Leaning into love and lust: intimacy at Wilson


Maggy Esserman

“We were about to have sex,” a student recalled, as she began to recount a recent hookup. The moment she described, the feeling of being on the precipice of sexual intimacy, is not uncommon for high-school students. But this particular encounter took a slightly different turn. “He took his gum out of his mouth, but then he didn’t put the gum in a smart place. It got all over my bed, it was on his leg, it was like everywhere.”

Encounters like these, which walk the line between awkward and sensational, are  quintessential to navigating the world of sex and love as a teenager. Whether it’s the couple that’s been together since freshman year making out in a B-wing stairwell, a flower and balloon-filled promposal in the atrium, or an awkward hug and “how are you?” between two friends that drunkenly hooked up at a party the night before—hookups and relationships pervade everyday life at Wilson.


So what are we?

What over a dozen conversations with students revealed is that sexual encounters vary in most attributes: intensity, duration, context, and emotional attachment.

In a survey conducted by The Beacon of 207 randomly selected Wilson students, 33 percent of students categorized the majority of their sexual experiences as hookups.

“Hooking up is a one-time thing or it’s a multiple time thing, but it’s never a serious thing,” sophomore Melanie Perez explained. “In a relationship it’s like you touch, you feel, you talk.”

“[Hooking up is] just physical,” junior Oskar Floman added.

It’s important to note that the exact definition of hookup is dynamic: for freshman and sophomores, making out might be referenced as a ‘hookup,’ while juniors and seniors tend to use the term to describe having sex. Forty-six percent of polled students reported having had sex, which, for the purposes of the survey, was defined as oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse.

Of surveyed students who reported being sexually active, 31 percent said they became sexually active in ninth grade, 28 percent said they became sexually active in 10th grade, 18 percent said they became sexually active in 11th grade, and eight percent said they became sexually active in 12th grade.

Students noted that older students tend to be more uninhibited with their sexual and romantic interactions, likely as a result of experience. “Everybody’s pretty open with their sexuality, they’re pretty comfortable with their sexual partners—especially the upperclassmen,” affirmed senior Quincy Barber.

Senior Trinity Greene confirmed the relationship between age and sexual openness. “As a senior, you’re about to go to college, you don’t have time for relationships. You just need to get the pleasure and go,” she said.


Who’s hooking up with who?

People tend to hook up with people within their extended social group, giving way to a phenomenon that is somewhat distinct to high school: within groups, everyone hooks up with everyone. Chances are, if you’re involved in hookup culture, you’ve hooked up with someone that your friend has hooked up with, and that friend hooked up with someone that your other friend hooked up with.

“It’s a sex pool,” joked Greene.

On the whole, students described the hookup culture at Wilson as casual and comfortable. One of the virtues of high-school hookups is that people tend to be at least somewhat well-acquainted with their hookup buddy—oftentimes, they’ve known them for years. But hooking up with people within the social bubble of high school can be both a blessing and a curse.

“Wilson can be childish. People don’t know how to mind their business, so whoever you mess with or talk to, everyone’s gonna find out,” senior Knori Teshome said.

Students said that the interconnectedness of Wilson hookup culture, along with the casualness of it, can lead to blurry relationships and occasional conflict. “There are no clear boundaries in a lot of hookup relationships. Like, if you’re just hooking up with someone but not dating, then you can’t technically lay claim of that person, and you can’t technically get mad at other people for hooking up with them,” explained senior Chase Palmer. “People might cross a line they didn’t know was there, and people get mad, but that’s kind of crazy because the relationship was never defined.”

And though Wilson can be a merry-go-round of lovers, there are some ponies that are not free to ride. “If your friend has messed with somebody, they should be off limits,” declared Teshome. After some thought, she qualified: “If the friends say, ‘I definitely don’t care,’ then I feel like you can go ahead. But if they had sex…”

“If they were really serious, you cannot talk to them. But if they were just texting, if she says okay, then y’all can,” clarified junior Skye Irving.


How talking becomes dating

While casual hookups are certainly a norm, relationships form with regularity at Wilson. Thirty-nine percent of surveyed students said that the majority of their sexual experiences occurred as a result of being in a relationship. While it might not be as prevalent as the movies depict, it’s not uncommon to see couples making out in the stairwells, eating lunch together, and strolling down the halls hand in hand. But how does this romance emerge from hookups that are definitionally unemotional?

“It’s definitely possible, it really depends on the person,” remarked Barber on whether or not a casual relationship can evolve into something more serious. “Sometimes people can control their feelings so they don’t get strings attached.”

The aforementioned elusivity of privacy in Wilson’s hookup culture can prove to be a burden for relationships. “It’s very mentally pressing in a way. Instead of [the relationship] being about you, you’re always thinking about how someone else is viewing you,” said Floman.


Texty tumult

As it has with most aspects of life, technology has taken on a central role in hookup culture. And again, like in most aspects of life, it’s not an inherently positive one. Students noted that Snapchat in particular can contribute to a lack of meaningful communication between people who are hooking up or “talking.”

“Snapchat has changed things. People get fake-bold over Snapchat and then don’t know how to talk in person,” senior Aleisha Hopkins detailed. Senior Nadia Twelode agreed. “There’s no real communication. People are scared to be upfront and straightforward,” she said.

