actually has a book about figuring this out, What You Really Really Want, which I highly recommend.) I once attended an all-day conference about virginity, at Harvard. And even people who were smart enough to speak at Harvard didn’t actually, definitively know what “losing your virginity” meant. Every new sexual experience, even masturbation, could be considered a kind of “virginity loss.” Not to scar you for life with my over-shares, but I learned how to have an orgasm by myself at 14, made out with another person for the first time at 18, had penis-in-vagina intercourse for the first time later that year, and didn’t figure out how to have an orgasm with another person until I was 20. I “became sexual” in a different way during each of those experiences; I found out something new about myself and my sexuality every time. As I do every time I try something new, sexually, whether I do it by myself or with another person.

And then there’s the idea that “having sex” makes you an adult. Which is even more ridiculous. There are plenty of people who’ve never had sex, who are adults. There are plenty of people who are asexual, and either try sex and figure out that it’s not for them, or refrain from sex altogether; they live productive adult lives, paying rent and making friends and doing their jobs, and some of them also have romantic relationships. And, crucially, there are TONS of people who’ve had sex, and are very sexual, and who still aren’t grown-ups—and I don’t only mean the other teenagers at your school. I mean the 26-year-olds you date later on (if you’re unlucky) who are late to pick you up because they got really caught up in playing Xbox Live or reorganizing their iTunes. “Becoming an adult” is one more thing that we WANT to think happens all at once, and which actually takes your entire life: I “lost my virginity” when I was 18, but I didn’t figure out how to do my own taxes until this year, and I can tell you that one of those experiences (guess which one) felt a lot more mature and responsible than the other. Although, given how awful my first partner and I were at sex, the two experiences were equally stressful.

But when you talk about it like this, it becomes clear that Losing Your Virginity—however you define that—isn’t that big a deal. It doesn’t “make” you anything. It doesn’t change anything essential about who you are, and it doesn’t even necessarily change anything important about your sexuality. It just means that you’ve learned a new skill, which is having sex with other people. And sex is great! I really like sex! It can help you to form close, loving relationships, or help you to feel connected to your partner; it can relieve stress, and take your mind off a bad day; it’s a nice way to celebrate a good day; it can just be something that feels really nice, when you’re in the mood. But sex can also be really boring, or sad-making, or uncomfortable, or even harmful—especially if you’re not emotionally in the right space to have it, or if your partner doesn’t pay attention to what you need, or if you don’t know enough about safe sex to make sure that you don’t get sick or pregnant. And I’m just talking about less-than-good consensual experiences, there. Some of my earlier sexual experiences—being touched or groped—were not consensual at all. I don’t personally consider those to be part of “losing my virginity,” because they weren’t about sex; they were about force, and I didn’t have a choice as to whether or not I wanted to participate. But experiencing sexual assault is really traumatic, and if it happens before you’ve experienced consensual sex, or even started to have sexual feelings, it can be extra-confusing—especially given all the ideas about how “special” or “meaningful” your “first time” has to be. Choosing to be sexual with someone else for the first time is, in fact, pretty special. But having someone else force sex on you…well, I certainly don’t think that should define how anyone views your sexuality, let alone how you define your own. In fact, I hate the idea that people are defined by sex, period. By how they have sex, or who they have sex with, or what kinds of relationships they have sex in, or whether they have sex at all. There’s a whole lot of being human that has nothing to do with sex. Defining people by their sexual lives is just a way of defining people as less than human.

People would really, really like virginity to be a big deal. That way, they can call you “dirty” or “slutty” for losing it, or, conversely, a “loser” or a “prude” for not losing it. Often, people think losing or keeping their virginity “proves” something about them, and that other people have the power to decide what that is. Which is just a recipe for feeling crappy about yourself, for no real reason. It makes no sense whatsoever. Which is where I give you, Olivia, the good news: You are about 80% less likely to feel crappy about yourself, or buy into this BS. Simply because you sent in this question.


Girls always have problems going to concerts, like how to stay away from stupid people that will always fight near you, guys who think they have the right to touch your thighs because you’re wearing shorts, and stuff like that. I guess it would be cool to see some tips for girls who are going to concerts!

The problems of concerts are the same as those in any crowded place: it’s hard to move freely, there is always some perv who thinks this is an opportunity to massage your butt, and drunks/jerks are all too happy to pick fights. When I was younger and had just started going to punk and hardcore shows, I was really assertive about being up front, or being in the pit—but after about a year of getting squished, knocked down, or felt up at almost every show I went to, I decided I needed to either stop going to shows or get real about the situation. Here is what I figured out:

1. I went to shows at the same three places, where I had a chance to walk around and suss out the good, safe places to stand. Places where (a) I had a decent view, (b) the sound was good, and (c) I was out of harm’s way. Standing near the sound booth is generally a safe bet—it’s usually got good sight lines and sound, and it’s far enough from the stage that people aren’t going to be stage-diving onto your face. At bigger shows that I knew would be kind of nuts, I might stand in proximity to the bouncers or security. Though security folks can, of course, themselves be dicks, if people are hankering to fight or slam into people, they don’t usually do it right in front of the bouncer. Unless they are trying to fight the bouncer.

