From the time I was 13 on, I was a promiscuous teen.
I’d like to say that at some point I learned from my mistakes, but after listening to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony during the Kavanaugh hearings, my past came barreling back into the forefront of my brain and it is clear to me that the behaviors I learned in my teens never really ended. They went with me into my 20s, 30s, my marriage, how I parented my daughter. It’s all right there in front of me now. Like a glaring light that I just realized has been on and blinding me my whole life.
Dear All the Men from My Past,
Before your instinct to defend yourself kicks in, it is important for you to know that I don’t blame all of you. I have no desire to live in anger or point fingers. That is not the purpose of this letter.
Please read the above sentences twice…a few times maybe. It’s 100% true. However, do not confuse my desire to live at peace free from anger as my saying that you are negate of any responsibility…there are many of you who I do blame and hold responsible.
Some of you took advantage of a young girl with a substance abuse problem. Some of you were older and thought because I looked and acted older than I was, that it was ok to have sex with me. At least that’s what you said to me: “You’re so mature.” Is that how you justified yourself? Truth is I’m not too sure what would make an 18-year-old have sex with a 13-year-old, or a 19-year-old with a 14-year-old, or a 24-year-old with a 15-year-old. Does it matter to you what the age differences are?
Or those of you who took advantage of me when I was completely inebriated. Mornings when I woke up in an empty bed without pants on, not even really sure who had been in the bed with me. Those of you who took me out and drank with me to excess and then thought it ok to have sex with me, leading up to moments of my coming to, alone in a room at a party, not really sure what had happened at all.
Some of you I cared for and was desperate for you to care for me. Some of you, with whom I shared a mutual sexual desire (or at least as much of one that a young teen can have and understand), I had fun with, only to realize that was all it would ever be. And some of you actually cared about me. Whatever the case may be, past sexual traumas have been shoved in all of our faces these past few weeks, and many of us are reeling from things that we haven’t thought about in years or maybe just swept under the carpet and thought that it wasn’t a big deal, unaware of the daily emotional strife that has been caused from it. I’ve heard situations described that I have experienced in my past, now talked about as violations…and it never occurred to me that they were…until now.
What I want you all to know is that it is a big deal. It has had long lasting ramifications on my self-esteem, my decision making, and my sexual and mental health as an adult. I may not blame all of you for the past, but if another generation of men are raised thinking that this type of sexual behavior is ok, that’s a problem, and one that I do put directly on you. And if another generation of women are raised not knowing how to use their voices, that’s an issue as well and one that you also have a responsibility to rectify.
I was a very confused girl who wanted attention and love. Rarely did I say no. Rarely did I push you away. If I started to say no, I was easily swayed once a bit of pressure was applied. The fact is, I didn’t feel like I could say no. That saying no meant never having love. That it was better to just let you do what you wanted rather than say no. That the way to get love was to be amenable. The way to make you stay was to put out. But none of you ever stayed.
The reason I don’t blame all of you is that we live in a society where I unknowingly was taught to please men and where men (perhaps at times unknowingly as well) have an expectation of women being agreeable to meeting all of their needs without argument. Were my parents direct messengers of this? No. But it was all around me. In magazine images, TV shows and movies. The realization that one of my favorite John Hughes movies portrays date rape never occurred to me until someone wrote a blog post about it last week.
We are being told about blatant attacks, horrendous sexual violations where women feel their lives are in danger, and this type of behavior is obviously abhorrent in a black and white sort of way. However, there is also a huge gray area that needs to be discussed, where women may be confused and not communicating what they feel deeply because of social and sexual pressures. I wanted you to like me. I wanted you to love me. I wanted you to be there and “no” just didn’t seem like an option to get to that outcome. It is important for you to know that I was a terrified girl looking for approval. Is that sexy for you? To know that I was most likely full of doubt, self-loathing, and terror when we had sex? I sure hope not. In your defense, I will say that I never let you know. I never learned that it was ok to use my voice, and it’s something that as a 42-year-old woman I am now having to deal with.
What you did has had a long-term effect on my life. I have had to fight back from a debilitating alcohol problem that increased greatly during my teen years and didn’t stop until I was having suicidal thoughts in my mid-thirties. I still live with daily anxiety battles and grapple with depression at times. We are now learning that these are all issues that women who live with past sexual trauma are more likely to have. And think about this: we are also more likely to pass these horrible behaviors down to our own children.
So, men, here is what I am asking from you:
Talk to your children. Talk to them about sex. Awkward as it may be, it’s only awkward because we make it that way. If they are old enough to ask the questions, they are old enough to get honest answers. Tell them the ways you got it right and the ways you got it wrong. Admit to your mistakes so they know it’s ok to admit to their own.
