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The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant High School

If you ask the girls why they think there’s more teenage bisexual experimentation happening today, Alair is quick with an explanation. “I blame television,” she says. “I blame the media.” She’s partly joking, giving the stock answer. But there’s obviously some truth to it. She’s too young to remember a time when she couldn’t turn on Showtime or even MTV and regularly see girls kissing girls. It’s not simply that they’re imitating what they’ve seen, it’s that the stigma has been erased, maybe even transformed into cachet. “It’s in the realm of possibilities now,” as Ritch Savin-Williams puts it. “When you don’t think of it as being a possibility, you don’t do it. But now that it’s out there, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, that could be fun.’ ” Of course, sexy TV shows would have no impact at all if they weren’t tapping into something more innate. Perhaps, as research suggests, sexuality is more fluid for women than it is for men. Perhaps natural female intimacy opens the door to sexual experimentation at an age when male partners can be particularly unsatisfying. As one mother of a cuddle-puddle kid puts it, “Emotionally it’s safer—it’s difficult in this age group to hold onto your body. You’re changing. There’s a safety factor in a girl being with a girl.” Then, laughing, she asked that her name be withheld. “My mother might read this.”

It’s true that girls have always experimented, but it’s typically been furtive, kept quiet. The difference now is how these girls are flaunting it. It’s become a form of exhibitionism, a way to get noticed at an age when getting noticed is what it’s all about. And as rebellions go, it’s pretty safe. Hooking up with girls won’t get them pregnant. It won’t hurt their GPA. It won’t keep them out of honor societies, social groups, the Ivy League.

In the end, the Stuyvesant cuddle puddle might just be a trickle-down version of the collegiate “gay until graduation.” On the other hand, these girls are experimenting at an earlier age, when their identities and their ideas about what they want in a partner are still being formed. Will it affect the way they choose to live their adult lives? Elle is determined to marry a man, but Alair and Jane are not so sure. Maybe they won’t get married at all, they say, keep their options open. “I have no idea,” says Alair. “I’m just 16.”

Afew weeks later, the guys are hanging out in Nathan’s room. Jason is stretched out on the bed and Ilia is leaning back in a chair by the desk, and it’s pretty clear that nothing much is happening this afternoon. Just some guitar playing, some laying about. Then the girls show up and things get more interesting. Alair and Jane have brought a couple of friends, Molly and Nikki. Molly doesn’t know for sure if she’s bisexual, but “I have my suspicions,” she says; she’s hooked up with Alair before. Nikki is with her friend Jared, who she’s sort of but not really dating. He makes out with boys but considers Nikki his “soul mate”; she’s totally straight but kisses girls. “I kiss anything pretty, anything beautiful, anything worthwhile,” she says.

Nikki runs her hands through Jane’s hair. “You look awesome! I love this shirt. I love your hair.” Jane crosses the room to sit in Alair’s lap, and Alair wraps her arms around her. That reminds Nikki of something.

“Wait! Let me show you guys the next painting I’m doing,” she says, pulling from her backpack a photograph of Alair asleep on the beach in a striped bikini. It’s a sexy picture, and Nikki knows it.

Chinese food is ordered, guitars strummed, an ice cube is passed around and for no apparent reason everyone is required to put it down their pants. It’s just another afternoon of casual flirtation. The boys showing off for the girls, the girls showing off for everyone. No strings attached. In theory, anyway. Most of the kids say they hate relationships, that they don’t want to be tied down, that they want to be open to different possibilities and different genders from minute to minute, but there is a natural tendency—as natural perhaps as the tendency to experiment—to try to find connection. Like it or not, emotions get involved. If you look closer, you can see the hint of longing, the momentary pouting, the tiny jealousies. Jared can’t take his eyes off Nikki, but Nikki seems interested mainly in Alair. Jason, too, is angling for Alair’s attention, but Alair is once again focused on Jane. And Jane, well, Jane might actually be in love.