My sister has been showing signs of anorexia—she’s been getting thinner, she sneaks food into her pockets during family dinners, and I went through her internet search history and found calorie-counting sites and apps. But she says that if I tell our mother, she will tell her that I smoke, which I don’t anymore, but I used to. My mom will flip out. What should I do? I want to help my sister, but I don’t want to get in trouble. —Gemma

Oh boy. You’re in a tough position, but your heart is definitely in the right place. As someone who is in recovery from anorexia, I have to say that the behavior you describe definitely sends up red flags, especially the fact that she is being incredibly secretive, and basically blackmailing you to do the same. I really think it would be best to talk to your mother about your concerns.

I know that this is scary in several ways—you’re afraid of betraying your sister’s trust, afraid of upsetting your mother, and afraid of getting in trouble. But about the last thing: you’ve already quit smoking, proving that you’re taking steps that your mother will hopefully see as positive. And by not letting your sister hold that over you, you’re proving to her that you have the courage and strength to own up to and overcome unhealthy habits. If you are genuinely concerned about her mental and physical health, then I’m certain your mother will be as well—she may already have her own suspicions regarding your sister’s weight loss and behaviors, and bringing it out in the open may help all three of you.

Please understand that if your sister is dealing with anorexia, she may not be pleased AT ALL with your taking this action, but that’s the eating disorder trying to keep her under its grasp. I was not the nicest person in the world when my family was trying to get me into recovery, but nine years later, I am extremely thankful for everything they did to get me the help I needed. You obviously love your sister very much, and I think speaking to your mother about the issue wouldn’t be a betrayal of her trust. It’s a genuine attempt to help, and I think she will (eventually) see it that way.

You and your mother may find this website helpful (it’s old school, but it has a lot of great info). Also check out the site for the National Eating Disorders Association. Both sites offer resources and a number to call to talk about treatment. Treatment options vary and can depend on types of insurance coverage. I was diagnosed by my pediatrician, but I now see a therapist and a dietician.

I wish you and your sister many good things. Recovery is absolutely possible, and with a supportive, loving family member like you on her side, the light at the end of the tunnel shines a little brighter. —Pixie

Every time I’ve kissed a boy, it’s been awful. Is it normal to think frenching is gross? Will it ever not be gross? And is it true that it’s a natural thing that you’re supposed to “just know” how to do? —Cass

Hi, Cass! You’ve come to the right place—I’ve done a lot of frenching in my time, and my experiences have run the gamut from totally horrible to utterly transcendent. When it comes to makeouts, I’ve been there, tongued that, and I’m happy to use my experience to help you out.

You didn’t say your age, but the first basic of first base with other middle- and high-school-age people is this: everyone is still really new to this particular ballgame, even if they’ve been up at bat a few times before. And, as with everything in this world that a person is trying out for the first couple of times, they probably won’t be confident about it right away. The important thing is not throwing in the towel just because of a few questionable kisses. To answer your last question: no, I don’t think many folks out there are born with natural, god-given tongue talents. And though it might not seem this way at the moment, this is actually a great thing: figuring out how to french with aplomb is a total blast, even if it seems a little disgusting at first.

My first time making out with a boy was a complete disaster. I was in the sixth grade, and at my friend Becky’s Halloween party. Near the end of the night, our attention turned to a lively game of lights-out spin the bottle. When it was my turn, I landed on this stringbean-y guy whom I’ll call T. He moved toward me in the darkness; all of a sudden, his head was plowing into mine with the force and intensity of a bulldozer. He wetly gnawed my face for a few seconds until someone turned on the light, and I pulled away in horror. Sounds totally swoon-worthy, right? No, it was, as you so aptly put it, gross. Many people feel this way about their first couple of frenching experiences.

I was thrown for a loop by T., but every game of tonsil hockey I took part in after that helped me understand what I wanted in a kiss—and how to guide my kissees into giving me those things. What makes a good kiss is different for everyone, but one universal truth I can tell you is to try to move slowly when you’re first figuring out what feels good for you. While mashing your lips against another person’s with abandon can be really awesome, I found it helpful to slow down and focus on what movements/sensations felt best to me, and which ones didn’t work out as well. Imposing a speed limit on your lips and tongue might help you pay more attention to what you do and don’t like, so you don’t just walk away confused and disgusted.

Once you’ve figured out how to consciously identify your preferences, you can take the lead! If your kissing partner is doing stuff that you’re not enjoying (which will totally happen—high school kiss-drool is a very real thing) you have the power to change what’s happening. But you don’t have to be all “UGH THIS IS TERRIBLE I HATE YOUR MOUTH PLEASE CHANGE ITTTT”—subtle communication makes a world of difference. You can use your body and your carefully chosen words to change the direction of the kiss. If someone, for example, is pressing their mouth on yours too hard, try putting your hands on their neck and gently moving them backward, or changing the angle of your head so that you’re more in control.

