I was fourteen and I didn’t know what sex was. Sure, I’d gone through sex ed two years earlier, but my understanding was still limited to textbook depictions and the jokes I overheard among my classmates.
My dad brought over his home computer and we subscribed to AOL. Back then, the internet was this whole new world that felt both big and small. The idea of talking to somebody else many miles away felt like a comfort for plenty of young 90s teens.
I’m not exactly sure how you found me, or how you knew you wanted to chat with me. But we began talking in some innocent chat room and I didn’t think too much of it when you wanted to message me privately.
You told me you were sixteen. You asked about my life in Minnesota and where we might go if you visited from Nebraska. We talked about going to Como Zoo and then you asked what I was wearing.
You began begging me to let you do certain things “when we met.” As if we were going to meet even though I knew we wouldn’t.
It was weird. I felt weird when you asked to do things to me that I didn’t understand. You told me about oral sex, though I still didn’t really know what you meant.
You wanted to kiss and lick me. Down there. Told me to promise I’d let you. Walked through imaginary scenarios where I just got out of the shower and you used a towel to dry my body.
“Let me kiss your pussy,” you insisted. “I’m going to cream my pants.”
For years online, I never questioned why these different guys with stupid handles all seemed to want something from me. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t understand what any of you wanted. You were all too happy to explain.
You were also incredibly assuming. You assumed I wanted you to teach me. Assumed I wanted to make strange promises to you. As if I naturally wanted to obey.
It was always weird, but incredibly familiar. In those early days, none of you even cared to see a picture. You said you liked me right away.
Didn’t I like you too?
You were another one. You asked me questions I didn’t want to answer, but somehow, I felt obliged. Like so many others, our conversations started out so promising. I liked the idea of meeting new people, making friends, finding pen pals. Sometimes, I naively dreamed about finding love.
But usually, I just wanted to be a kid.
Chat rooms and emails in the 90s opened up this dream of possibility and adventure. Until you, and like 15 other guys before you made it all about sex.
I got used to it.
After all, you were just doing what guys do. The stuff my mother warned me about. The stuff that everyone said was simply boys being boys. Us girls were expected to grin and bear it. That’s what we’d have to do when we became women, anyway.
You told me that I made you so damn hard. And that you wanted to be my first time. Everybody wanted to be some sort of first.
I was fifteen when you told me you were eighteen. You and your college roommate used to like chatting with me.
You asked if you were there, would I let you teach me? Touch me? You promised to be slow and gentle. Slowly explore inside of me with one soft finger.
I didn’t want to be a tease, did I?
That’s right, you made it clear that my job was to let you have your way. You played the role of some magnanimous tutor and it seemed like you wanted me to feel so grateful.
I mostly felt unsure. As if growing up meant doing all these things I had either no interest in, or allowing things that made me feel used.
But I didn’t know how to articulate the pressure I felt. In some ways, I was drawn to the discomfort simply because I couldn’t learn about sex any other way.
Was it weird that you were in another country and made zero small talk? It got to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to log into ICQ any longer because in just a matter of minutes I’d get 25 more messages from guys just like you.
From strangers who knew nothing about me. They simply seemed to hope that I was young, girl, and utterly naive.
You didn’t just want to teach me. You wanted me to please you too, as if the sexual questions and innuendo were all so damn pleasing to me.
I learned from a young age that “men only want one thing.” It wasn’t just my overprotective mother who warned me.
The message came from movies and TV. It came from church and older friends.
Guys couldn’t control themselves. Couldn’t be held responsible. They wanted what they needed and assumed it was okay to take their fantasies out on young teens.
Except I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just the boys my age. It was older men too.
Now that I am older, I understand how plenty of those boys were probably grown men. And I likely dodged at least 75 bullets all because I was too frightened to meet any of these “friends” in real life.
Of course, that means I disappointed and annoyed plenty of you. I wonder now how many of you were married or fathers. How many grew quickly weary of my innocence and inability to get away.
Some of you were quick to express certain irritation when our conversations didn’t go your way. It could have been my naivety or my discomfort but it never really mattered.
You all had some form of guilt up your sleeves. Leading questions about what must be right or fair.
Accusations that I was acting like a bitch.
I never talked about any of you to anyone. It felt too shameful to bring it up and I was positive that if my mother found out she’d punish me severely.
Instead, I simply moved on. Swept the discomfort under the rug, or so I thought.
But it took me many years to see that I never really left you all behind. You and your “lessons” clung to me and shaped the way I approached dating and sex for decades to come.
The way I expected sex to mean discomfort. The way I got so used to men coercing me.
“We don’t have to go any further than you want to,” that’s what you always said. Yet somehow, you constantly pressured me.
Just one more favor. Just one more minute.
My online sexual education was completely congruent to my eventual dating experience in real life.
I am raising my daughter to be smarter than I was. I refuse to allow her to fall prey to men like you. She won’t learn your sordid lessons, and she won’t stand for men demanding sexual attention from her.
She won’t need to go searching for an understanding of perfectly human things that leave her vulnerable to abuse.
But you? What will you do? Will you keep on looking for young girls to get you off?
At least 22 years have passed since the first one of you tried to educate me about sex. Since you told me you were going to cream your pants as if I should have been excited or impressed.
All you really did was make sex uncomfortable and creepy, and I suspect that you’ve only gotten worse with mobile apps and social media. You spent hours at the keyboard, ignoring decency or consent. Have you grown up since then?
I didn’t understand it as a child, but I understand it better now. Generations of men have taken advantage of a culture that says their sexual pleasure matters most.
You never considered a girl’s right to learn about sex in safety and freedom. You didn’t care about anything except getting off.