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Don't Rape Anyone And Be Home By Nine

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MOM AND TEEN SON
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Never send rude or mean messages on your phone.

Along with, never make in-app purchases without asking me first, this was one of the rules I laid out when my 11-year-old son got a cell phone.

"What do you mean, rude?" he asked.

"Never send a photo of your penis or any part of anyone else's body to anyone." I replied, chopping onions for a beet salad.

"What?! Why would I do that?"

"Exactly. But you'd be surprised. Set the table please." Of course, this wasn't entirely the end of the conversation but for the sake of this essay, it'll do.

In the last six months I've also explained the acronym FHRITP, told him that internet porn is a very poor and dangerous pedagogy and what consent means.

I'm also trying to teach him that sexual curiosity and exploration is absolutely normal and wonderful, that bodies are beautiful playthings, and that pretty much everybody on the planet experiences or participates somehow.

"Have you?" he asked me about five years ago while still traveling strapped in a back passenger booster seat.

"Have I what?" I asked, checking his little face in the rear view mirror.

"Have you had sex?"

"Yes, of course"

"With who?" he persisted.

Now, like so many parents, I'd had a draft speech pre-planned. As a lesbian, I couldn't lead and finish with the cozy, "with your dad of course!" but I had a rough outline, something along the lines of, "with people I loved..." kinda' thing. But he caught me off guard.

"With loads of people!" I exclaimed. That's right. Loads of people. The first of many speeches where I thought--have I said too much? Is he ready? How will he process this?

What I've realized is that he processes the information that I pass on to him about sex in exactly the same way that he processes the information I pass on to him about anything else. I spoke to him about road safety, long before he was crossing any roads alone. I lectured him on the danger of going off with strangers while he still held my hand everywhere. I told him that he'd end up with teeth like mine if he didn't brush every night before he even had a full set.

At 11, he knows never to drink and drive and the risks of drug use. We've talked about fairness and justice and racism and bullying since the time he was born in one form or another -- movies, fairy tales, books and dinner table conversations -- so why aren't we talking to our boys about sex?

How the hell does that happen? How do these "boys" become rapists, sexual assaulters and aggressive misogynists?

We talk to our girls. Well, we don't really talk to them. We tell them to walk home in pairs, not to drink too much, not to wear revealing clothing or too much make-up, to be careful after dark. We wave them off to parties with fear and responsibilities while we wave our boys off with, "Have a good time."

Now, I'm not saying that we should be waving our boys off with, "Don't rape anyone!" but rather than terrifying and shaming our girls into keeping themselves safe, shouldn't that burden of responsibility be on our boys?

I know that I need a disclaimer around now so here it is: I know that boys are victims of sexual assault as well. I have a son and as parents we all share that same fear: the sexual predator that we cannot prevent.

But I'm not talking here about creepy old men in the bushes, track coaches, the best friend's dad, Boy Scout leaders, drunken uncles...

I'm talking about our sons. Teenagers. Drama grads and dentistry students. Football players, chess geeks, soccer stars and valedictorians. Guy-next-door prom dates.

How the hell does that happen? How do these "boys" become rapists, sexual assaulters and aggressive misogynists?

"You're going overboard. He's only 11. Look at him, he would never participate, stand by or condone sexual aggression." And then I think of all the parents who probably thought the same... and I push on with the conversation.

I recently read about a former student who wrote and performed a rap song about his female teacher whom he wanted to "choke out", called a fat slut and hoped died in a car accident. He also blamed women like her for school shootings. The teacher "muse" reported it to authorities but according to the investigating officer, "The lyrics in this song simply did not meet the criteria for any criminal offence."

I talked about it at dinner that night, not shielding my anger, sadness and disgust. "He's stupid," said my boy. "No, he's a misogynist," I said. "What's a misogynist?" he asked. And off we went...

I didn't think when I cradled my newborn that we'd be discussing these topics as early as this. And I know that not everybody thinks that I should. (Just look at the hue and cry around Sex Ed in schools.) I look at my boy and see a sweet, engaging, funny, cynical, kind and empathetic kid and sometimes think to myself, "You're going overboard. He's only 11. Look at him, he would never participate, stand by or condone sexual aggression." And then I think of all the parents who probably thought the same but whose sons are charged with sexual assault every year and the hundreds of thousands of female lives that are destroyed -- and I push on with the conversation.

It's my job to educate him.

My son rolls his eyes occasionally, sure. But he also rolls his eyes when I help him with his math homework. When I talk to him about the environment. When I explain why it's important to return a phone call/brush his teeth/pick up his Lego and look people in the eye when he's spoken to. And that's fine, because it's my job to educate him.

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