2. If you are going to go get in the pit, or stand up front amid the action, stand by other girls. Safety-in-numbers style.

3. By that same principle, go to shows with friends. If your friends aren’t into the same bands as you are, introduce yourself to nice-seeming people whom you regularly see at shows—so at the very least you can have a familiar face, someone (or a group) you can hang with or stand near, say hi to, and make fun of the opening band with.

4. If you got to shows fairly regularly, especially at a smaller venue, make the acquaintance of someone who works there. Be friendly, know their name. So that if something starts going down, or someone won’t leave you alone, there’s someone you can tell. Not all club staff is going to care, and some people will be like, “Well, it’s a show, you should expect to get kicked in the face”—but in my experience, knowing the cool girl at the coat check, or a bartender, or a nice bouncer, is handy, especially when there is some guy in the front row hassling or touching you and/or your friends. Most venues do actually care about the welfare of their patrons and don’t want your concert experience ruined by some jerkface.

5. Get to the show early, hit the bathroom before it gets revolting, check out the merch table before the line is epic, go get your drink, get to your preferred spot, pop in your earplugs, and stay there.

6. If you are dancing and someone won’t leave you alone—like, you looked up to find your friend and accidentally made eye contact with a dude who takes that as permission to grind up on you—I have two patented moves that have never failed to deter a humpy stranger. And you don’t even have to stop dancing! Also, your friends will pee their pants watching it go down:

a. The Traffic Cop. Put one hand behind your head and suddenly—not even vaguely with the beat—throw your other arm into a full extension, palm forward, “talk to the hand”-style. Do this at head level, while rotating around and pumping the bent arm back and forth. Repeat. Spastic motion helps. I repeat: do not do this to the beat—the perpetrator should not be able to anticipate when or where that arm is going to fling next. The goal is to make him scared you are going to whap him in the face very soon. Direct his traffic away from your booty.

b. The Armpit. He’s behind you? Oh, perhaps he would like you to turn around and raise a sweaty armpit or two in his face! Elbows toward the sky, palms reaching for your shoulder blades yoga-style, pump your pit(s) as close to his facial zone as you can get. Make a gross “Oh yaaaah, you are loving this!” face, let you tongue hang limp from your mouth, flare your nostrils, yell “HI THERE!” in a super high-pitched nasal voice—do whatever you can to make him realize you are a poor choice of dance partner. Offensive, in-your-space behavior certainly merits the same in return.


Recently a few of my very close friends have started to go to parties. These parties typically involve drinking and drugs, and my friends are partaking in both. They know I am against both of these things so they try to keep them from me, but I always find out anyway. It is coming to the point where I am questioning if I should be friends with them, because I don’t want to surround myself with that kind of stuff. I always thought we were all on the same page about partying, but now our opinions seem to differ. Am I being too uptight or are my feelings valid? Should I drop them as friends or should I just forgive?

In high school, I was always dropping friends. If someone made an off-color joke or forgot to call me back, I was standing by with the lighter fluid and matches, ready to burn a bridge. I totally understand your reflex to drop these friends. It’s really hard to stay close with people when your interests and values are shifting. If you really think dropping these friends will make you happier, it is a totally valid action. You should never have to stay in a friendship that makes you feel bad about yourself or your choices.

That said, I’ve lost a lot of good friends throughout my life due to an unwillingness to talk through tough times and differing outlooks. If I were you, I’d give these friends another chance. I’m not saying you should pretend that you are OK with their party habits. Stick by your own convictions, but also recognize that what is right for you right now might not be right for them. Sometimes it can be healthy for people to explore new things, even “bad” new things. Being a good friend can mean sticking by someone while they figure out who they are.

I think you should sit down with your friends and talk about what’s going on. Ask them what they like about the party life. Tell them how their new hobby makes you feel about your friendship. Make sure that this conversation is not a confrontation. You are definitely not being too uptight about the situation, but at the same time, you are not in the position to “forgive” anyone. Your friends have not wronged you, they’ve merely made a decision that you do not agree with. Try to reach an understanding. The best friends are the ones that support you through times of growth. If you can muster up the energy and courage to be this friend, your friends stand to gain a lot. If you can’t, though, be honest with yourself and let go. You’re completely justified in going your own way.


