An international perspective

I’m taking a break this weekend from talking about internet sex offenses, and I just want to mention something many people don’t know: There is only one other nation with a public sex offender registry, Australia, and it didn’t go public until late last year.* Only dangerous, repeat offenders get put on Australia’s public list.

Let me just repeat this: Until late last year, no other country had a public sex offender registry. Not a one. Now, only the U.S. and Australia do, and Australia includes far fewer offenses than the U.S. does. It includes about 50 people, as opposed to the 750,000 and growing people on the U.S. registry.

This is important. We have very little perspective in the United States. I’ve often heard Americans respond, when somebody argues that our public sex offender registry should be abolished or even that it should only contain dangerous violent offenders, “Let’s just ignore sex crimes entirely!”, as if not having a public registry entails not taking sex crimes seriously.

This is especially troubling when it comes from Americans on the Left, and shows how completely ignorant of the rest of the world they are. Would most Americans leftists really, truly believe that their children would be less safe in Germany, Italy, or Spain, where 14 (in Spain, 13) is the age of consent and there is no public sex offender registry? Would they truly believe that those countries are teeming with sexual predators and that parents should be frightened to allow their children to leave their house? Are children in those nations less safe than children in the United States?

No sane person with any awareness of the actual situation of children internationally would believe that. The U.S. has a far higher rate of death from abuse for children than any of those nations. The number of children who die from gun violence is exponentially higher. The U.S. is one of the seven countries with the highest rates of sexual abuse for women: Germany, Italy, and Spain do not make the list, and overall Europe has a significantly lower incidence of sexual abuse than the U.S.

We are not safer. So why are we doing this? Why have we come to believe that these registries are so indispensable that we now want to expand them to other crimes: animal abuse, elder abuse, even drunk driving? We in the United States have far harsher punishments for nearly every crime than the rest of the world, and then, for sex crimes (and, in the future, no doubt many other crimes), we continue to punish people long after their sentence through the use of public humiliation. To what end? Not safer children, because European children are safer, even though they have no public registries and, in general, lower ages of consent. Not less crime, because we have rates of violent crime much higher than the rest of the western world.

We need to admit that we are on the wrong track. Punishing more things, for longer, is not the way to a safer, healthier society. And all we need to do is look to the rest of the world to realized that’s the case. It’s only because so many Americans, including those on the left, are willfully, entirely ignorant of how the rest of the world handles these matters that we have gotten to the place we have. I hope it’s not too late to turn things around.

* Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the UK have registries for some sex offenders–far fewer crimes qualify than in the U.S.–that are, except in Australia, for law enforcement use only. The information is not made publicly available.

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The internet is a seedy and safe place

It isn’t that hard to understand why, from the start, people feared the internet, and particularly its corrupting influence on children. The internet is a seedy place. I remember going onto AOL chat in 1994 or 1995, and being really surprised at the kind of lewd, explicit IMs I’d get from strangers. It doesn’t take a huge leap for a parent to realize this is going on and then fear that these strangers are just waiting for a child to pass on their personal information.

The problem is that these people weren’t seeking to prey on kids; they just wanted to engage in some explicit chat with willing teens and adults. And, unlike in real life, the person they were making the comments to had total power: I could simply close the window and block that person. In reality, young people have far more control in the internet than in real life. A 16-year-old girl who has men she’s waiting on in her job at a restaurant hitting on her can’t hit a button and make those men disappear; a college freshman who is being catcalled walking to class can’t just block those voices from her life permanently. Online, though, they would have that option. Any time they are approached by a man making advances that are unwanted or uncomfortable, they can immediately stop the conversation and prevent that person from making any further contact. Far from leaving children and teens vulnerable to the advances of adults, the internet actually gives them far more power to control these interactions than they have in real life.

The dangers of the internet, then, aren’t the dangers of scary adults preying on innocent children. The danger is the internet itself. Children of all ages can access the most explicit, vile images you can imagine, sometimes accidentally. (I once, in high school, worked on a paper about women in Turkey. Let me tell you, I learned that you do not do web searches on ‘Turkish women’ very quickly.) They have access to all kinds of images and information their parents would probably rather they not see or know. And, they have the ability to put images and information out there that their parents would definitely prefer they didn’t. The danger isn’t that children are being preyed on, because, far more than in real life, the internet puts young people in a position of control, where they can immediately ignore a person’s advances and block further contact. The danger is children and teens actively, eagerly seeking information, images, and relationships that their parents don’t approve of and that, in many cases, probably aren’t appropriate for them.

