To my young daughter, when you’re a teenage girl:
I have some information that might interest you. Sometimes, really troublesome things are disguised as earnest concern, and really subjective things are disguised as True Facts. And so, I want to share a few things with you to always keep in mind when you’re reading things, experiencing things, talking to people, and just existing as a person and a woman in the world.
- You are valuable and worthy of love. This is true no matter what you do or say. This is true no matter how you dress, what your sexual preferences may be, how many people you have sex with, and no matter how many mistakes you may make. Your worth is inherent; that means nobody can take it away from you and you can’t do things to lose it. People won’t always recognize this worth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Usually, when they try to reduce you, it’s because they doubt their own worth.
- Sex is fun, and you will want to do it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. People like to keep this little tidbit from you because they’re afraid you’ll run out to give it a whirl the moment it’s possible. I can understand that fear. I’m afraid you’ll do that, too, but I’m not going to lie to you to keep you from it. Sex has the potential to be really fun, pleasurable, spiritual, and powerful. It also has the potential to be risky, emotionally harmful, physically harmful, and completely life-changing. The bottom line is, sex is a big responsibility, and our bodies are ready for sex way before our minds are ready for it. My job is NOT to quash your sexuality until you’re emotionally ready to have sex. (A lot of people try that, though.) My job is to help you find healthy expressions of your sexuality at each stage of your development. I try to be proactive in that regard, but know that I will always, always be available to listen and help. Women get an especially hard time for liking and seeking sex, but that’s some bullshit. Ignore it.
- Your sexuality is your own and nobody else’s. If you’re gay, bisexual, transsexual, pansexual, asexual, or any-other-sexual, that is your business and only yours. If being tied up and having the C volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica repeatedly slammed shut on your nipples lights your fire, then you should do that. Lots of other people will try to make your sexuality their domain, but you should ignore them. When you’re truly ready, have as much sex as you want of whatever flavor you like. There are really only two rules: be safe (physically and emotionally), and “harm ye none.” Sex should always be consensual, voluntary, and enthusiastic. If it’s not, wait for another time or someone else.
- Other people’s sexuality is not your domain. Now, this means you shouldn’t judge others for their sexuality, however weird it may seem to you. But it also means you’re not responsible for other people’s sexual decision-making. That means it is never, ever your fault if someone does not respect your humanity, your boundaries, and your consent or lack thereof. You have never “earned” disregard, objectification, or abuse. Ever. It is not your job to engineer your behavior or your appearance to prevent people from doing or thinking things they shouldn’t. If someone reduces you to an object instead of a person, that’s because of a flaw in their character — not because of you, your clothing, your sexual history, or any other ridiculous thing they might claim it’s about. Do not tolerate people who treat you like a piece of meat or like something that exists solely for their use. Not only do you deserve better, but those people are almost always lousy friends and horrible in the sack. Seriously. It’s never worth it to put up with that shit.
- There is a lot of temptation out there to do things that aren’t healthy. Women get a lot of messages from society that make us think most of our value lies in our appearance. This makes it really tempting to compulsively seek confirmation that we are, in fact, the sexy beasts that we are. This takes lots of forms: posting revealing or otherwise sexy photos on social media, sending sexy photos privately, becoming overly focused on our appearance, falling for guys who are actually assholes but who make us feel pretty or sexy or otherwise useful in some way. The validation feels good, for sure. But the cost can be incredibly high. Ultimately, we want to attract and surround ourselves with people who appreciate us for everything we are — our minds, our personalities, our quirks, our abilities and talents. And that’s why we need to focus on those things, invest in them and share them with the world. When we put only a tiny piece of ourselves out there (like our bodies), that’s all we give others the opportunity to appreciate. Before you hit post or send, think to yourself: is this representative of who I really am and who I want to be? What am I hoping to gain from this interaction, and is it healthy? Could this come back to haunt me? But you know what? If you screw up once or twice or more, welcome to the club. We all seek validation in ways that aren’t the healthiest for us sometimes. It doesn’t make you a slut, a whore, or an evil succubus. It makes you human. Learn from it, grow from it, hold your head high and keep moving forward.
You are so much more than your body. Know it, believe it, repeat it to yourself whenever you’re in doubt, and flip a big flaming f-bird to anybody who doesn’t see that. They don’t earn the right to be in your life, so don’t let them get into your head, either. Be you — all of you — and you’ll find everything you need.