Taking Your Time—Puberty, Kissing and More
Originally Published: November 28, 2018
Revised: March 28, 2019
Hallie, 19, of Washington, D.C., felt like a late bloomer when she got her first period later than most of her friends. “It was weird to have friends that were experiencing all these things that I had yet to experience and didn’t know much about, so I felt kind of left out,” she reflects. This sense of comparison doesn’t apply just to periods. It’s normal to compare ourselves to friends when it comes to all kinds of body changes and experiences. Games like “Never Have I Ever,” where players share whether or not they’ve done certain things (often related to dating and sex), can emphasize the huge range in when people do or don’t have certain experiences. It’s important to know, though, that we’re all on our own timetable. Puberty, first kisses, first relationships and more occur at different times for different people. I talked with three teens about their experiences and discovered there’s a huge range of normal.
When Will It Happen?
As we make our way into our teen years, one of the first things we notice is when we—and our peers—start to go through puberty. Changes in our bodies can seem too fast or too slow, and it’s easy to feel awkward compared to classmates if we don’t think we’re developing at the same speed.
…it’s important to remember that there is no “standard” time for people to go through body changes, date, kiss or have sex.
Hallie’s first period came when she was in eighth grade. Although she felt like a late bloomer, most girls get their periods between the ages of 10 and 15. Hallie was totally on track, but comparing herself to her friends made her feel otherwise. She says that she felt similarly about her breasts, so before they even started growing she would wear bras to try and fit in. She no longer worries about her period or breasts, but at 5’10”, she has felt insecure about her height. “I hate my height, it’s the first thing people notice,” she says. “I feel like I perpetually slouch…because I want to appear shorter. I think I even lied about my height on my driver’s license.”
Joshua, 19, of Rochester, NY, is perfectly fine with his height. Even though he says he’s “on the shorter side,” it was never much of a concern for him. He was, however, a little self-conscious when his voice started to change around 13 and he noticed that he “couldn’t sing nearly as well as before.” He certainly saw when his friends’ voices were changing too, but says he didn’t worry a lot about how he measured up. He started growing body hair when he was 12 and facial hair around 15. He says he thinks he was a “normal bloomer” when it came to hair but that he took note of when his friends experienced these changes too.
Hallie and Joshua experienced puberty differently, but they were both self-conscious at times and compared themselves to others. Now that they’re older, they’ve learned to accept that puberty is, as Hallie says, “not something you can control and a lot of it is just based on genetics…. You shouldn’t compare yourself ‘cause there’s nothing you can do to change that.” This may be easier said than done, but it’s something to strive for.
A Kiss Is Just a Kiss
We may not have control over how our bodies develop, but we do have some control over our social lives. As teens, we can feel so much pressure to start having experiences like kissing, dating and having sex. It’s easy to feel jealous and inadequate when a friend does one of these things before you, but everyone’s circumstances are different. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone does—or even feels ready to—experience these things in high school. Some people decide not to have these experiences at all, even as adults. That’s a totally valid choice too.
One experience that many teens look forward to with nervous anticipation is their first kiss. Joshua’s happened when he was 13, and it didn’t quite live up to expectations. It was “definitely disgusting,” he says. “Braces really don’t make for a good experience.” Hallie’s first kiss didn’t meet her expectations either. At 17, she was “happy to just get it over with,” but was disappointed at how “random and unplanned” it was.
Taylor, 19, of Washington, D.C., isn’t sure what she would call her first kiss, but she remembers wanting to cuddle and hold hands with her boyfriend but not wanting to kiss him for a long time. She now identifies as demisexual, meaning she has to establish an emotional connection with someone before feeling comfortable with kissing and other sexual activity. Before she found out about the asexual and demisexual community, she says, “I thought there was something deeply wrong with me that I didn’t want to kiss anyone and all my classmates and my significant other did.” Eventually, she was able to accept that the sexual part of her relationships would generally progress on a different timeline than those of some of her peers.
Joshua, Hallie and Taylor had varying experiences with their first kiss, which goes to show that everyone moves at their own pace. It’s O.K. if your best friend has kissed 10 people and you haven’t been on a date yet! As Joshua says, “it will all come in time.”
Dating and Sex—Different for Everyone
In many middle and high schools, one of the biggest topics of conversation is who’s dating whom. When your friends start getting into relationships, it’s easy to feel pressure to start dating someone just to fit in. This pressure can be especially difficult if you’re not ready for (or simply not interested in) dating.
Joshua’s first date was when he was 13, and he says, “People were all over the map in eighth grade.” The same can be said for any age. Some people start dating in middle school, while others don’t until college or beyond. Others may choose not to date at all. Your dating experience doesn’t define who you are as a person, and everyone is on their own unique schedule.
Losing your virginity is considered by some to be one of the defining experiences of young adulthood, and there can be a huge amount of pressure on teens to “keep up” with their friends by having sex. The thing is, not everyone has the same definition of sex in the first place.
Joshua says he considers himself to have lost his virginity when he had penile-vaginal sex for the first time. He realizes, however, that virginity “depends on the individual’s definition.” A person’s definition of virginity can depend on their sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Taylor, who identifies as bisexual, does not consider herself a virgin because she has had sex with a guy, but says that since she has never had sexual contact with a girl, “Half of my identity has yet to be explored sexually.” People who identify as anything other than heterosexual can feel like they are excluded by the penile-vaginal definition of virginity because they don’t fit that strict mold.
There’s a common notion that having sex for the first time is a life-changing experience. Hallie, who hasn’t had sex yet, says she feels pressure from herself and in general to do it, but she also feels pressure from her family not to. She’s content, though, saying, “I know what I’m waiting for, and I’m not going to let someone pressure me into doing it unless they’re going to give me the kind of respect I want.” Hallie knows that there is no “right time” that works for everyone and that where she is right now is perfectly fine.
You may feel like you’re too far behind—or ahead of—your peers in some way or another. But it’s important to remember that there is no “standard” time for people to go through body changes, date, kiss or have sex. Everybody is different, so wherever you are on the timeline, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable and do what is right for you.
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