When I’m asked about the age I became sexually active, my response tends to garner pity and even occasional disgust. Why? Because I chose to have sex at the age of 14.
My first boyfriend was everything I had wanted in a lover: a face that reminded me of Kurt Cobain and long blond hair to match, a love of alt-rock and warm hands to hold. From the first day I saw him, safety-pin-emblazoned hoodie draped around his shoulders and all, I set my sights.
Six months after we first met, I planned a hike and a picnic that would lead up to asking him what he thought about our friends saying we’d be a great couple, as you do when you’re very young and too nervous to tell someone you have a crush on them. “I mean, we could… Try it out,” I said with pubescent hesitance.
“… And if it doesn’t work,” he added, “we can still be friends!”
Shortly after our awkward, hormone-infused conversation ended, he went home and immediately called me. Since we were no longer face-to-face, I had much more courage and asked him if he’d thought I was pretty (he had) and if he had “like-liked” me all along (he had). As I went to bed with giddiness, I put a Sheryl Crow CD on repeat and woke the next day to sunlight streaming through the blinds. I had finally, after a grueling 14 years of life alone, found love. It was a truly teenage moment.
Our first official day of dating, I took the light rail to his house to listen to mix tapes. While it was no longer the age of the cassette, we both belonged to less than affluent families and worked with what we had, which were mostly discarded old tapes and hand-me-down stereo systems. The mattress on his floor had no sheets, but a worn out comforter sprawled underneath our bodies as we both tried to lie just far enough apart while maintaining our held hands. Impatient for my first kiss, the Gin Blossoms floated through the air for what seemed like an eternity. After an excruciating hour or so, I finally asked him, flustered as I was, if he was ever going to kiss me. He did.
Shortly after our first official date, a screening of Tim Burton’s Big Fish at the cheapest theater in town, I realized that the kissing and dry-humping we’d been enjoying was definitely going to lead to sex, and I was ready. I made an appointment to get on birth control. In addition to wanting to protect myself from unplanned pregnancy, I also wanted to make it clear that this was indeed my choice. While I had felt the pressure that so many young women do to be flawless, I didn’t feel pressured to have sex: I wanted to have sex.
A month later, I packed my stereo, some candles and condoms into a backpack and headed to the empty apartment my mother and I were about to move into. My boyfriend agreed to meet me. It was summertime, school was out, and we were madly in love. The details of that first time are lost in the fog of the years that followed, but I can still remember the lustful and innocent months afterward. Free of the worries that come with adulthood, that first romance and the sexuality we explored together was completely untainted.
Of course, we were teenagers and we broke up after a year. Twice. I cried in my bed for three days listening to Karen Carpenter sing “The End of The World” on a loop. Girlfriends came over to wipe away my tears until they got bored. It was high school after all. While I longed for someone to love and for the electric prickle of hot skin against my own, I didn’t have sex again for two years; I didn’t want to share that part of myself with just anyone. There was never a moment that I felt my sexuality wasn’t a sacred piece of who I was.
Young people are often viewed as incapable of knowing the consequences of their actions; their wisdom is second-guessed, their autonomy denied, their lives micromanaged. While critical guidance is necessary for young minds, staunch policing does not lead to self-possessed decision making. The multitude of reasons I was able to responsibly take charge of my sexuality certainly did not include shame, abstinence-only sex education or the denial of my bodily autonomy.
Exploring my sexuality early on was a character-building exercise and absolutely set the stage for the sex-positive life I live now.
I could never regret having sex at 14, because it simply wasn’t regrettable. It was beautiful.