Nell and Cara are 14-year-old freshmen at a private Manhattan high school, and as I sit down for coffee with them, I am chagrined to find we are wearing exactly the same brands. “Is your watch Red Monkey?” asks Cara, who has a goofy smile and silky brown hair, grabbing my wrist. “So’s mine!” She raises her arm next to mine like we’re Wonder Twins. I notice that Cara’s best friend, Nell, is dressed in terry Juicy Couture sweats; my V-neck is Juicy, too.
“Are you guys into fashion?” I ask.
“Not really,” says Nell, a pixieish blonde with a round face and red cheeks. “There was this article in W about these Upper East Side girls who are horrible obnoxious adults in training and accessorize with Gucci mules. But everyone at our school wears Pumas.”
“I do have one friend who wore Christian Dior couture to a bat mitzvah,” Cara says.
We’re in a café on Lexington Avenue in the Eighties, and over hot chocolates (them) and cappuccino (me), the talk quickly moves from clothing to their other favorite topic, boys. Although they’ve both “hooked up,” they’re both virgins, and their concerns tend more toward “Why won’t my mom let me go on Acutane?” than “What if I get AIDS?” In fact, their heads are screwed on so firmly that they believe the media gives teens no credit for being intelligent, hardworking, and even ethical. If I’d known girls like this when I was in high school, I’d never have wound up a sex columnist.
“So is there any such thing as dating at your school?” I ask, because there wasn’t at the high school I went to a stone’s throw from theirs.
“That is not a word in my vocabulary,” says Cara. “We hang out in groups, and sometimes hookups happen, but you only go out one-on-one if you’re in a serious relationship.”
“What’s hooking up?”
“Anything except for actual coitus,” says Nell.
“What are the bases? I’ve heard they’ve changed.”
Cara lays it out for me. “First base is kissing, second base is up the shirt, sloppy second is mouth to boob, third is fingering or hand job, and sloppy third is oral.”
“So a home run’s still . . . ”
“Yep.” She nods. I’m happy to hear there’s no new fifth base, like “entering the dugout.” When I ask them about their own slugging percentages, they say they’ve gone to sloppy second and hooked up with only a handful of guys. I wipe my brow, relieved, until they tell me they once hooked up with the same guy, the same night, which made it sloppy-second sloppy seconds.
“And are girls who go far considered slutty?” I ask.
“That girl’s a slut!” cries Cara, pointing out the window at a prim-looking girl in a blue knee-length skirt across the street.
“She’s new this year,” Nell explains. “She moved from England. She gave a guy head in the bathroom and the library and the boiler room. Two students walked in on them.”
“We don’t have high esteem for her,” Cara says. As though reading my thoughts, she adds, “If you don’t like a girl and she happens to be promiscuous, you can use the term slut as an insult.” I nod, understanding all too well. Guys never call girls sluts; only girls do. To a boy, after all, a slut is a gift from God.
“How many of your friends have lost their virginity?” I ask.
“Only two people in our grade have had sex,” Nell says. “And they’re both boys. Our grade is extraordinarily prudish. There’s much more sex at all-guys schools. At ours, boys and girls are friends, since we’ve known each other forever.”
“Our friends hook up with kids from other schools,” Cara explains, “or in other grades. That’s because guys see us first thing in the morning, when we look like complete crap. They think girls from single-sex schools are so hot—but that’s because they only see those girls when they’re dressed up!”
Hookups usually happen at no-alcohol teen nights at Upper West Side nightclubs like Crane and Cream. “There are a lot of dirty boys there,” says Cara, “who will prey on girls.”
They also hook up in kids’ rooms when parents are there but unaware. “At our friend Maddy’s birthday, we did some crazy stuff,” Nell says. “Her mom was home, but she had no idea. We wanted ice cream, so we asked the guys to go out and get it, and they said, ‘You have to do something for us.’ They came back with whipped cream, and we turned around and put it on our nipples. They asked us to give them lap dances, but we wouldn’t. Later on, when we were dressed, Maddy’s mom came in and asked, ‘Does anyone want cookies?’ ”
Cara’s and Nell’s own parents are a little savvier about sex and drugs, because they’re honest with them.
“My mom fancies herself very hep to the jive,” Cara says. “She went to private school too, hung out at Studio 54, and told me she did drugs. I thought it was bizarre for her to tell me that and then say ‘Don’t drink. Don’t smoke pot.’ ”
Nell’s mom is up-front about sex, Nell says, but clueless as to what actually goes on. “My mom asked if I had ever given head before, and I said no. She said, ‘Well, I just want to let you know you can get aids from it. You have to use a condom.’ I said, ‘Nobody actually uses a condom for that.’ Teenagers think about the here and now.”
Of course, there’s an upside to all the parent-child communication. Two years ago, Cara’s mom bought her Deal With It, gURL.com’s growing-up guide for teen girls, and Nell and Cara learned how to masturbate. “We did our research,” says Nell.
But as for translating their self-knowledge into hookups with boys, they’re not in any rush. “I don’t feel a guy would do a very good job on me,” says Nell. “I’m much better off doing it myself. Besides, guys underestimate how horny girls are. They don’t think a girl would ever want that.”
“They just don’t admit it,” Cara says. “I feel like they’re so far behind us, not in terms of what we’re doing, but what we know.” I smile sympathetically, and for a moment I forget I’m with 14-year-olds.