If that doesn’t work, tell them what’s up, but frame it positively so that you don’t hurt their feelings—you wouldn’t want them to hurt yours either, you know? Saying something like “I really like it when you’re gentle with me” can clue someone else in to the fact that they should take it a little easier, without insulting them in the process. People rely on cues from the person they’re kissing to know what’s good, so help them out! You’re in this together, presumably because you like each other, so you don’t have to treat a kiss like a silent battleground between two sparring tongues. MAKE OUT, NOT WAR.

And if some kisses don’t work out the way you want them to despite your best efforts, don’t worry about it, because they’re gonna make some great stories, ones which you can hella laugh about with your friends later, in private. Becky and I giggled about my experience with T. for the rest of the year, and I wouldn’t trade that for the most cinematic kiss in the universe. So file away what you’ve learned, and know that there’s always going to be a next time. –Amy Rose

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about having sex with this boy I’m involved with. We’ve talked about it, and I know for sure that we’d use a condom, but I would like to get on some sort of birth control pill to be extra safe. But there are so many kinds of pill—I’m very confused, and wonder if you could help me sort out the pros and cons of the different types. –Niki

First of all, congratulations on doubling up by using two forms of birth control—you want to get as close as you can to 100% effective birth control when you’re trying to be 100% baby-proof, and using two methods is a great way to accomplish that. Also, it’s always a good idea to use condoms, as barrier methods are the only thing that will protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Pills come in two types: estrogen and progestin together, and progestin by itself. The combination pill is the one I’ll be talking about here (the progestin-only kind is recommended only if you have health conditions that prevent you from taking estrogen, or if you’re breastfeeding).

Considering the eleventy-million pill brands out there, I’m not surprised you’re wondering about the pros and cons of Estrovique vs. Tri-Goddess vs. VagNessa (all of these names were still imaginary at the time of this writing). The biggest incentive for drug companies to constantly put out new pills is money, not that newer ones work better. All pills are equally effective at preventing you from getting pregnant, whether they’re generic or brand-name. You know how razors used to come in only one or two variations, and now there are razors with five blades, plus a lotion strip, plus a hot-pink ergonomic handle—but they all remove the hair from your legs? Pills are the same way—there are new “innovations” every year, but no pill is more effective than the others.

But, just like with razors, the differences between all the kinds of pills might make one better for you, depending on your needs and wants. Here are some of those differences:

1. One hormone level vs. a bunch of levels. Pills can take you through anywhere from one to four “phases,” or hormone levels, throughout one menstrual cycle. With monophasic pills, all the pills in one pack have the same hormone level, biphasic packs have two levels, then there are triphasic and quadraphasic pills…you feel me. If you don’t know which kind you’re on, you can count how many different kinds of pills are in the package (or ask your provider or pharmacist or Dr. Google MD). The advantage to monophasic pills is that if you miss a pill, you can make it up more easily, so you’re less likely to get pregnant in between pill cycles. But if you have negative side effects (like spotting between periods or missing a bunch of periods) on a monophasic pill, you might be switched to a multiphasic one.

2. Higher vs. lower hormone levels. There’s a lot of concern about the dosage of hormones in pills, but the differences aren’t really ones most people will feel, side-effect-wise. All pills have about the same incidence of side effects, like breast tenderness, headache, and mood swings. Very-low-dose pills may be less effective at preventing pregnancy, and they are more likely to cause spotting between periods. There is some evidence that low-dose pills are less likely to cause side effects like blood clots, but these are so, so, so rare that it’s not a concern for a young person with a normal risk level (here are some of the things that might increase your risk for blood clots).

3. Skipping periods. If you’re interested in skipping periods, let your provider know! It’s totally safe to not have your period when you’re on birth control, and anyone can do it with any pill, although one-phase pills are preferred. Those fancy “extended-regimen” pills that give you only a few periods a year are actually just normal pills repackaged without the placebo (inactive sugar pill) weeks.

4. Side effects. Except in very specific situations, one brand of pill isn’t going to have different side effects, positive or negative. For instance, even though Ortho Tri-Cyclen is specifically approved for acne, all birth control has the same likelihood to help with your skin, because they all work the same way. Same with Yaz/Yasmin for PMDD (severe PMS): it’s specifically approved, but there’s no evidence that it’s better than other pills at helping with this. However, your body’s adjustment to all birth control is as individual as you are, so there’s really no “best,” just what’s best for you. This is when it’s really useful to have so many different pill recipes! If you have side effects that you don’t like with one pill, you can try another, or you can switch to another method. While talking to your provider, make sure you especially mention if you have a lot of acne, severe PMS, or a history of ovarian cysts.

5. Free gifts. There are a couple of new pills out there that have folic acid or iron supplements in them. You know how there’s those deals where if you spend $100 you get a crappy tote bag or something? Yep. A supplement is a good call, but since these pills aren’t generic, you end up paying $75 for a $5 pill with a $5 vitamin in it. Save your money and just buy vitamins when you pick up your pack.

