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At 12 years old I already knew that I could not trust my parents to give me honest, accurate information about sex and sexuality, about puberty, about masturbation, about desire and lust.

I had too little access to any other resources — at that age, it wasn’t a simple matter of “just get online,” even though I certainly did access what I could through the text-only web on dial-up as the opportunity came up. I also checked out books from the public library, including one erotic novel which will always hold a special place in my heart.

And yes, at 12 years old I very much DID need honest, accurate information. I wasn’t trying to go out and get laid; I didn’t even know what that was, and I didn’t have any burning urgency pushing me to interact with girls or boys or anyone… but I sure could have used something besides guilt and shame about masturbating, and I could have benefited a whole lot from someone to talk to about the fantasies I was having, about the smutty stories I was reading — maybe someone who could have said to me back then “oh! You seem to have an affinity for stories about BDSM, here’s what that is, and here’s what it’s NOT, and you’re not broken.” That last bit, especially — “You’re not broken, and you’re not alone.”

There’s a piece of online fiction I started reading, all those years ago, and never finished… but I can look back now and realize that was the first place I encountered the concept of a safeword. It wasn’t called that in the story, but it was introduced in simple, clear terms that “if at any point you don’t feel like you’re enjoying what’s going on, or you want things to stop, just say this word, and everything will stop and we’ll check in on you.” It was a great example of how negotiation and safety don’t have to “interrupt” a story, just like a single line about grabbing a condom doesn’t “ruin” a story like so many people want to claim. It would have been great to have someone I could trust to talk about that kind of stuff at the time.

Honestly, I think it’s gotta be even harder now than it was almost two thirds of my life ago — at 12, too many people are eager to call you a “child,” and if you dare to respond to your body in the ways that ought to be expected, and you don’t keep silent about it, you’re branded as a pervert… or just as often as a criminal. And fewer and fewer adults are willing to take the significantly increased risk of simply sharing accurate information with a young adult, because that’s enough to brand someone as a “molester” and a pervert… and, often, as a criminal as well.

I had sexual or erotic fantasies from at least the age of 5. From anecdotes I’ve heard from many other men and women both in person and online, I’m not nearly alone in that. I cannot count the times I’ve heard “oh, yeah… I was masturbating at 3 or 4. Didn’t know what it was, then, but I sure did!” We need to stop pretending that such things cannot possibly happen, and stop acting as if intentionally denying access to knowledge will *ever* help a society. It just doesn’t work that way.

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