How do you tell someone that you don’t want to hang out with them anymore? —Brianne

Oof. This is a tough one. I think it really depends on the situation you’re in. I’m not entirely sure why you want to stop hanging around with this person, so I’m not sure I can give the best advice, but I’ll try.

My instinct is to avoid confrontation whenever possible, which is a very passive-aggressive and unhealthy way of going about things. When I told one of my best friends that my first thought was to tell you to avoid this person until they took the hint, he sighed and said, “That’s kind of shitty.” I then challenged him to come up with better advice, and after a while, we both agreed on some better tactics.

The first thing you need to do is figure out why you want to stop hanging out with this person. If they came up to you and flat-out demanded a reason, and you had no choice but to answer honestly, what would you say? That answer is the guiding light to how you should proceed.

If you find that you don’t want to hang out with someone anymore because you’re just kind of drifting apart, or you have little in common, I’m not entirely sure that you need to say anything at all. These kinds of breakups make themselves obvious over time, and verbal confirmation isn’t typically necessary. This is not to say that you should just immediately cut contact with a fading friend and act as if they no longer exist (this goes back to “kind of shitty”), but if you repeatedly refuse invitations, eventually, those invitations will stop coming. And if this former friend demands an explanation from you, your best bet is a mix of honesty and kindness.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to break off a friendship because someone is being cruel to you or hurting you in some way, it is best to be direct. Give the person an honest answer: “I can’t hang out with you anymore because x,y,z.” Set some boundaries and then stick to them. It is hard and it sucks, but there are times when you just have to shut people out in order to keep yourself safe.

The ultimate point of all this, I guess, is that there’s no easy way to go about it. Someone’s feelings are probably going to be hurt. I think it may help to approach it the way you’d approach a romantic breakup: let a kind person down gently (“It’s nothing you did or said, it’s just that we don’t have that much in common anymore”) and be firm with a cruel person (“I don’t want to hang out with you anymore because we’re constantly fighting and I think it’s best if we move on”). The best you can do is try to treat people the way you’d hope they’d treat you, were the situation reversed.


I’m a teenage photographer who is slightly popular on Flickr. It seems that a lot of my other teenage photographer friends (with money and connections) have been getting jobs and working for publications due to their massive internet popularity. I know I take good pictures, but nobody is interested in commissioning new work from me. Instead, they use all my old work to decorate their blogs. I’m starting to get anxious because I can’t afford art school and I’m almost 18. How can I get a job doing what I love despite not having industry connections/funding? —Olive

I think the best thing to do, Olive, is to just keep creating the photographs you want to see. Make the art you think is missing in the world. The right people will notice it and appreciate it, whether they’re clients or other artists or art admirers.

It’s easy to get discouraged when your old photographs are the ones that are getting noticed, while you are really excited about your new work. This has been a problem for me as well. A lot of the time I get hired for a style I cultivated two or three years ago. But I think this is just the way it goes—clients are sometimes behind on the trends, so that a style you thought was cool two years ago is now what they are trying to use to market their products.

I also started with no money and no connections. Those things come with time. To pass that time, make art like crazy, and promote yourself like crazy. Don’t feel like a bitch promoting yourself as long as it’s for the right reasons! No one’s gonna do it for you. Also, many art schools have great scholarships!!

It’s a ridiculous business, but it’s worth every second. You obviously have the ambition, which is one of the most important things in this field. I believe in you, girl. You can do it. :)


What’s the norm on “hair down there”? What “styles” are there and how does one go about it all? Shave, wax, trim?

I wouldn’t say there is a particular “norm” for pubic hair. I think it all depends on personal preference. Some people like to keep it totally natural (no hair removal at all) while others want to be as bald as Vin Diesel’s cabeza. There are some who like their ladyparts mostly bare with a little “landing strip,” and others who rock a mohawk in their nether region! OK, just kidding about the mohawk, but then again I’m SURE someone somewhere has that. You can also dye your pubes pink! The middle-ground option would probably be to either shave or wax the bikini line and trim everything else, which seems to be the general consensus of most gals I know.

If you decide on hair removal, there are a few different alternatives. A professional wax at a salon (profesh is definitely what I would recommend if you go the waxing route) would most likely have the smoothest results, but will be the most expensive. At home you can try an electric trimmer, or epilator, like this Bliss one from Sephora. And then there is the easiest and thriftiest option, which is shaving. If you decide to shave, a refillable razor with a lubricating strip is best. Gillette Venus razors have been my favorite for years. You’ll also want to use a moisturizing shaving cream like one from Skintimate. They also make special creams for extra-sensitive skin.

So remember, pube ’dos come in all sorts of styles! Just do whatever you feel most comfortable with.

—Marie ♦

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