This reader wished to remain anonymous to protect his privacy, and we're honoring that request. In light of the many takes surrounding #MeToo—and most recently the Aziz Ansari story—we think it's important to include perspectives of men who are examining their own past behavior. The e-mail has been lightly edited for clarity.
I read your tweet about consent and when folks learned what that meant, thought I'd share a little with you about my experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse, physical abuse as an adult, and being physically abusive, even though that's the last thing I ever wanted to be in life. What kid says they want to be a drug addict when they grow up, or thinks, “Hey, I think I'll grow up to be a domestic violence perpetrator?”
I can't believe I'm even writing this, really. Fact is, I've been an abuser myself, and I guess part of my personal reconciliation with myself is trying to help and speak out because I've both been abused and abused others.
Consent wasn't anything I learned until I was about 33 years old. When I say consent, I mean things like pressuring my partner for sex and respecting boundaries. “No” has always meant “no” to me, but I didn’t know pressuring my partner to have sex was wrong until she told me. I was sexually abused as a child and rape is the worst thing you can do to another human, in my opinion. Murder is like, you're dead, ok, it's over, that sucks, but at least it's over. Rape, that's forever. That's something that really never goes away. Even with counseling, therapy, etc. You live with that scar for life.
I never learned what boundaries, personal boundaries, were until I was like 33 or 34.
My son's mother really helped me learn boundaries. She was always way more patient with me than I was with her. I realize that now.
I remember when we had the conversation about me pressuring her for sex. I never thought that trying a little harder or maybe a simple "Oh, come on" was pressure or wrong, but she did. Honestly, that's all that should ever matter when it comes to a woman and her body. I get that now.
You'd think it's common sense, you'd think it's something I'd be taught in school, but I never really understood consent and boundaries until roughly one-third of the way through my life, well into my adult years. I didn't have a dad to teach me how to be a man, and the men in my life were physically and sexually abusive toward the women in my life, for the most part. My mom died when I was six, and even before she died, I remember her boyfriend beating her pretty bad on a couple occasions. Those were my examples of boundaries and consent.
Maybe knowing that, you can understand the confusion surrounding consent that I had my whole life.
I've even had women who enjoyed rough sex, enjoyed teasing as part of foreplay. What's confusing is all women are different.
I've had women that enjoyed having their asses smacked. Others did not. I've picked up women by cat-calling them. Other women find that highly offensive and even harassment.
I guess that's where personal boundaries come in. That's what consent really is: Asking and finding out what women are comfortable with before assuming anything, and respecting boundaries. It's not just about sex, or about sexual harassment, it's about respecting other people's boundaries in all aspects of life. That's what it is to me anyway.
I've made mistakes in life but I'm trying to learn from them and be a better person. I don't know what else to do. Hate, violence, abuse—they’re really all learned behaviors. Sexual harassment is a learned behavior. Unlearning behaviors and learning new ones is hard, and breaking the cycle of violence and abuse takes work. Part of that work is breaking through the confusion of consent and learning healthy boundaries and how to communicate your boundaries with others.