According to a survey of 4600 teenagers (aged 12–17) conducted recently by Mediamark Research Inc., 89 percent of teens say they have been in dating relationships, 57 percent regularly date, and 33 percent have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. Over 12 percent of dating teens are currently in relationships that have lasted for more than a year.
The following is based on conversations with nearly two dozen teens and gives us a sense of the dating life of San Diego teenagers: what influences them and what drives them; who they like and how they woo; how they address the complex issue of sex; the places they go with members of the opposite gender and the things they like to do on dates.
The Metaphorical “Base System,” circa 2008
Kissing is no longer first base. Kissing is now the batting cages. (And hardly anyone strikes out in the batting cages.)
First base is now touching above the belt and/or over the clothes.
Second base is touching below the belt and under the clothes.
Third base is oral sex.
A home run’s still a home run.
A Quick Note on the “Batting Cages”
Abbie and Diana are 17-year-olds who say they are seniors at University of San Diego High School. (I later learn that this school closed several years ago.) The two are walking around Mission Valley Mall for an afternoon of shopping.
They both hold multiple brand-name shopping bags in one hand and closed cell phones in the other.
“A kiss is not that big of a deal,” Abbie says, between chews of gum.
“It’s like a hug, nowadays,” Diana agrees.
Abbie adds that she was 11 years old when she started kissing boys for real. Fifth grade.
This same sentiment is echoed across town by Stacy, a 16-year-old junior at Mission Bay High School. Stacy stands in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven on Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, sipping Slurpees with her buddy Andre. Stacy has braces on her teeth and a shy smile and wears way too much makeup. Andre’s hair swoops down across his forehead. Every few seconds, he brushes it away from his eyes.
Stacy says she’s had three boyfriends; her longest relationship lasted three months. She started dating when she was 14. She says she’s kissed “a lot of different guys.”
How does that work? Kissing lots of guys?
“They talk to you,” Stacy says, giggling. “I don’t know, like, at parties, or you just see someone in the street or at school, and, I don’t know, they just talk to you and hang around, and then you might end up kissing them. It’s no big deal.” Stacy looks down at the ground, still giggling, perhaps embarrassed.
Andre, who’s 17 and also a Mission Bay High junior, comes to his friend’s rescue. “There’s no rules about kissing,” he says. “As long as you’re both comfortable.”
Monday at the Mall
At Fashion Valley, Mission Valley, Horton Plaza, and other malls, many weekend and early-evening patrons are teens.
Alexis and Alex are a cute couple with fresh faces. Neither could possibly weigh more than 100 pounds. The two are sophomores at La Jolla High School. Alexis is 15, and Alex is 14. They’ve been dating for over seven months.
“We had a class together,” Alex says, “and I told her friend to go talk to her for me. And then I started talking to her. And then I told her over the phone that I wanted to be her boyfriend.”
And Alexis liked him?
“No,” Alex kids her. “She didn’t like me.”
Alexis rolls her eyes. “Oh, my God.”
Alex laughs. The two of them are curled around each other, arm-in-arm, hugging. They keep hugging while talking.
It’s the first relationship for both of them.
Today, Alexis and Alex are at the mall, but most afternoons they’ll hang out at Alex’s house or in their neighborhood park.
The two usually get around by hitching rides from their parents.
“Her parents like me because they know I’ll protect her,” Alex says.
Alexis seems to like this. She smiles up into Alex’s throat, her face on his chest, the two of them still hugging. She looks protected.
Alexis says she’s able to talk to her friend Carlita about Alex, and she needs to “because he flirts with other girls”; she practically moans, pinching him.
“No, I don’t,” he laughs, sheepishly. “And anyway, she flirts with guys.”
At this, Alexis squeaks loudly. “I do not!”
Alex laughs again, this time a satisfied guffaw.
Does Alex talk to his friends about Alexis?
“Sometimes,” he says. “My friend Nestor.”
And what do they talk about?
“I talk about how I get mad at her because she doesn’t listen to me,” Alex says. “But when I ask for something, I want it quick.”
Alexis honks at this, a long “Haaaannh!” She jostles Alex with her arms around his waist.
After their first phone conversation, when Alex asked Alexis out and she said yes, the next day at school the two of them kissed each other for the first time.
So they kissed after their first conversation? And how far have they gone since?
“I was almost going to be a dad,” Alex says, without a hint of remorse or guilt or irony.
And Alexis breathes out a long, exasperated syllable, “Hoooooiiiii!”
They’ve already dealt with a pregnancy?
“Yeah,” Alex says.
Alexis punches him in the stomach, hard.
He laughs and says, “Ouch,” grabbing her hands so she can’t punch him again.
“No, no, no,” Alex says, “not really. She wasn’t pregnant. But we thought she was.”
So Alexis was late for her period?
“Yeah,” Alex says.
Alexis looks exasperated at the turn of the conversation, a big frown on her face.
Don’t they use protection when they have sex?
“Naw,” Alex says. “It’s not worth it.”
Not worth it?
“It doesn’t feel as good,” Alex says. Alexis shoots him a look that seems to say, “See? I told you we should use protection, you idiot!”