Sex & Sensibility

By Liza Mundy
Sunday, July 16, 2000

Morning brings the invitations. The casual ones. So routine are they that she hardly thinks about them, just waves them away like gnats. Today, for example, a boy came up to her in the hall and asked, "When are you going to let me hit that?" "That means, like, intercourse," the girl explains, with a sort of gum-popping matter-of-factness. She is 13.

She is an eighth-grader, fresh-faced, clear-eyed, with light brown hair and fluffy bangs and plucked eyebrows, her voice sweet and straightforward as, one morning in an unused classroom, she sits relating some of the other things guys say to her in the halls of her Montgomery County middle school, nestled in developed farmland in the central part of the county.

"They say, `What's up with the dome?' " the girl continues, explaining that this is an invitation to perform oral sex, as is the more familiar: "When are you going to give me head?" She tells them never. She laughs. Whatever it takes to put them off. She has not done much more than kiss, though she and her female friends talk about sex a lot, especially oral sex. "They're like, `It's not that bad once you do it. But it's scary the first time.' I guess they're nervous that they won't do it right. They said they didn't have any pleasure in it. They did it to make the boys happy, I guess."

She thinks that someday she will do it.

She thinks that it will be gross.

The serious invitations come in the afternoon, after school, from two boys she knows well, boys who live within walking distance of her house, boys who call her up, or else she calls them, and they come over when her parents are still at work and the only other person in her house is a sibling. When the boys arrive they often say something like what one of them said just the other day: "Let's go to your room. You can give me some head and then we'll go downstairs." To which she replied: "No! You're nasty!"

It is a little complicated to explain who the two boys are. One of them -- let's call him Boy A -- used to be her boyfriend and is now just her friend. The two of them talk a lot -- they're really close, they know each other's life story, he has told her everything about himself and his past, though she's not sure she believes all of it (how much past can an eighth-grader have?), and they've had conversations about oral sex. For example, the one in which she said to him, "If I do it to you and do it wrong, just tell me what I'm doing wrong so I can fix it."

The invitations also come from Boy B. One day, for example, back when she was going out with Boy A, she and Boy B were talking on the phone in the afternoon, and she invited the two of them over, and Boy B "was, like, `Are you going to give him head?' And I was, like, `No.' And then he asked about himself -- he was, like, `What about me?' And I was, like, `No.' I was, like, `Heck no!' and he was, like, `Why?' And I was, like, `Because I don't like you,' and he was, like, `So? You can still do it!' "

"They always ask," she says. "Even if you say no 700 times, they'll always ask you."

What if the boys were to suddenly leave her alone and stop asking? "I would think they didn't like me or something," she says, "or that the other girls are prettier or, like, better than me."

What if she gives in? Just goes ahead and gets it over with? She has thought about this. For example, she knows that if she did it with Boy A, Boy A would tell Boy B, and likewise, if she did it with Boy B, Boy B would tell Boy A. So people would know. She doesn't think it would affect her reputation; you only get a bad reputation if you have sex with every boy who asks you. But the one thing she knows is that if she did it, even once, and people found out, her day would be one endless stream of requests. "They would ask me, and ask me, even more than they do now."

In other words, this girl -- who asked, for obvious reasons, that her name not be used in this article -- is making complex moral calculations all day long, measuring popularity, fending off unwanted commentary, admitting to curiosity, assessing risk. At least until her mother gets home. "How was your day at school?" she usually asks.

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