Palmer perceived a discrepancy between people’s ability to talk on social media and to talk in person as well. “We have all these platforms to talk to people on social media, but there few conversations that happen face to face, and that’s a problem when it comes to defining relationships.”

Perez further noted how online communication can serve as a crutch and weaken couples’ ability to connect. “All they do is when they get home they text each other,” she said.  “They don’t do confrontation.”


Your classroom or mine?

In terms of the locations of Wilson students’ sexcapades, discretion is uncommon, especially when opportunity and attraction converge. “[Hooking up] starts anywhere,” Greene said. “Sharing notes, class, parties.”

“If you sit next to someone in class or something and they flirt with you, and then it just leads into more stuff,” Teshome continued. “You see them in the hallway, then lunchtime, then if you see them at a party…”

Though it’s natural to assume that most hookups happen at parties, students cited a variety of places where they hook up, including at Wilson. “School is definitely a place that it’s happened in my group. We’ve done it in school a couple times,” said Barber.

“It’s usually like, they’re talking, and you see one person leave out of class, and then a couple minutes later you see the other person leave out, and then 10 minutes later you see them walk back in,” said senior Tina Nguyen as she explained the culture of getting it on at Wilson.

“With the people I know… they say school, parties, their house, the other person’s house, public. There’s many places,” senior Christian Watkins added.


Parties, alcohol, and consent

For many, hookups are indeed associated with parties, and with a party’s most pervasive pal: alcohol.

It’s common knowledge that consent gets blurry with the presence of alcohol, but that doesn’t prevent hookups from happening while one or both of the people involved are intoxicated. “Most of my hookups in high school have happened while I’m drunk,” said one student, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s because alcohol lowers my inhibitions, and because I’m in an environment where that’s expected. At parties, I think it’s expected to have casual hookups.”

But some say they stay clear of hooking up with people when they aren’t sober. “If someone’s under the influence, that’s not my cup of tea. If you’re under the influence, your opinion and what you say doesn’t really hold weight,” Watkins said.

Several female students maintained that drunken hookups cannot be considered consensual. “[Boys] know that the girls be drunk as f***,” began Irving, “and they try to sweet talk her, and she’s not gonna have that much control,” continued Teshome. “She’s barely awake,” finished Greene. “That’s really sad and belittling.”

“In our group, consent is definitely something that we talk about. Non-consensual sex is something we don’t think is cool,” Barber said. But as with every rule, there’s an exception: “Now, if you’re in a relationship, y’all both are under the influence and you’ve been there before, that’s a different thing,” he concluded.

Twenty percent of surveyed students said that they have had a sexual experience that they did not consent to.


Double standards

Wilson is somewhat of a breeding ground for more progressive ideas of gender roles—namely, that they should disappear. Still, some double standards linger. “In the male community, if you’re having sex with a lot of different females, you’re looked at as that guy. Whereas [if you’re] a female, you’re looked at as a hoe,” Barber said. “For boys there’s definitely an egotistical element to hooking up with a girl… where they’re getting hyped up for it. But for girls, in a lot of cases they’ll get slut-shamed,” echoed Floman.

Another disparity lies in the expectations for who should initiate a hookup. “Guys generally have to instigate it… guys have to get the girl’s number, try to show interest,” senior Ricardo Hutchinson said. “Nowadays females are a lot more open about what they want and how they plan on going about it,” Barber began. “But the expectation is usually for the male to put things in motion.”


Love and lust

The first sweeping tendrils of young love feel all-consuming and overpowering. But to what extent are these dizzying emotions evidence of real, true love, rather than a well-guised illusion of hormones and discovery? Wilson students are skeptical.

“I’m not sure if people are actually in love or are they just using each other,” sophomore Lupe Solano said. Many students, like Solano, were unsure of the authenticity of love at this age, citing image and lust as factors that might encourage the fabrication of love.

Though in general love seems rare among students, it does exist for some. Forty six percent of surveyed students reported that they have been in love.

Many friends at Wilson have known each other since they started middle school, or even elementary school. This alone can lead to love. “I’ve felt love, but it’s more so like an ‘over the years you’ve grown to love them’ type of thing, because I’ve known them for so long,” Greene explained. “It’s more so a, you have to love them, dealing with them.”

“I feel like when two people are in love they kind of move and talk the same. They catch the same characteristics. They’re just the first person they think of when they wake up,” Solano mused.

“When you see them have arguments they end up laughing about it,” Perez added. Wilson students were also quick to acknowledge a universal truth: love hurts. “I don’t like that feeling of being in love with someone. I don’t like feeling soft and mushy,” Irving said. “You feel like you’re vulnerable for them,” echoed Teshome.

Others pointed out that authentic love has an element of privacy to it, but the public nature of high schools makes this difficult. “It’s hard to achieve, because everybody wants to be in your business, everybody wants to know what’s going on,” Barber said.

“I don’t really see that love factor in a lot of relationships at Wilson. You’re more obsessed with the person than you actually care for their feelings,” added Watkins, explaining that people might pursue a relationship for the sake of their image, or because they find someone physically appealing, rather than wanting to be with someone out of love.

“There’s a deeper meaning, more than what they look like. You have to know what they’re like on the inside.”