Published on June 13th, 2022 | by Diana Whitney


Close Encounters of the Third Base Kind

“Mommy, what’s French kissing?” A. asked in the bath, her curtains of hair draping into the bubbles, gazelle legs reaching nearly to the drain. At nine, she radiated a solemn curiosity, unashamed to question.

C. looked up at me expectantly, her sturdy body snuggled on my lap like a seal pup. This was the only way we could squeeze in the tub together: a tight interlock of female limbs.  I didn’t know that it would be one of our last three-way baths, that soon A. would choose to shower alone.

“French kissing is kissing with your tongue,” I explained. C. immediately stuck hers out, mimed lapping my face like an eager puppy.

“No, not like that. More like… this.” I traced some tongue swirls in the air. “But imagine two people doing it inside each other’s mouths.”

A. stared at me. “That’s disgusting,” she said, in a low voice reserved for Brussels sprouts and rodent entrails left by the cats. “Why would people want to do that?”

I sighed in relief. My oldest was still innocent, my big-eyed girl who’d lately been noticing her appearance, donning a bluebird-print tunic dress for school picture day, legs bare in purple clogs. Even though she choreographed sassy dances to Lorde and wanted her ears pierced ASAP, she was still repulsed by the thought of making out. Thank you, gentle goddess of puberty.

“Yeah, it can be gross,” I agreed, remembering Nate Griffin in sixth grade slow-dancing me behind the boiler at Tiffany Hall’s co-ed birthday party. Madonna crooned “Crazy For You,” my favorite song du jour. My hands found purchase on the slick fabric of Nate’s parachute pants as he laced his arms around my neck, the furnace rumbling like a hungry barn animal.

I’d had one soft lip-kiss before, but this was new territory. Nate’s tongue marched wetly into my mouth and surveyed the landscape, explored my molars and palate, dove towards my throat. Shocked, I tried to play along and pretend I didn’t mind, until Jason Salazar jumped from the shadows and we broke apart to the sound of his cackling.

Back in the bath, C. kept trying to kiss me on the mouth. I remembered our kindergarten bedtimes when she begged me to touch tongues. Given the chance, I knew she’d do it again. I steadied my hands on her shoulders.

Light-skinned face with small happy face stickers all over, including one on the subject's protruding tongue
Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

“Actually, French kissing can be nice with the right person,” I said. “When you like them, and they like you.” This was my lame attempt to pass on sex-positive vibes to my girls while simultaneously stalling any precocious tendencies.  

A. flashed me a skeptical smile. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”  

C. clambered off my lap then and out of the tub, stood dripping bare-bellied before the mirror with the hairbrush. I got a nagging feeling there was something I’d forgotten, some crucial omission to our conversation.  

Oh, yes. A warning.

“You guys know you can always say no to kissing, right?” C. kept brushing her hair, hyper-focused on the mirror, pretending not to hear me. A. gazed intently down at her knees.

“You can always say no to someone if you don’t like what they’re doing—or if it just feels wrong.  If it feels wrong, it is wrong!” I proclaimed brightly, quoting a mantra from a famous California yoga teacher I once studied with, a line I’d repeated to my students during class, encouraging them to practice ahimsa (non-harming) in the postures while trusting the wisdom of their bodies.  

If it feels wrong, it is wrong… A new-age twist on the Bob Dylan song: “I’ve been shooting in the dark too long, When something’s not right, it’s wrong.”

This sounded so clear and simple when sung to acoustic guitar, so black and white when alone on a yoga mat, but I’d lived the gray borderland between arousal and threat and knew that landscape could morph quickly from pleasure to dread.

I sat up tall in the bath and tried again to spread the gospel of sexual empowerment to my daughters, but I felt fake as Nancy Reagan in 1986 preaching “Just Say No” with her bright white smile.  

“You can always walk away,” I said. “You’re in control, you get to decide what to do with your own body.”  

A. wouldn’t look at me and C. traipsed out of the bathroom in her striped towel. I was preaching this shit even though I knew it wasn’t true, even though I’d lived the myriad ambiguities of desire and risk and been caught in places from which there was no walking away—not just Tiffany’s basement but Andy Fisher’s bedroom when I was 14, when he asked me if I wanted to “try something new.” He was a senior—I was in love with him. What else could I say but yes?


We called him TTW, my best friend Jenny and I, writing notes in ninth grade Earth Science. TTW for The Tall Wonder, all 6’2” of him striding down the Senior corridor in his acid-washed denim jacket, a mop of dirty blonde hair in his eyes.

Because I worshiped him from afar, I didn’t realize he was deemed a nerd by his classmates, obsessed with Rush and Monty Python, playing lead trombone in Jazz Band.  I watched him roar into the parking lot in his silver VW Vanagon, listened to him belt out the bass line in chorus from my station among the altos. I memorized his schedule and lived for rare glimpses in the halls. I assumed he didn’t know I was alive.


The only thing more boring than Earth Science was Double Earth Science, which Jen and I had dubbed “Double Blab”: a full 86 minutes of Mr. Gill lecturing us on igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock. We took half-hearted notes while doodling girls’ faces in the margins—dozens of doe-eyed, heart-shaped nymphs with puffy hair and rosebud lips.  