The real danger of the internet wasn’t that there was a group of evil people using it to exploit children, but that it provides children access to information and images that they shouldn’t have access to. And, as we’ll see, when people have access to something, they oftentimes will access it, even if they shouldn’t. As law enforcement realized that there weren’t any of these pedophiles preying on small children out there to catch–and that, if there were, they weren’t catching them–they quickly realized that there was a lot of money and many arrests to be made by catching people doing things online that they would not do in real life. Hence the chat sting and child porn internet sting were born.

Internet sex offenses

I’m going to spend a few days discussing internet sex offenses. These make up a growing number of the offenses that are getting men on the registry, disproportionately impact men in their late teens and 20s, are one of the few kinds of sex offenses (other than prostitution) where stings are routinely carried out, and are by their nature non-violent. I think it’s particularly important to separate reality from hysteria in this area.

There are, as far as I can tell, three main types of internet sex offenses that men are being charged with: 1) the kind of chat room/dating site sting operation my husband was caught up in; 2) downloading child pornography (which, due to the nature of file-sharing programs, generally results in charges of both possession and distribution); and 3) sharing explicit images of/with an actual teen known to a person via a computer or smartphone. I will say that I am far less familiar with the third type of offense than the other two, so it will get less attention.

One thing I want to establish at the outset is that, for all intents and purposes, internet sex offenses against prepubescent children are an urban legend. The idea that predatory pedophiles would be using the internet to trick little kids into giving out their names and addresses and then tracking them down to kidnap, molest, and possibly murder was a popular one, but not something that actually happened. At best, it’s akin to stories of poisoned Halloween candy: while there have been 2-3 isolated cases of individuals (known to the children already) using poison in Halloween candy to harm children, these were incredibly atypical aberrations and nothing that warrants, in any rational universe, the level of concern that the public feels about this. (I can remember, when I was a kid, the local police station offering to x-ray Halloween candy to make sure it was free of razor blades. Even law enforcement, who should have known better, played right into and accepted the hysteria.) At worst, it’s a cynical ploy by the government to justify domestic spying via the internet in the guise of “protecting children.”

But, in any case, the primary rationale for cracking down on “cyberpredators” was the story that every corner of the internet, especially those were children go, is filled with compulsive, predatory child molesters just waiting to trick your child into giving out personal information so they can track them down. And, that story is false. That story is about as true as the story from the 1980s that day care centers across the country had been infiltrated by Satantic cults trafficking in child pornography and engaging in ritual sexual abuse. And, as with the ritual abuse scare, it terrified a generation of parents and has led to laws and penalties that have not protected children but have hurt many adults caught up in the witchhunt.

While there never were armies of pedophiles using the internet to prey on children, it’s not that hard to imagine why people believed there were. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about that, and about why that perception was so wrong.

Victims and executioners

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

When I was 17, I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Early on, Zinn quotes Albert Camus: “In a world of victims and executioners, it’s the job of all right-thinking people to side against the executioners.” To my 17-year-old self, that seemed a fully-accurate assessment of the world and of my moral duties. Having now lived another seventeen years, I’m not so sure. The world isn’t that simple any more. Now, I’m more inclined to agree with Solzhenitsyn.

Yes, we live in a world of victims and executioners, but most of the time, we’re both at once. The victims cry out for the execution of their victimizers, and the executioners claim victimhood to justify executing their victims. We live in a world of black and white, where you are either totally innocent and thereby relieved of all responsibility or completely guilty and thereby deserving of the harshest of punishments.

When people hear the circumstances of my husband’s arrest, they tend to have one of two responses: they either think he’s a victim, of either entrapment or of a society that has criminalized normal sexual desire (that of a guy in his twenties for a post-pubescent teen girl), or they think he’s a monster, a dangerous man seeking to prey on teen girls who should probably be locked up for life. We are fortunate: in real life, we only know people who think the former. The only people who hold the latter opinion I’ve met have been online. Still, the tendency is to either exonerate or condemn. It’s to declare him victim or executioner.

I don’t think that’s our place. Our response, when we hear the bare facts of a person’s situation, when we hear the labels society has given them, shouldn’t be to assign blame or penalties, to acquit or convict. Our response should be, “I want to understand, to hear your story. Tell me more.” And if we really listen, we’ll probably see that, in all of our stories, we are neither innocents nor monsters, or that we’re both at the same time.