Also, have you considered other methods? It’s not easy to take a pill every day. The pill is the most high-maintenance of all the hormonal methods: the more chances you have to forget a method, the less effective it is. In comparison, you only have to remember the patch every week, the ring every month, the shot once every three months, the implant every three years, and the Mirena IUD every five years. (There’s also a non-hormonal IUD, ParaGard, that works for 10 years.) My humble recommendation is to start your ~contraceptive vision quest~ with a gadget like MethodMatch or Best Method for Me or MyMethod. (And try not to let cost trap you—if you’re in the U.S., Bedsider can help you find free/low-cost birth control.) Anyway, I hope this helps, and have fun! —Lola

I’m 15, and I’m pretty overweight. Last year my mom tried Weight Watchers and lost a ton of weight. I was really proud of her, and for a little while, I did it with her to keep her company, and I lost a couple of pounds. But I gained it all back, and then some. Now my mom is constantly on my back about what I eat and how much I weigh. She wants me to go back on WW, and maybe I should just shut up and do it, but her constant comments (“You’re overweight, you need to lose 20 pounds” etc.) make me feel so terrible. I’ve tried talking to her, but all she says is, “Well, you really do need to lose the weight.” I hate myself, and I hate her. What can I do? I’m really sad and confused. —Clare, Chicago

I first want to say that I’m sorry you’re feeling so bad right now, both about yourself and toward your mom. I can empathize, because I’ve been exactly where you are. I experienced a big weight gain in my early 20s. I didn’t live near my family at the time, but every time I visited them, my weight was the first thing they commented on. Whether it was intended to be mocking or motivational, it didn’t matter—they were talking about my body in a negative way, and it really hurt. I can only imagine how it feels to have that sort of dialogue every day. And, like you, I went on Weight Watchers and lost weight, only to gain it all back, plus a little extra.

One thing for you and your mom to keep in mind: there’s an overwhelming tendency in the media to make people feel terrible about themselves so that they buy more things and spend more money in an effort to fix their bodies. This ideal that skinny = better suggests that there’s only one possible way to look and feel good about ourselves, and it doesn’t take into consideration different body types or family history or anything. So before we even get into changing something about you, I want you to know that I know you are already enough just as you are; but if your mom has been taught to feel otherwise, it’s not entirely her fault.

I’m not going to tell you to lose weight. How much you weight is totally irrelevant to who you are as a person, and the number on the scale doesn’t determine what kind of person you are or even how healthy you are. Instead, I’m going to ask you to think about whether there’s anything you want your body to do that it isn’t already doing. If your body does everything you want it to, and you feel fine with it the way it is, then your only job (and it’s a big one) is getting your mom to stop criticizing you. Even though the way she currently talks about your weight is annoying, I’m assuming that her fear is that you won’t be happy at your current weight. Don’t lock her out of this process. Try to get her to see that you’re happy, and that if you’re happy, that’s more than enough. Maybe you can say, “II’m completely fine with my body the way it is now, and I need my happiness to be more important to you than how my body looks. Please stop bugging me, because it makes me not want to talk to you at all.”

If you decide that there are things you want your body to do that it doesn’t do now, or that you just want to be healthier in general, obviously, first talk to a doctor (but make sure it’s a doctor you trust—you don’t just want to go to someone who dismissively tells you to lose weight without listening to you). Then figure out how to get where you want to be. Is your goal to eat less processed food? Maybe you can try to substitute fruit, grains, and yogurt in place of your between-meal snacks for a week and see how you feel. Some schools have a nutritionist on staff now, or the school nurse is often equipped to help you figure out a plan for eating right based on your goals and body type, so that could be an option—make sure he or she is certified, though. Do you want to be stronger? You should look into classes offered in your town or through your school—maybe yoga, Zumba, karate, or kickboxing will make you feel more empowered. Is your goal to just not spend most of your day sitting down? Perhaps you can walk to school with a group of friends (safety first), or learn how to skateboard, or make it a point to go for a walk with your iPod and a good playlist/podcast a few times a week. Is your goal to just look different? That’s completely OK, too, as long as you aren’t trying to mold yourself to an ideal that ends up making you feel terrible.

I really enjoy walking, so I found that walking to work instead of taking the bus helps me feel strong and connected to my body. Chicago has pretty brutal weather in the winter, so you might want to find alternatives, though, like a school with an indoor track, the Y, or a gym with discounted memberships.

Finally, once you’ve answered some of these questions for yourself and figured out what you want to do, you should talk to your mom about how you’re feeling. Get her support for whatever you’ve decided to do (or not do!). Like: “Hey, I’m really, really happy that Weight Watchers worked for you, but it didn’t work for me, and I my goals are different from yours. Want to go for a walk with me?” Or: “Mom, when you comment about my body and/or weight like that it makes me feel bad. I’m trying my best, but I still need your help.” Or even just: “Lay off, Mom, I’m doing this my own way. Wanna go to the movies?”

Let her know that what you need from her is support, not criticism. And don’t let anyone define what you “should” be doing. It’s about what you want. —Danielle

If you have a question for next month’s Just Wondering, please send it to [email protected].