Relationships at Sleepaway Camp

First of all, not everyone is having sex. But if you’re thinking about hooking up over the summer, read this first.

You’re counting down the days until sleepaway camp. Not only will you be reunited with friends from last summer, but the person you were crushing on is going to be back at camp too. You may be wondering whether your relationship will pick up where it left off. Will the other person have changed? Now that you’re both a year older, will things get more physical? Maybe you’ll even decide to have sex. After all, most teens lose their virginity at sleepaway camp, right?

Not exactly. It may seem like everyone is doing it, but according to the National Center for Health Statistics, less than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 are having sex.  And although TV shows and movies like to play up the school’s-out-for-summer romance theme, the truth is that you can’t force a relationship in the summertime more than any other season of the year.

Of course, if you do meet someone at camp, it’s a nice chance to start a relationship without all the extracurricular obligations you face when you’re in school. But there are a couple of things to consider before you jump headfirst into a summer romance.

See the Big Picture

Summer relationships can be a whirlwind of emotions. The fact that you only have a short period of time together can make the romance feel more intense and cause it to progress faster than it would during the school year. Keep in mind that at the end of the summer, you and the person you’re seeing will go separate ways and long-distance relationships don’t always work.

It’s possible that once you return to your “normal” lives, the feelings you had for each other during the summer might fade. That’s why it’s important to think through the decisions you make at sleepaway camp carefully. “If you are not sure that you want to engage in a certain behavior, the best thing to do is wait until you’re ready,” says Dan Rice, M.Ed., the director of training at Answer, a sex education organization at Rutgers University.

On the other hand, if you are curious about exploring certain things sexually, and neither of you is too concerned whether the relationship will last past the summer, this could be your chance to try things out and learn about what you like (and don’t like) without stressing over any repercussions.

Talk About It

The decision whether or not to hook up at sleepaway camp is yours to make—but you might feel more confident in whatever you choose if you share the idea with friends or someone you trust first. Camp counselors can be useful sounding boards: They understand that sleepaway camp is a time to try out new things, and many will have their own experience and advice to share. They are also an important resource if you’re experiencing any unwanted pressure to have sex. (On the other hand, if your camp has strict rules against campers hooking up, it might be better not to drag your counselor into the mix, as this puts them in a tough spot.)

If you feel like you’re ready to have sex, you need to talk about it with your partner first—even if the discussion is totally awkward. “It can be uncomfortable and make you want to laugh and giggle—and that’s OK. But it’s a necessary thing to talk about,” says Brittany McBride, senior program manager of sexuality education at Advocates for Youth. Talking about sex will help both of you figure out if you’re on the same page. It also shows that you respect the other person’s emotions and health, says Rice.

Bringing the topic up is the hardest part of the conversation. It might help to know that the other person is likely thinking about similar things and has similar questions. You could say: “I feel weird bringing this up, but I like you and I was wondering what you think about sex—is it something you are interested in?” Once you bring it up, really listen to the other person’s response. Having sex requires both people’s consent, meaning you both agree to be intimate without feeling pressured or forced into it. To gain consent, you could say, “Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” 

Use Protection

You don’t want to get a sunburn or poison ivy at sleepaway camp—and you definitely don’t want to get an STD or find yourself or your partner pregnant. Any conversation about having sex needs to involve a discussion about what kind of protection you’ll use, such as a condom, dental dam, IUD, and the pill.

Know the Rules

It’s not unusual for sleepaway camps to prohibit campers from having sex. Before you decide to hook up at camp, know what you are allowed—and not allowed—to do, and consider if it’s worth it. After all, some camps send campers home over this, which means not only will you not be hooking up, you won’t even be around the other person for the rest of the summer! The decision is yours to make—just make sure it’s the one you want.

Special thanks to our experts:

Brittany McBride, Senior Program Manager, Sexuality Education, Advocates for Youth
Dan Rice, M.Ed., Director of Training, Answer, Rutgers University

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