During one particularly interminable Double Blab, we created a secret shorthand for sexual contact, our own personal revision of the base system. We designated letters for genitalia, the body parts we could not speak. We found these abbreviations hilarious, and they served us well when we recounted our exploits.  For example, in a sequence of notes passed back and forth:

JEN:  I saw Ponyboy this weekend

ME: What happened? Tell me everything.

JEN:  The usual. TB, KB, then my mom came home. Grrrr.

ME:  Did you TP? (accompanied by a little sketch)

JEN: No! Gross!

At 14, I was frustrated by the immature Nerd Herd guys in my year. There were the two Brians: short and scrawny, enthralled with prank calls and the Violent Femmes. Then the large and boisterous Chad Gutzman, AKA “Slubs,” a joker who salivated over anything exuding estrogen. And of course, the freckled, sarcastic Grover Nash, who’d ignored me since we’d kissed during Truth or Dare in a hayloft during a junior high birthday party, a smooch I’d clearly savored more than he had.

These were my only options, until I went out for the Nordic ski team in ninth grade and TTW was the captain. Soon I found myself wearing spandex tights gliding in front of him down a ski trail in Woodford, Vermont. Then I found myself invited to a senior party at his house and going for a “walk” in the bitter air until we were making out under fierce January stars, our puffy coats crushed together, my cold hands finding bare skin along the waistband of his jeans.


Thus began my double life as a girl madly in love who masqueraded as an ordinary freshman taking notes on shale. Jenny could not believe I was going out with TTW and I felt suddenly reluctant to divulge our intimacies. TTW, being 18, was no longer a virgin.  He had lost it junior year with a North Adams State College student named Danielle, in her dorm room after a cast party for Godspell. They’d been co-stars together and she’d taught him everything he knew about the carnal arts.

I was raging jealous of the mature and experienced Danielle, who had dark curls and big breasts and still called TTW to chat on occasion, even though he insisted there was nothing between them anymore and I had the better body anyways. I tried to channel my jealousy into passionate hours of making out in the Vanagon to the drumbeats of Rush, or rolling around in my underwear in TTW’s basement den.  

We’d already established that he would not take my virginity. I was 14, and he considered himself a gentleman. Plus my parents had sat me down and given me a talk about sexual intimacy, listing the reasons why I was too young. I can’t remember any of them now, but somehow they’d made an impression.

“No intercourse” became a point of honor for TTW, a line he would not cross no matter how hard I tried to persuade him. Given his chivalry, it was only fair to expect I would do Everything But. Louder Than Bombs spun on the basement turntable, The Smiths’ double album with its enigmatic lyrics of longing. TTW had indoctrinated me into the best 80s music, playing The Smiths, The Cure, and The Psychedelic Furs until I eschewed my old pop heroines, Madonna and Cyndi Lauder, their songs now revealed as childish and trivial. 

Cassette tape against a red background. Loose tape unspooling from the top forms a heart shape.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Now Morrissey crooned in his New Wave British lilt: “If there’s something you’d like to try, ask me I won’t say no, how could I?” I wrote those lyrics in rounded cursive all over my Earth Science notebook. 

“Ask Me” was our theme song, and effortlessly we rounded the bases—TB, KB, TV, and TP. Ski season turned into track season and damp spring smells rose from the earth. I’d promised my parents I wouldn’t go to TTW’s house when his parents weren’t home, but they were both professors and rarely home, and how would my folks find out anyway? 

When track practice ended early one April afternoon, the Vanagon was waiting for me. TTW drove me to his house, where we dropped our backpacks in the hall and locked the door to his upstairs bedroom. The actual room where he slept, humid and pungent, boy-laundry heaped on the floor. A bed instead of the cramped backseat, cool sheets instead of basement rug-burn. We made out and I twined around his warm body in my panties, happy to fool around with the usual ardor, skin on skin, testing the boundaries with no intention of crossing them, until TTW stopped and looked at me.

“Hey,” he said, suddenly serious. “Do you want to try something new?”

“Like what?” My voice squeaked, betraying me. 

“Like you giving me a blowjob?”

Pause. Images of Danielle the femme fatale, expert at fellatio, spun like a film reel through my mind. My heart thunked with adrenaline. There was only one answer to this question.

“Um, sure… But… I don’t know how.”

“That’s okay,” TTW smiled. “I’ll tell you exactly what to do.” He kissed me for reassurance, a deep, sensual kiss—reminding me that we were in love, that we’d already planned our wedding and named our three children, that I definitely owed him this favor. 

I didn’t want to do it. Every cell in my body didn’t want to do it. But he sprung his P free from his white BVDs, slid the briefs down his legs and kicked them away. Hoping to appear nonchalant, I tucked my hair behind my ears, scooched on my knees to the foot of the bed, closed my eyes, and got ready to SP.