In some ways that is part of why I like the Christian story, because at its best it touches this. It recognizes that we are very good, but fallen. That we are desperately sinful, but capable of redemption. It keeps us living in that both/and.

And that’s the both/and that I will always push us toward, that every great evil we’ve committed (usually in the name of something good) has denied. We can’t side against the executioners, because they are us and they are in us.

I will continue to resist all attempts to deny complexity. I will resist attempts to paint sex offenders as monsters. But, I will also resist attempts to portray them as innocent victims of an unjust system. The truth is more. The truth is harder. The truth is that most of them are men who have done wrong but who can and often do do better. And even then, they aren’t perfect. They’ll make new mistakes. Five years after my husband was arrested, he had an affair with a colleague a few years older than he was. What is he then? A new kind of monster? Or, still, always, only a person who tries and fails, who has areas he is particularly prone to make mistakes in (for him, poor sexual decision making), who can learn and change?

And isn’t that who I am, too, and all of us?

We cannot externalize evil. We cannot externalize goodness, either, although we’re far less prone to do that. We cannot quickly and neatly declare somebody a victim or monster, innocent or guilty. What we can do is listen, and maybe learn, not just about another person but about ourselves, as well.

The registry and reality

People tend to assume that there are two types of people on the sex offender registry: dangerous pedophile child molesters, creepy men who lurk at the edges of elementary-school playgrounds to find children to snatch and attack, and innocent men who once peed in public or slept with a 15-year-old girlfriend when they were 17.

The problem is, neither is reality. Very, very few men on the sex offender registry are serial child molesters. Very few are child molesters at all. Only a very small percentage of men on the sex offender registry have committed offenses involving sexual contact of any sort with prepubescent children. This is partly because most of these offenses are perpetrated by family members or other trusted adults in a child’s life and so are likely to go unreported and because, when these offenses are reported, they tend to result in very harsh penalties and sometimes indefinite civil commitment.

And, very, very few men on the registry are there for totally innocent things like peeing in public or having a girlfriend who has a year or two younger than they were.

Most men on the registry aren’t innocent, but they also aren’t monsters. A large and growing number are men who, in their late teens or early-to-mid 20s, engaged in some sort of sexual activity with a willing partner 14-16 (or an undercover officer posing as a willing partner 14-16). They did wrong. They deserve some punishment. Their actions should be against the law. But, they aren’t monsters, and they are not public dangers. Their offenses were non-violent and non-predatory, and there is no reason to believe that, having learned their lesson, they will offend again. Statistics would bear that out, as first-time non-violent statutory offenders have an exceedingly low reoffense rate (at least as low as 2.6% for recommitting a sex offense, since that’s the rate for men of all ages who have served time in prison for actual statutory rape, which means they actually had intercourse and includes men who were significantly older than their victims. If we were to only look at the reoffense rate of non-contact statutory offenders in their late teens and twenties, it would, if it followed other recidivism statistics, be even lower).

Do these men belong on a sex offender registries for decades or even their entire lives? Do they pose a genuine threat to public safety? Do they pose a risk to children in their neighborhood?

One thing we need to keep in mind is that men think about sex differently than women. We like to pretend that’s not true, but it is. We know that most men look back on early sexual experiences as positive or neutral, while most women look back on them as neutral or negative. That means that a man will look back on a sexual experience he had at 15 and, in general, have fond memories, whereas a woman will look back on a sexual experience that she had at 15 and feel regret. Most guys, if they are honest, will admit that, at 14 or 15 or 16, they would have thought having sex with a woman in her 20s was awesome. (I am NOT saying that it would have been right, just what their feelings on it would be.) So, a guy who is 24 who is talking to an undercover officer posing as a 14-year-old girl looking for an older guy in an adult chat room to have sex with isn’t thinking, “I really want to track this innocent child down so I can assault and defile her, thereby ruining her life.” Not at all. He’s remember when he was a horny 14 year old, and as a horny 14 year old, he would have jumped at the chance to have sex with a 24 year old (and, if it had actually happened, would probably have looked back on it, based on the research, fondly or neutrally as an adult, not as a traumatic or negative event). He is imagining that this apparently horny apparently 14 year old is the same as he was at 14, except with female parts. He doesn’t know or understand that girls are different, that a 14 year old girl who is seeking out sex from older men is probably not driven by hormones but by more complicated, problematic motives (wanting love, wanting attention), and that even if she was driven purely by hormones, she’d still probably look back on the experience a decade or two in the future as something she deeply regrets.