Tell your boys that if they see a girl drinking heavily throughout the night, it’s not ok to have sex with her, period, even if they’re drinking with her. Tell them that if she’s under 18 and he is over 18, no matter how mature she is, it’s rape. Teach them about what actual consent is and how consent can be sexy because it creates trust.
Teach your boys that cornering girls in parties and trying to forcibly kiss and/or touch them is wrong…yes, even if the girl has a reputation for being "easy". Tell them that if a girl says no and then yes, or yes and then no, that there is conflict brewing inside her and that if there is conflict, sex is not an option. There must be clarity in consent before sex. And please tell them that a proper response to a girl saying yes and then no is NEVER, “can I just finish?”
Teach them that it is not ok to expose themselves to anyone unsolicited, EVER. I didn’t grow up with cell phones but in this case, I am also talking about sending unsolicited photos. Teach them that while engaged in sexual activity, consent needs to be ask for again before trying new things. Teach them about healthy sexual trust and that the real way to please a woman sexually from the beginning is by building that healthy foundation.
All of these things happened to me, most of them more than once. I was a troubled girl and that led to me being a troubled woman for a very long time. I drank and didn’t say no, but that doesn’t mean that any of this was ok…and I am slowly learning that it doesn’t mean it was all my fault. I was a child when I learned these behaviors and they carried into my adulthood.
I also want you to talk to your daughters. Tell them that no matter what, having sex, allowing touching, kissing, oral sex, whatever it may be, none of it will lead to love. None of it will ever make boys stay. That love and trust leads to sex, not the other way around. Tell them that having sex while inebriated can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion, and to make it a rule for themselves that when they are drinking, sex is not an option.
Tell your daughters that if they ever feel pressure to do something that they are not comfortable with, to use their voice because they hold more power than they may think. Teach them that they should be as loud as they want when saying no. That if they feel discomfort in a situation, even if they can’t pinpoint exactly where the discomfort is coming from, that it means something is not right, and therefore it is not the right time to engage in sexual activity. It is ok for them to leave the situation. It is ok for them to defend themselves. That the fact that they “put themselves in that situation” does NOT make it all their fault.
And make sure you are clear that whatever boy makes her feel pressured or uncomfortable is NOT a good person and will never make a good partner because in reality, he doesn't care about her, he only cares about finding sexual release. And it is of the utmost importance that your daughters hear this from YOU, their fathers. They can have these conversations with their mothers as well, but hearing it from the most important man in their life will make a huge impression.
In my case, having sex never made one of you stay, it just meant that you would tell your friends that I was an easy lay. I would be so happy when one of you would call and ask to hang out, and I can still feel the desperate humiliation of that translating to being brought to a remote place to have sex in your car. Time after time I allowed this to happen. I was frozen in fear. Is that what you find sexy? A young girl too scared to move?
The thought of my daughter having to go through what I am now going through makes me want to vomit. It should upset us all, including you. I pray that you see the problem and talk to your kids. I hope that you, the young man who took advantage of a much younger and troubled girl, look at your own daughters or nieces or cousins or step-daughters when they are 13, 14, and 15-years-old and think to yourself, “That’s how old she was when I fed her drinks and slept with her”. Is that sexy now?
We all have to take responsibility for our own part. I have been dismantling my past behaviors for the 5 years that alcohol has no longer been in my life. But now, over the past couple of weeks, I have relived all of it including an intense deluge of the shame, guilt and humiliation which I have unknowingly been living with every single day since I lost my virginity, drunk at 13, to an 18-year-old. I feel this. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Have you felt any of that? Have you thought back on your own behaviors and felt a crushing sense of pain? I’d like to think that some of you have, but I have a feeling that you have not thought twice about it or me, and that has to change.
It is time for you to see what this behavior does to women. It is time for a change to be made. I have to find a way past the shame, guilt, and humiliation, which has now turned into anger, sadness and exhaustion. It is time for you to pitch in and do your part. So, will you?
A Promiscuous Teen
Pictured above at 16-Years-Old
Thank you for your emails, DMs and comments. You have all made me realize that I'm not alone and, sadly, that my story is not unique. In reaction to the incredible response that I have received from all of the world, I created a series of paintings called Reclaimed Hearts. These paintings are dedicated to you. It's never too late to take your power back and love yourself. Click here to see the series.
Thank you to Geoffrey Riley and the JPR team for interviewing me on this topic. You can listen to that interview by clicking here.
Thank you to Paul Gilmartin for having me on his podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour. An interview on the popular podcast with host, Paul Gilmartin, where I read my essay discussing gray area issues like consent, alcohol, objectification and trading sex for love, attention or to avoid abandonment. You can listen by downloading the podcast app or going to: https://mentalpod.com/archives/5168.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I use creativity to break through anxiety paralysis, I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes. To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure.