My dearest boys,

On this Valentine’s Day in 2018, the rules of engagement are shifting regarding sex. How we talk about sex in our media, in our pop culture, influences how we actual do it. And yes, I mean, Do It (insert giggle or eye roll here). I spend a lot of time thinking about how to grow you into men who will move with intention, respect, fun, and pleasure as sexual beings. On this day, this day of romantic love, taking place in a year when women are coming forward in heavy, angry, waves with our too many disclosures of sex done wrong, I so badly want you to be a warrior for sex done right. It is with this in my heart that I am putting my fingers to the keys to write you this love letter, my sweet sweet sons.

The rules of sexual engagement should have always been based on consent, mutual respect, and pleasure but sadly, they’ve not been. I’ve spoken to you about this from the very beginning of our lives together. The responsibility that you, as white boys growing into white men, wield. The expectations the world places on you based on your skin, your class, is that you are confident, capable, and ambitious in all things. Your lives are embedded with a white male privilege and entitlement that can be used for good, should you choose to do so. And this, my loves, can mean that the sex you have and give can be not just good, but great.

What I am getting at is that the rules of engagement are, well, being reformed in a public forum in a way that is long overdue. We all play a role in that. I am hopeful that by the time you are ready to have hot, pleasurable sex that the rules of engagement will indeed be publicly rooted in the radical idea that sex is an interaction between people who are equally valued by one another. I can dream, right?

First of all, you pick each other up. This idea that one person picks up another is part of our problem; it alludes to the gross inequity of power in sex that I am hopeful you will be an active participant in leveling. When you find yourself attracted to a person, the first step is letting them know. I encourage you to use your words, as I have since you were small boys. This doesn’t have to be awkward or kill the spontaneity—using your words when inviting someone to get it on with you, you will find, can be very hot, actually. It takes courage, which I know you have in spades, so just pull up your big-boy pants, and ask.

The reason I feel the need to clarify that you ask is that I want to ensure you don’t make the error that too many of us continue to make, in which we simply state *our* intentions hoping that the person hearing them then knows what to do. When you are thirsty and you announce that to me, that does not tell me about any action that you want to take, or that you are inviting me to take. It simply tells me how you are feeling. Let me be clear: when you want to get it on with someone you say, hey, I’d like to (fill in the blank: kiss, hold, fuck, make love). Then comes the essential action—you ask if they would like to do that, too.

Ok, so you’ve shared your intentions and asked someone to get it on with you. If it is your lucky day, they’ve accepted. Now what? You bring all the knowledge you can muster and you offer it, freely. This study is yours to do. You do not do it through the watching of porn. You do this through anatomy books, reading erotica, talking openly and candidly with friends and adults you trust about what you like, what you don’t like—and you listen. Oh, you have to find teachers in sex (if you are lucky) who will expand your understanding of your own body. What fun you have ahead of you.

You bring protection from the disease and pregnancies you want to avoid, and you know how to use them. Part of the privilege embedded in your DNA is that you cannot get pregnant. At least not yet. I am sure that uterus transplants are coming and will bring joy to those who want them, but you, my sons with fully intact male reproductive organs, cannot as of today carry a baby. This separates the women who you may/may not be having sex with by an ocean of experience that you will never understand. Women fear getting pregnant every time we have sex. Condoms fail, birth control fails. We may not talk with you about this, as (especially when we are caught up in the hottest parts of getting it on) we also love sex. We also are motivated by the seemingly uncontrollable urge to feel good, to be close to others and rub our bodies against each other. But you need to know that every time you have sex, a pregnancy could happen and you need to understand that you are just as responsible for this as the woman you are sharing your sperm with. Do not wait to be asked to provide protection. Arrive prepared to every sexual encounter as though your life depends on it, because it does.

Just because she/he wants to get it on once, does not mean that she/he wants to again. This extends to those interactions that are fleeting (like when you hook up with someone on a camping trip) to those that are committed (like when you are dating) to those that are domestic (like when you are living with someone) and even to those of matrimony (like when you are married). Consent is required every damn time. Do not move into these interactions with entitlement or expectations. These rules of engagement will become more fluid for you as you know people, really know them. But never, ever expect that someone else’s sexuality of pleasure belongs to you or is owed you. That is simply not true.

Your body is yours, my sons. It is yours to give, to offer in the service of others, and to enjoy. Be respectful, be smart, and be generous. I love you.

Your mom

Sera Bonds is a social justice, grassroots activist committed to working towards balancing the scales of access, equity, and availability in women's reproductive healthcare. As founder and CEO of Circle of Health International, she has worked on women's health issues in India, Tibet, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan, Syria, and many more countries.