But the guy does not know this, because nobody has told him this. He has no idea. That’s the mindset my husband had. He had no desire to hurt anybody, or to prey on anybody. He really just wanted to chat about sex with other adults (hence, being in an adult sex chat room, not a room for children or teens). So, when somebody claiming to be a horny 15yo who had slept with two other men she’d met online came in and started talking to him and expressed an interest in meeting up, he didn’t think, “This is an innocent child who I can defile.” The age didn’t even register with him, because at 15 he would have loved to have had sex with an older woman, and 15, 18, 25, 30, 40 didn’t make much difference to him. As long as all of the woman part were there–and 15-year-old have all of their woman parts, being post-pubescent–that was all he needed to know.

I know he’s not alone. I know that many, if not most, of the men caught in these sting operations, especially those in their late teens and twenties, are in a similar situation. And many, many men in the registry have been convicted of similar crimes and are in similar situations. They are wrong. They have done wrong. What they did should be illegal, and they deserve punishment.

And yet, they aren’t monsters. They aren’t pedophiles, because they are interested in post-pubescent women. They aren’t predators, because they aren’t actively seeking out teens. They aren’t violent, because they are only doing things that the person they are with wants or claims to want, without threat or coercion. They are, simply, men who in their late teens or twenties are willing to engage in sexual activity with willing post-pubescent teen girls. What do we do about them? (And by “them,” I mean men in this particular situation, who in their late teens or twenties engaged in sexual activity with a willing post-pubescent teen, not “sex offenders” in general or even statutory offenders in general.)

I think some punishment is warranted. The five years of probation my husband served seemed fully warranted and just (unlike the 20 years in prison he was threatened with if he went to trial, which seemed incredibly excessive). Probationary punishment that provides oversight and accountability to people who clearly were acting impulsively seems like a good idea. For some, a short prison sentence might be warranted.

Therapy is good. It needs to be tailored to the offense, and for these men, an attraction to children isn’t the problem. Most of the time, even an attraction to teens isn’t the problem. The problem is compulsive sexual activity and/or poor sexual decision making, and that’s what needs to be addressed. We were fortunate in that my husband found a great therapist soon after his arrest, who specialized in sexual issues. He determined that my husband was not a pedophile or predator, but that he had problems with compulsive online activity, particularly compulsive online sexual activity. He treatment was tailored to that. Maybe six months later, my husband had to meet with a court-appointed therapist for an assessment and evaluation. The court-appointed therapist agreed with the assessment of the therapist he was seeing, and signed off that the treatment he was receiving was good and he was making good progress. The interesting thing was that he had to sign all of these consent forms at the beginning, laying out the kind of therapy he’d get if his current treatment was deemed insufficient and he had to use the court-appointed therapist. It was treatment clearly aimed at pedophiles, and he would have had to sign a contract stating he wouldn’t engage in behaviors that made no sense in his context (not watching kids’ movies or playing board games) or that he didn’t even understand (not “grooming,” which he took to mean he wasn’t supposed to dress up, since he’d never heard of it before). That treatment would have been terribly ineffective, but unfortunately it’s what many of these younger statutory offenders receive. They are being treated for a problem (pedophilia) that they do not have, while the problem they do have (compulsive sexual behavior and poor sexual decision making) isn’t being addressed. Therapy is crucial, but it needs to be the right therapy.

The biggest thing, though, is education. I really believe this. My husband was shocked and sobered when I told him that most women I know who had sex at 14 or 15 or even 16 look back on it with regret, and often feel like they were manipulated or victimized. He had no idea. I really think the most effective means of preventing recidivism in these offenders is to just tell them the truth about how men and women experience sex differently. These are not, by and large, men who want to hurt women, and if they know that teen girls often *are* hurt by sex with older guys–even if they seem to really, really want it at the time–then they are going to be very unlikely to do it or try to do it again. Most men honestly have no idea about the reality of women’s sexual experiences, and that reality can have a powerful impact on men’s view of things.

And then they deserve a second chance. A man who commits a non-violent, first-time statutory offense in his late teens or twenties deserves the chance to move on with his life, to put his mistake behind him and become a mature, productive adult who contributes to his community.