As promised, he’d guided me step by step while I worked to follow his instructions. I felt flustered being so close to his P; I couldn’t even say the word, after all. Squeamish at the musky smell of it, the wiry pubes, embarrassed by my own lack of skill, my feeble attempt at playing the siren, I couldn’t relax and enjoy anything. 

And I literally could not breathe. When I gagged and had to stop and start over, humiliation flushed every cell of my face. Thirty years later, what remains from that day is the sense of being suffocated.  


Afterwards, TTW reported to his spiky-haired friends in the punk band that I’d used my teeth too much, “kind of like masturbating with a fork.” I knew he’d already told them about the size of my breasts (“small grapefruits”) but I hadn’t minded that so much. Now the shame of his buddies knowing about the subpar blowjob felt worse than the act itself. 


Could I have changed my mind and said No

Not in that room, not with that boy. It was a question of power and sexual entitlement, his 18 years to my 14, legally not of age to consent. How can a teenage girl know her own desire and honor her own pleasure? How can I teach my daughters to speak their minds when I could not do so myself?

Third base with TTW wasn’t violent, but it left a residue of degradation over future relationships. Even in college, in love with my gentle poet-boyfriend, I felt trapped and self-conscious during oral sex. By then I’d seen enough porn to know what I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t mimic those silicone sex-kittens deep-throating with ease. My jaw ached, my eyes watered, I hacked up hairs caught in my gullet.

“That’s why they call it a job,” said my friend Heather, years later. “I won’t do it—unless he goes downtown first.” 

To his credit, TTW also believed in sexual equality. Several times in ninth grade, he slid down my panties and lapped at my vulva with genuine enthusiasm. This was reciprocation, right? I should have been grateful, over the moon with ecstasy. But I felt shy about my body and uncomfortable with a boy’s face between my legs, maybe because of my secret queerness. I longed for intimacy with other girls but could not admit it to myself or anyone. I was performing heterosexuality, always conscious of looking “sexy.”

I watched my awkward self from above, arching my back in a simulation of pleasure. I uttered obligatory moans and faked a few orgasms to appease him, but never really loosened up and enjoyed oral, not like our extended make-out sessions. What I loved most was kissing, necking, grinding topless in jeans, stripping down to underwear and bare skin, twining arms and legs in endorphin-fueled fever made hotter by the knowledge that we had to stop. That’s all I wanted at age 14. Not SP. Not KV. 

No one said the word “consent” in the ‘80s. We learned about sex from crass movies like Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, hijinks about high school boys eager to lose their virginity. Looking back on my secret ninth-grade shorthand, I see that even the baseball analogy was flawed, a tired, hetero-patriarchal construct where guys get to “score” and female body parts are stops on the way to the final destination, the goal being to hit a home run, like Meatloaf rounding the bases in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” When Bull Durham came out in 1988 (the year I got down on my knees for TTW,) Susan Sarandon linked baseball and sex with the mysteries of the universe. Even as a teen, I identified with her character Annie Savoy, a strong passionate woman who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to take it. But I didn’t know how to advocate for myself.


Now my girls are pre/teens, I talk so often about consent they roll their eyes. 

“Mom, STOP. We already know this,” they say.

Still I make them watch a cute little YouTube video on consent and sing along to its theme song: “No means No/ Maybe doesn’t mean Yes/ Yes means yes/ Yes once won’t mean yes every single time…” 

It’s catchy, but it feels too simple. Communicating desire and boundaries during a sexual encounter is a varsity-level skill. Today’s sex educators advocate for clear, enthusiastic, continuous consent, and I think I believe in that ideal. But this concept wasn’t imaginable when I was in high school. I was mute for so much of my early sex life, I feel unqualified to teach my girls how to navigate theirs. 


If only there were more options on the menu. What if it wasn’t a baseball diamond but a buffet to pick and choose, with dishes centered on female pleasure? What if PornTube culture didn’t portray a linear path to PIV (as sex-advice guru Dan Savage calls penis-in-vagina intercourse)? The queer sex I had with my girlfriends in college and after liberated me, temporarily, from this model. But I still remained quiet in bed with them. Blame it on my struggle to articulate what I liked. Blame it on internalized homophobia, how hard it was to relax with someone else, or how good I’d become at being my own lover, taking my own pleasure into my two hands.


“My body, my choice, Mom,” C. quips now that she is 12, usually when she wants to wear a thong bathing suit that makes my eyebrows raise. I love hearing her say these words, even in jest. May she be able to summon them when she’s behind closed doors.

When I tell A., now 14, that I had a senior boyfriend in 9th grade, she shakes her head. “You were 14 and your parents let you date him?” She doesn’t think this would happen today. Her eyes shine with the light of strange knowledge, like my life is a kind of sci-fi movie, a distant fiction with special effects that have no relation to her.

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About the Author

Diana Whitney writes across the genres in Vermont with a focus on feminism, motherhood, and sexuality. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, The Kenyon Review, and many more. Her poetry debut, Wanting It, won the Rubery Book Award, and her inclusive anthology, You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, was released to critical acclaim, became a YA bestseller, and won the 2022 Claudia Lewis Award. Diana received a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new project, Girl Trouble. She works as an editor and writing coach. Find out more: .

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