Hey kid. You’re at an age where I’m pretty sure you’re about to have sex soon, or actually, you might even already be having it and you’re just *that* good at keeping it from me. I don’t really fret over that because I trust you. And because I trust myself and the job I’ve done as your parent all these years. Talking or joking about sex was never an uncomfortable, taboo topic in our house, and we’ve talked about protection, about your responsibility for it, about teen pregnancy, about abortion, about sexually transmitted diseases, about the role masturbation plays in keeping one from entering less-than-ideal relationships. We’ve talked about the girls you like, and I’ve always made sure to ask what it is about her personality that does it for you (is she smart? is she hilarious? confident? do you read the same kind of books or does she have different tastes? is she a gamer, too?) and her looks have never been the thing we focus on.
We’ve also talked about rape and about rape culture. I’ve tried to show you how this pervasive attitude exists toward women as objects, or at best, supporting characters in a man’s adventure. And that even though that isn’t your fault and you didn’t make the world that way, allowing yourself to be a passive beneficiary of that dynamic is unacceptable. That you must be one of the many people to challenge that, to keep pushing on the outer membrane of this limited paradigm we live in until you’ve either moved us all somewhere else or you’ve broken through it. You must trust that if you are doing so in your little area, someone else is doing it in theirs, and another in theirs, and so on. Other mothers and fathers are teaching this to their sons and daughters somewhere.
And yet, the reality is that even with everything I’ve taught you, you are still capable of committing rape. Not because you’re some kind of testosterone-driven monster on the inside, but because you’re at the center of swirling variables and messages.
You are friends with boys whose parents may or may not have taught their sons to respect women in the way you’ve learned. If those guys don’t respect women, I want you to be their thought leader. Show them a better way. Don’t laugh when they make a disrespectful joke or cat call. Lead by example. If you witness one of them objectifying a woman, make it clear (especially in front of that woman, if you can) that you think it’s utter bullshit. Females need to see that, even if it’s only a little at a time, guys are evolving.
You receive messaging that suggests the guys you want to emulate are the ones who are getting laid. But the pressure to be “that guy” is what leads to so many bad judgment calls, judgment calls that end up with a girl raped or otherwise violated. Daisy Coleman in Missouri was lured, along with her friend, to a school mate’s basement, loaded up with alcohol, raped, and then dumped unconscious to freeze to death in her yard. So was her friend. They were 13 and 14. That’s just slightly older than your little sister.
I’d like to get inside the minds of those boys in that basement. They were hanging out together, probably for the umpteenth time, bored, and thought, “there are no girls here, this sucks.” It DOES suck when there are no girls around and it’s a total sausage fest. NOT because then there’s no one to use for release of physiological needs, but because women can be awesome and funny and smart and bring something to a party or situation that is missing if it’s only dudes. Women are valuable people for reasons other than owning boobs and a vagina. But that wasn’t what those boys had in mind. They actually called this girl and planned to get her so messed up that they could use her as entertainment. And not one of the boys there had the courage to push back against whatever fucked up thing in their head made them interested in this (maybe because they wanted to see if real sex measured up to what they see in porn?). They didn’t have the courage to push back against that in themselves, and they certainly didn’t have the courage to make their friends stop.
I’d like to think that would never, could never be you. I think better of you and better of your friends to think it would. But the reality is that all human beings are susceptible to momentary lapses of character and judgment, and in groups, it’s even more likely. More than anything, I want you to internalize this truth: it’s okay if you don’t get laid tonight. Or tomorrow night. It’s okay if you DO get laid and it’s with a girl who truly enjoyed herself, too, but then it’s okay if she doesn’t sleep with you again. It’s okay if it’s another year or more before you have sex with anyone again. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. What’s way more important than getting laid is pretty much everything. But specifically, you have core values that will always trump getting laid. Like protecting people. Like looking at every situation and determining what your best role is in it. Like rooting for the underdog and not siding with the people who have power in a given scenario.
Those parts of you are why I think you will always be better than any pressure you experience to “get laid.”
But because not enough kids get a roadmap, I’m going to give you one.
Here’s how you can rule out sleeping with someone:
1. She’s hammered.
2. She seems unsure if she wants to (you should never have to talk anyone into it).
3. She’s passed out.
4. It seems like there’s any other reason she might regret it in the morning. (Even if it’s not rape, do you really want to be someone’s morning-after regret, when instead they can remember you as a total gentleman?)
Here’s how you can be sure it’s okay to proceed with sex:
1. She is in control of her faculties.
2. She is enthusiastically willing.
3. Check in with her! “Do you want to be doing this?” is a great thing to ask when things are going to another sexual level. The worst thing that will happen is she’ll rethink it and say, no, she’s actually not ready. It’s important at that point to pivot to doing something else together, and not make her feel guilty for changing her mind. While that may feel like a bummer to you in the moment, what you’ve just achieved there is fucking badass. You’ve just put someone else’s feelings ahead of your physiological needs. You’ve just treated somebody the way you hope another guy would treat your sister.
All of this is to say, I actually think you’ve got this. You’re going to do great things in the world as you fully inhabit your manhood, and I think the integrity you’re made of is going to come through in all kinds of situations. I really wish you a great, fulfilling sex life where you each mutually benefit and you each come away from it feeling fortified and better for it; not damaged, confused, or disappointed in yourself.
So, if I really think you’ve got this and I really trust you, why did I write this? I wrote all of this out for you because that’s my job. To give you a chance in hell at navigating your way through this crazy, messed up world we live in and maybe even have a little fun while you’re doing it. Sexual power is one of the kinds of power. With great power, comes great responsibility. On the flip side, with no power comes no responsibility (h/t Kickass). And that’s why it’s totally okay if you don’t get laid tonight.
Love and hugs and rainbows and all that,