It’s all about reality. We need to acknowledge the reality of who is on the registry, not the monsters and martyrs of our imagination. We need to deal with the offenses those on the registry actually committed when we are sentencing and treating them, and not with the imaginary idea that all sex offenders are child-molesting pedophiles. And, we need to make men aware of the reality of female sexual experience, and acknowledge the difference between how men and women view sex, so that a guy who is 20 or 24 or 28 understands that a teenage girl who says she really wants sex isn’t feeling the same things he would have felt when he really wanted sex as a teen, and will very likely not experience sex with somebody older in the same way. Our approach to sex offenses needs to be based in reality, not hysteria or wishful thinking.

Media coverage

It seems to me that the media coverage of the Boston Marathon is doing more to spread fear and terror than the actual attack. The less information the media has about something, the more intensive the coverage is. Is there an informational reason to show explosions over and over again? Is there any civic purpose to showing shot after shot of blood-spattered streets?

This is where entertainment and information overlap, and the result is the kind of orgy of disaster porn we saw last night. I’m not an overly-protective parent, but I won’t turn on network stations right now, because I don’t want my children seeing so many gratuitous images of mayhem and violence.

This matters. It should matter to all of us concerned about SO issues, because the reason SOs and their families are treated the way they are is because of the hysteria the media stirred up in the wake of a couple of high-profile child murder cases (all of which were perpetrated by people who didn’t simply have a history of sex crimes, but of violent crimes).

In so many cases, the media covers tragedies more when we know less. By the time we get solid information, their attention has turned elsewhere. This does nothing to create a more educated populace and much to spread misinformation and panic.

Our media has become an outrage machine: it seems to exist primarily to make people feel scared and angry, rather than to provide information we need to be more informed citizens. As media consumers, we should reject that. We should protest the media using the tragedies that befall our neighbors to stir up outrage and hysteria.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston, those injured and killed and their families, and the many emergency and medical workers who are doing such a great job caring for people.

Rape culture cheat sheet

“Enthusiastic consent” advocates seem loathe to actually lay out what sexual consent really looks like. It would be cynical to think it’s because they want to retain the freedom to define any sexual encounter as rape–you can always argue that somebody’s consent wasn’t enthusiastic enough after the fact–but I’m kind of cynical.

I’m also pragmatic, and a list-maker, so I thought I’d try to help out, and actually compose that list of rules* that proponents of enthusiastic consent refuse to make, that takes both verbal and non-verbal communication into consideration in navigating casual sexual encounters.**

Verbal NO + resistance = STOP! STOP! If you keep going, you are a rapist.

Verbal NO + passivity = STOP! STOP! This woman might very well be scared you are going to hurt her, and that’s why she’s not putting up a fight. Her “no” means she doesn’t want to have sex with you, even if she isn’t fighting back. Leave her alone. If you keep going, you are a rapist.

Verbal NO + active participation = STOP! STOP! It’s possible that the person you are with is just conditioned to think she has to say “no” to sex even if she really wants it, but she very well just might not want to have sex with you. Do NOT have sex with her. Talk it out. If she does express that she’d like to have sex but feel some sort of moral/cultural duty to put up a fight, give her some time (like, MONTHS AND MONTHS, perhaps YEARS) to get more comfortable with her sexuality before even thinking about engaging in sexual activity again. And, as is more likely, if she just doesn’t want to have sex with you, sorry. She doesn’t want to have sex with you, so back off. If you keep going in either of those scenarios, you are a rapist.

Silence + resistance = STOP! STOP! This woman does not want to have sex with you, and if you keep going, you are a rapist. Stop as soon as she gives any resistance, give her space, and see if she wants to talk it out. If she does, listen; if she doesn’t, respect that you rightfully scared or upset or bothered her, and leave her alone. It could be that she’d like to have sex with you but just started her period and isn’t into that. Or, maybe she wants to have sex with you but she doesn’t like the particular way you are touching her. Or, more likely, she just doesn’t want to sleep with you at all. Back off immediately, give her physical space, and if she wants to talk to you, listen to her, and then respect her wishes. If she doesn’t want to talk, leave her alone and don’t approach her again (she’ll approach you if she wants to). If you keep going when she is physically resisting you, you are a rapist.

