Blast from the Past: Sexting in the Church Community

Written by Caroline Slingerland on Tuesday, 08 April 2014.

When I was a teenager, I thought this guy was interested in me and since we lived in different provinces, we started emailing back and forth. When I got a cell phone, emailing became texting. We weren't in a relationship, but we were getting to know each other and I was hopeful.

Gradually, so I didn't even see it coming, the tone of our conversations changed. He started talking about my body and eventually started requesting that I send pictures.  This was before sexting became a well-known phenomenon and I didn't know how to respond.

I had never had discussions about this with my parents or educators, but I had been taught that there were parts of my body that were private, that you didn't share. But he knew what to say, how to convince a naive innocent girl that maybe our parents' ideas were outdated, and that this was normal. It was the progression of things. How can he get to know me if I don't share myself with him? He even sent me a picture of himself to show me how easy and how normal it was, and how this was a two way street, he wasn't just taking advantage of me. I started to doubt what I thought I knew. But I was not comfortable with the idea of sending him a picture. I felt like if I did that I would lose control over who would see it, a picture sent over text or via email was too permanent, and I wasn't going to do that.

Then he started talking about coming to visit me. That was exciting. This young man wanted to see me. It felt like our friendship was progressing and I was hopeful. Then he started to ask if I knew of a place we could go for some privacy when he was visiting. The young romantic in me was thinking of things I had envisioned doing on an official date. I suggested horse riding. We could pack a picnic lunch and ride through the country around my parent's place, stop and sit in the grass and talk and I was so excited at the prospect. It was one of my dream dates, revolving around my love for horses, and my romantic notions that dates were laid-back activities where you could just sit and talk and get to know each other. But it became clear that that was not what he had in mind. He wanted a private place where we could get to know each other without chance of interruption. Except he wasn't talking about my mind or my personality. He was talking about my body. I had never been in a serious relationship, and I didn't know what dating looked like. I loved reading historical fiction novels, and they spoke of courting. That was what I envisioned, but he convinced me that my dreams were unrealistic. It just didn't happen that way. He wanted to be friends with benefits. Didn't that sound great? I really wanted him to like me and so I compromised. I felt like maybe I could give him some of what he wanted without crossing that final line and having sex. So I agreed to work something out. He didn't have immediate plans to come, so I wasn't under immediate time pressure.

His texts started gearing towards preparing me for this encounter. He spoke of masturbation and encouraged me to try it out, detailing for me how it should work. I felt increasingly uncomfortable with how he was talking and the more time passed, the more certain I became that I didn't want to go where he wanted to go, at least not until we were in an official relationship and I told him so. He replied that he didn't know if a relationship was what he wanted, and he wouldn't know that unless I gave him what he wanted. I started to question him on whether he did or had done this with other girls. He said no, he was a virgin, and I would be his first, and it would be special. I doubted him because if he was willing to have sex with me without even the context of a relationship, how did I know for sure that there hadn't been others.

I regret how naive and stupid I was, and how close I came to trusting him, all for the desire to be wanted, to be loved by a man. But I thank God for protecting me from him. I am so thankful that he and I were in different provinces, because if there hadn't been distance between us, I likely would have caved under the pressure, and I wouldn't have had the time to rethink my decision before it was too late.

A few years later, I was hanging out with a friend, and discovered that he was a mutual friend of ours. I told her how he had pressured me and what he wanted from me, and she replied, "that's just how he is. You just have to stand your ground and not give him anything you don't want to." I wasn't comfortable with that because I knew how hard it could be to stand firm against increasing pressure. I had already stopped talking to him, so this conversation was purely retrospective. I was again thankful for the distance between us.

I didn't think of him again for years. Then last year, I was home visiting my family, and my aunt had stopped by and was chatting with my Mom. They were discussing a "new" thing called sexting. Surely it wasn't that big of an issue in our communities, but it was good not to let kids have cell phones in their rooms, or open internet on their cell phones. A little bit of parental control would go a long way in preventing this from happening. My memories came flooding back and I snapped at them. This does happen in our communities. This happened to me. And that was years ago already. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that this isn't still happening and probably at a much larger scale than you think. This was the first time I had ever mentioned anything about it to either of my parents, and my Mom didn't know how to respond or react. She just stood there in silence as I pleaded for them to support any education for the children in our community about this issue. If only we had talked about it before I was almost trapped into it. I broke down and left the conversation, and we never talked about it further.

I never thought about him, and I certainly never expected to see him again. And then I came face to face with him. I recognized him instantly, even years later, and I felt physically ill. He greeted me and asked about my life. I was polite. I didn't know how to respond. We got on the bus and he sat down beside me. I couldn't breathe and I felt nauseous. I knew I had to talk to somebody, so I switched seats with my friend so he couldn't see what I was texting, I added a texting travel pack to my phone so that I could text without incurring huge roaming charges on my phone bill, and I started talking to my Mom about it and actually sharing some details with her for the first time ever.

I had been caught off guard not only by seeing him again, but by my own response to seeing him again. I am not a hateful or angry person, and suddenly I was being overpowered by my feelings of hatred and anger towards him. Feelings that I didn't have years ago when this was happening to me, so when did these feelings develop? I felt unsafe around him, and saw my weekend being ruined.

I think when he saw me again he imagined we could pick up where we left off, and he would sit by me and try engage me in conversation. Although I was nothing but polite, with perhaps a slightly cold shoulder, he must have realized very swiftly that I was no longer the naive impressionable girl that I had been, and I wasn't going to fall prey to him again. I made sure I was never alone over the course of the weekend, but worried about the other girls there too.

After the initial shock wore off, I refused to allow his presence to ruin my weekend, and had a good time regardless. But occasionally I would watch him interact with the other young people, and he seemed so normal, so friendly, so much like everyone else there, that I started to doubt my memories. How is it possible that he can mingle with the rest of us without there being some obvious indication of his perversion? And if he can, how many of the others have secrets like his too? Or how many of the girls have secrets like mine?

Girls, I share my story to try prevent similar things from happening to you. Make sure he respects you the way you deserve to be respected. As my friend Jonathon Van Maren said in his article "Personalized Pornography," which also cites examples from inside our communities: "You are a person with a body, not a body with a person. If the boy you're talking to doesn't recognize that, then drop him hard, and wait for someone who does. There will be guys who want to spend time with you, not just your body."

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