Some really horrible things happened to someone who could be one of your friends, and it was done by some people who could be your friends. You’re 11 and almost-8 now, so the incident that made me write this letter isn’t something you’ve heard about, but this stuff keeps happening, unfortunately. So I need to talk to you about it.
First of all, I know we talk all the time about how special your bodies are, and how you’re the only one who gets to decide what to do with your body. I’ve never made you put anything in your mouth that you didn’t want to, or touch anyone you didn’t want to, or talk to anyone you didn’t want to, because I wanted you to understand that you and you alone control your boundaries. We worked on blowing a kiss so you could show that you liked someone without having to touch them, and high fives if you were ok touching them but only with your hand. We talked all the time about not letting people tell you that what you wanted was wrong or that they knew better, and that you should always always tell your dad or grandma or me if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable.
And we talk all the time about making sure that if you’re touching someone else that they want you to be touching them. That if they say “No” you have to stop right away (even if it’s just fake-punching your brother) and that even if they aren’t saying “No” you need to make sure they’re still enjoying it. You know how sometimes you like to be tickled and sometimes you don’t? Well, everyone’s like that, so even if they liked it when you did it yesterday, you should still make sure they really want you to today, whatever kind of touching it is.
Now I’m going to talk about sex. I know you know “how it works” because we’ve been talking about it ever since you two were little, since before you could read, and you know all about sperm and eggs and penises and vaginas and vulvas and orgasms and condoms and all that. And I know I told you it feels good and you had a hard time seeing how that could be true but took my word for it. Well, the thing I didn’t tell you is that it feels unbelievably amazing when you’re doing it with someone who really wants to be doing it with you. Like, better than popcorn followed by ice cream, or a Supah Ninjas marathon, or two snow days in a row. You know how excited I get when I get a new pair of shoes? It’s like 500 times better than that, when the person you’re doing it with is so excited to be doing it with you that they start asking you for it.
This is what I want you to wait for. I want you to wait to have sex until the person you’re with asks you for it. Tells you they need you now, and that they can’t wait, and they want it. Calls you by your name and asks for it.
If you’re ever in a situation in which someone is asking you for it and you don’t want to have sex with that person, don’t do it. And if you’re ever in a situation in which you want to have sex but the other person doesn’t ask you for it, don’t do it. It’s only good if you both want it, and can tell each other you want it, and are sure you both want it. Otherwise someone’s going to get hurt. And romance is weird enough without hurting other people when you can stop yourself (and you can always stop yourself — that goes along with having opposable thumbs).
This letter is almost over but this next part is super-important: Not everyone you know has been taught all the stuff we’ve talked about. You are going to know people, and maybe even be friends with people, who think it’s ok to hurt other people in a lot of ways. One of those ways is sex. I know you’re going to hear other boys say things about girls, or sometimes about other boys, that means they don’t care about those girls’ feelings or bodies. When you do, I need you to step in. All you have to do is say something like, “Dude, that’s not cool” or something that lets the person saying something nasty know that it’s not ok. Remember that everyone wants to fit in. If you can take control of the mood in the room by letting them know nasty talk isn’t ok, they’ll stop so they don’t look like an idiot.
Remember how we talk all the time about how we’re the people who help, who fix things when there’s a problem or someone’s in trouble? You may get the chance to do that someday. Because those boys who say nasty things about girls may actually do something to those girls. If you are ever anywhere where boys start hurting a girl, or touching her in any way that she doesn’t want, you need to step in. If she’s asleep or drunk or passed out or drugged and can’t say “no,” you need to step in. Remember, it’s not good unless both people can say they want it. If a girl isn’t saying anything, that doesn’t mean she wants it. If she isn’t saying specifically that she wants it, then it’s wrong.
Here’s how you should step in:
1. If it’s safe for you to say something, say something. In a loud, commanding voice, tell the guy who’s doing it to stop, and make sure he knows it’s not ok and he can’t be an asshole (sorry to curse, but by the time you’re in this situation you’ll be cursing, too). Then help the girl get to someplace safe, and call her parents. (Even if she thinks she’s going to get in trouble, call her parents. If they’re mad at her, I can talk to them and take care of it.)
2. If it’s not safe for you to say something, leave the room quietly and calmly and call me. I do not care if you’re someplace you’re not supposed to be, or not the place you told me you were, or in Canada or someplace that would normally get you in a lot of trouble. You get immunity if you’re calling for help. My phone is always on, and it does not matter what time of day or night it is. If I don’t pick up right away, call your dad, and the same immunity rules apply. Call one of us and give us the address of where you are and we will come help. Then hang up and call 911. Tell them the address and that there’s an assault going on. They might want you to stay on the line with them until the police get there.
3. Even if you don’t like the girl, step in. Even if she’s been mean to you or snobby, or someone told you she did something you think is gross. No matter what she did, no one should hurt her. If you step in, the next day you can go back to hating her. If you don’t step in, well, how are you any different from the loser who’s hurting her? You know who you are. Step in.
4. Do not worry that everyone will hate you if you stop the cool kids from doing something. Stopping someone from hurting another person makes you a hero. This is what you’re here to do. And if there are people who don’t like it, screw them. Your dad and I will do anything it takes to make sure that anyone who doesn’t like your being a hero stays away from you and keeps their mouths shut.
We have been practicing for this for a long time, for being the ones who help. Remember when we were in the middle of the knife fight on the subway and we got the other mom and kid out of the way? Remember when we helped my friend move away from her scary husband? Remember all those times we took pictures of those freaky dudes staring at the little kids at the playground? We’ve been practicing to step in and help someone else. You can do it. I have faith in you.