Silence + passivity = If this is a casual encounter, STOP! Talk it out. Maybe she wants to have sex with you. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she doesn’t care either way. Who knows? Not you! Find out what is going on before going any further, and respect her wishes once you know. If she isn’t into it, do something else with her or, if you really need to have sex, find somebody who is into it. If she’s just a “lie back and think of England type” but says she’s into it, then I’d say it’s your call. If you keep going in this scenario without finding out what the woman’s deal is, assuming she is sober you aren’t legally committing rape, even though the entire internet will call you a rapist. You may not be–you probably aren’t!–but you might be kind douchebaggy and not really care if your partner is into it, or you might be kind of pathetic and not realize you can find a partner who is really into it, and you probably don’t want to be pathetic or a douchebag. So don’t proceed without more information, and back off if the information you get is that she’d rather not be having sex with you. If this is a person you are in a relationship with and you know that they just are kind of quiet and passive during sex because that’s the way they like it, then you are good to go. 

Silence + active participation = You are probably good to go, but if this is a casual encounter, for your own legal safety, stop. Make sure you get verbal affirmation. I know that you very probably aren’t a rapist if in this scenario you take active physical participation as proof of consent, but rather a normal human being capable of interpreting non-verbal communication, but 90% of the internet will think you are, and there’s a good chance whoever you are sleeping with is on the internet at least sometimes. So I’d get a verbal yes just to be safe, even though you are probably in the clear both legally and morally. If this is a partner you are in a relationship with, you are all good.

Verbal YES + resistance = STOP! Do not go any further. Something is off, and you need to know what it is. Non-verbal communication can often be more honest than verbal communication, so just back immediately off. If it turns out that this person is indeed super into it and just happens to be lying on top of a size 2 knitting needle that is digging into her butt in the most painful way possible (such things can happen) or something along those lines, then find a more comfy place and get back to it. If there isn’t a clear, identifiable, easily-solvable reason why they are giving you signals this mixed, run in the other direction and do not look back. If you keep going in spite of physical resistance, even if you are hearing a verbal yes, you are a rapist.

Verbal YES + passivity = If this is a casual encounter, you probably want to stop and make sure your partner is as on board as she’s saying. It’s quite likely that you are just with a woman who enjoys taking a more passive role during sex, but it’s better all around to make sure. If this is a partner you know well, you will probably know whether it’s just the way they like things or a sign that something is amiss, depending on their usual level of physical participation.

Verbal YES + active participation = CONGRATULATIONS! You are having sex exactly the way the internet wants you to! Go ahead and casually fuck with abandon!

Unless, of course, your partner is drunk, in which case none of this counts. A drunk no is a no; drunk silence is a no; a drunk yes is a no. How drunk is too drunk? As drunk as the internet thinks is too drunk (and, legally, this tends to be undefined, and you should err on the side of caution and consider ANY alcohol consumed too much alcohol consumed). The internet will likely accuse you of rape if the woman you slept with had been drinking at all, no matter which of the nine categories she fell into. Alcohol invalidates both verbal and physical consent. Under no circumstances should you ever have sexual contact with a woman who has been drinking.

And remember that, while this advice may hopefully keep you from raping somebody, it won’t keep you from hurting somebody’s feelings, being a really bad lay, or doing something that your partner might years or decades look back on with regret. There is no formula for that.

So there’s my handy, tongue-in-cheek guide to sexual etiquette, taking both verbal and non-verbal communication into consideration. I just ended rape culture, internet. You’re welcome!

* I realize this is heteronormative. So are most rape accusations.

** I am not a proponent of casual sex. Truth be told, I think you should wait until you are married to have sex. Seriously, I do. Stop laughing.

I think you should get married younger than your friends and your parents and our culture and of course the internet think you should–your late teens or early twenties is really, truly an okay time to marry–and I think you should wait until then to have sex. You can do it!

If won’t do that, then I think you should wait until you are in a totally committed, loving, monogamous relationship. Everything involving sex will be less fraught both emotionally and legally.

But, I’m a realist, and if you don’t want to do that, either, and want to engage in casual sex, you can still do so in the safest way possible, by taking both physical and verbal communication seriously and also using a condom. Even if the woman on the pill, you still need a condom. I came of age in the era of AIDS, and if you have sex without a condom, I will track you down and lecture you very, very sternly. Don’t do it.

Seriously, though, consider getting married. It’s way better than casual sex, and in thirty years, old married sex is the ONLY sex you are going to be having. You can have a couple of decades of practice to make sure it’s really good.