You’ve heard everything in this letter before, and so I can already see in your eyes the dull look and hear your steady voice, “I know, Mom. You said that already.” Because you’re almost a teenager and it’s practically your job to know everything already.
I am going to say it again anyway, because it’s practically my job to be repetitive and annoying. And more importantly, I’ve realized, again, just how many messages you will hear, how many you DO hear, every day, that contradict what we want you to know. So many of these messages come from well-meaning adults who are trying to do the best they can. Unfortunately, in some ways, that makes the messages more damaging because they are so sincere.
So I am going to put what I want you to know, about sex and girls, all in one place, for you to refer to when you get confused. Here it is.
1. You are responsible for you.
2. Girls are people. No matter what.
3. Your body is a sacred temple.
4. So is hers. And his. And hers. And everyone else’s, too.
5. You own your body. It belongs to you. And hers belongs to her. And his belongs to him.
6. You are responsible for you.
Let’s break that down a bit.
1. You are responsible for you. Nobody can make you say or do anything, and nobody has the right to force you to say or do anything. No matter how annoying your 5-year-old brother is, no matter how persuasive your 14-year-old friend is, no matter how much older or wiser your teacher is, not one of them has the right or the ability to MAKE you: Yell, ride your bike recklessly, believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Nobody has the right or the ability to make you disrespect somebody else, forget your manners, or your wallet. Apparently, nobody has the right or the ability to make you put your toothbrush away or take a bath once in a while, but that’s another matter for another post.
2. Girls are people. No matter what. You’re going to see a lot of things in your life. Some of them I’m going to wish you could unsee, but you can’t. And that’s okay. Some of those non-unseeable pictures are going to have girls or women in them, and some of those girls and women are going to be striking poses that stir a sensation in your body that is hard to describe and maybe a little embarrassing to talk about. So I’m going to tell you what it’s about: Those are sex hormones. And they’re normal. And: You are responsible for you. When you see those girls posing in “sexy” ways, you have a choice. And you are going to choose to remember that they are people. No matter what. And people are worthy of: Respect, love, cherishing. Even the ones who are maybe not behaving particularly well right this minute or in that particular picture. Behind those eyes is a mind worth knowing. Inside that body is a spirit worth respecting. Which leads us to the next point.
3. Your body is the sacred temple of your soul. What happens to your body affects your soul. Remember that your body is sacred. Treat it with respect. Approach sex as the holy, intimate, life-changing act that it is.
4. So is hers. And his. And hers. And everyone’s. Remember the soul inside that body. When those stirrings happen, remember.
5. You own your own body. And she owns hers. We’ve talked about consent. This is where that comes in. Nobody has the right to do anything ANYTHING to your body without your consent. This becomes really important when you get close to someone and start thinking sex-related thoughts. She does not have the right to touch you without your consent–and you don’t have the right to touch her without hers. And by the way, “no” means “no,” obviously. But it’s not enough. Know this: ANYTHING OTHER THAN YES means “no.” Anything other than “YES” means “NO.” ANYTHING other than yes means NO. Anything other than YES, offered willingly, with knowledge and understanding, and in her right mind, with full power to say “no,” means NO.
6. You are responsible for you. Yes, it comes back to this, doesn’t it. Because you are going to see, hear, and be exposed to lots of things that your doting mother has absolutely no control over. And that’s okay, because YOU have control over YOU. When you see those sexy pictures of girls and women online, you get to choose. You can skim past them and ignore them. You can drool over them. You can call them ugly names or judge them for being promiscuous. You can look at them and see a human being. You can skim past them and think to yourself, “I wonder what that girl is like really, under all the fake poses?” You choose. Choose wisely.
Dear son. You have made so many, many wise choices in your life. You genuinely care about other people, and that is the proudest thing I can think to say about you. It is the most important thing you can do.
And you have also made a few unwise choices. We all do. That’s why I also want you to know:
7. YOU GET FOREVER CHANCES. And so does everyone else. Don’t ever think that just because a girl, or a guy, or anyone, has done dumb things–posted sexy pictures online, gotten drunk, or any other thoughtless or irresponsible thing–that they are any less loved by God or any less worthy of YOUR love because of their choices. You don’t have to be friends with people who are making bad choices–in fact, often the best thing is to distance yourself until they make better choices. But don’t forget that they are still worthy of love and respect. And someday, when they get their act together again and start making better choices, you can help them remember that they are worthy, by showing them how much you love and respect them.
Listen. I love you. Forever. No matter what. I hope you’ll remember everything in this letter. Put it into practice. I’m going to be pretty upset with you if you do something really dumb, like ignoring these principles. And I also want you to know that whatever happens, whatever you do, I will always always love you. Even when I’m mad at you. You get forever chances too, honey.
P.S. If I had teenage girls who were starting to like boys “that way,” I would write them this exact same letter. Only it would say, “Letter to My Teenage Daughter About Boys and Sex,” and I might replace the pronouns. Maybe. The pronouns don’t really matter, do they?