‘Hooking up’ is like a hurricane category 5 downgrade: not exactly full blown “sex,” but certainly anything and everything in its path that could be swept up along the way: lips, fingers, mouths, car seat upholstery, tongues, genitals, Netflix…
What we loosely define as ‘hooking up’ is a broad spectrum of sexual activities, and yet not all activities are treated, felt, or viewed equally – not on a personal or societal level. (If your grandfather ever found out about that pool house incident last summer he’d likely never look you in the eye again; your parents might start looking into military school; and your peers would probably assume you have a sex position emoji app.) So when is it ok to hook up? What are we to think when we hear that #SoAndSo hooked up Friday night after the party? Is everyone doing it? Should I be doing it? Is everyone comfortable doing it, or are they doing it just because they think everyone is doing it?
These questions rarely have easy answers, and many of us might have already jumped in before posing the question to begin with. A lot of teens are experimenting with the boundaries of their bodies and what feels good (and with who it feels good). Many are not. A lot of adolescent sexual exchanges are usually awkward, but nobody tells you this. Some of these exchanges are fueled by drugs or alcohol, which may blur the line between what you wanted to have happen that night and what actually took place. Some of these sexual encounters are rushed, frightening, or forced. And a handful of adolescent hook ups are actually loving, sensitive, and mutually satisfying. And chances are, nobody remembers it the same way, and everyone who hears about it assumes the worst.
So how do you know if you and a partner are ready to get physical? And who’s business is it?
The latter question is easier to answer: It’s nobody’s business but your own and your partner’s; though unfortunately, acts of intimacy between teens don’t always stay confidential. If you have a pediatrician, gynecologist, parent or adult in your life that you trust and feel comfortable talking to about sex, talk about it – ask questions and measure the consequences. If you don’t, do your research – and some heavy soul searching about what you want (and don’t want) in your life right now. Hooking up is complicated, and it usually snowballs – whether this be physically, emotionally, or even as an exaggerated rumor among peers.
Knowing when it’s right for you to experiment with hooking up and sex is an abstract and hugely personal matter – complicated further by the fact that it’s not just your decision, but also your partner’s. Here are a few things to consider before you end up in a steamy situation where a physical relationship might develop:
- Has anyone been pressuring me to hook up? (Your partner, friends who are doing it, etc.) Does this change my views on my body or sex?
- Will my relationship change with my partner after we hook up? Am I prepared for those outcomes (a committed, long term relationship; an awkward fall out or loss of friendship, etc.)
- How do I feel about a hook up eventually leading to sex? Am I ready to go all the way? How will I say “No” if I’m not ready for certain sexual acts? Do I have access to contraception? What is our plan to prevent pregnancy?
- What are my values surrounding hook ups and sex? Do I feel that I need to be in a relationship? Should the relationship be long term before we fool around? Do I plan to wait until college or marriage before having sex or engaging in certain sexual acts?
- Have I talked to my partner about having a physical relationship? Are our desires mutual or different?
Asking yourself these questions in the light of day, while sober, and prior to engaging in a sexual act with a partner might help you to better understand your feelings about sexual relationships, your body, and your values. The more you consider your options and make decisions for your own body, the more likely you are to follow your gut and take responsibility for your sexual and emotional health.
For more information on whether or not you might be ready for a sexual relationship, visit ‘Am I Ready?‘ and other resources regarding your body and health at www.plannedparenthood.org and www.scarleteen.com.