The line between fantasy and reality must remain bold and unbroken.
When I was about 14, I realised I was attracted to older women. I don’t simply mean those who were a couple of years above me at school; I mean 10-15 years older than me. That’s something that hasn’t gone away. I still find myself attracted to women my own age but what I thought was simply a teenage phase has actually stayed with me. It’s not unusual — plenty of men have wives and girlfriends that are older than them, as do many women, but it’s somewhat puzzling to discover when you’re 14.
I was something of a social outcast when I was a teenager. I played rugby and was quite clever so I always had friends and never really saw myself as a loner, but I found it incredibly difficult to connect with others. While other boys my age were going out drinking and trying to hook up with girls, I was reading comics, writing my own stories, and playing computer games.
While other boys my age were actually hooking up with girls, I was fantasising about my science teacher. She was only in her early twenties at that point but, as a 14-year-old, early twenties may as well have been early forties. It was nothing out of the ordinary; I used to fantasise about being kept behind for some random indiscretion and then being seduced by this older woman.
I don’t remember every specific detail of each fantasy but I do remember one thing – we never had sex. My fantasies were not about me wanting to have sex with her; it never got to that point. My fantasies were more about being seduced and the feeling that what we were doing was taboo. I fantasised about her naked and the kind of soft porn touching that you’d find on Channel 5 in the late 90s.
The key word to note in the above paragraph is what this article is about – fantasy. I never acted on my fantasies and, as far as I was aware, the teacher in question barely even knew I existed. The important thing to remember is that these scenarios were all in my head. I never once thought they would come true. In fact, if there was even the slightest hint that one of them may come true, my general social awkwardness would have put that to bed fairly quickly (no pun intended).
But what happens when a fantasy stops being a fantasy and crosses the line into reality? What is the response of the general public? And there is a difference in the way we approach these breaches depending on who’s involved?
The point is, I know what it’s like to be a teenage boy dealing with a maelstrom of hormones and anxieties, not knowing how to handle them or how to direct them. So when I read stories about teenage boys being ‘seduced’ by older women, particularly those in education, I seem to connect with them in a different way to others.
We all have fantasies, sexual or not. When it comes to men, being seduced by an older woman seems to be high up on the list of fantasies. Common consensus when one of these ‘seduction’ stories appears is that of congratulations. We seem to see this as a ‘notch on the belt’, so to speak. When women are arrested for having sex with teenage boys we often wonder why. We often question why that is seen as a necessary step, usually followed by cries of ‘where was she when I was at school?’
Even the wording seems to be part of the problem. In the UK, having sex with anyone under the age of consent (in the UK age of consent is 16) is statutory rape, yet it’s rare to see those words used in headlines in cases that involve older women and teenage boys. The article linked to above uses the word ‘seduced’. Other articles aren’t much different, using words like ‘affair’ or simply referring to the two as ‘having sex’. It seems that when it comes to female perpetrators and male victims, we have an aversion to being grownups and using correct terminology. These boys weren’t ‘seduced’ or conducting ‘affairs’. They were raped.
The problem lies in the reactions. I’m sure there are men out there that would have loved to have sex with women who worked at their schools. I’m sure there are women who feel the same way. The end result is that they are projecting their fantasies onto someone else’s reality.
The difference between fantasy and reality is huge, especially for teenagers. When we start minimising a teenager’s experiences with sex and older women we run the risk of telling them they are somehow wrong to object to what happened to them. When the first thing we do is recount our own jealousies over these scenarios not happening to us, we somehow tell these victims that they should feel bad for feeling bad; that they are somehow special for going through what they went through. “Why are you so unhappy? There are a million people who would love to go through what you went through!” If that is the first, and sometimes only, response that these boys see, it tells them that their feelings are somehow misplaced.
When we tell boys that they are somehow wrong for not enjoying a sexual experience, we run the risk of promoting the idea that boys must be ready for sex at all times. That is not the way to promote healthy sexuality. That is not the way to allow boys to grow and develop in a way that is conducive to their individual needs. It is limiting and abandoning.
If we continue to tell young boys that they should somehow be happy at their ‘sexual awakening’ at the hands of an older woman, we run the risk of damaging them almost beyond repair. We run the risk of damaging their approach to sex, to sexual thoughts, and to healthy sexual relationships with others. When we treat female offenders leniently and place some amount of blame with the victims we tell them that their experiences aren’t really that bad, that they should be able to live with them. When we take it upon ourselves to tell young and teenage boys when they’ve been raped, rather than actually listening to the victims, we run the risk of condoning and, to some degree, encouraging this kind of behaviour. When we treat female offenders leniently and make excuses for their actions, we tell boys that their victimisation isn’t important, that their wellbeing isn’t as important as that of girls.
When we rightly react with outrage to lenient treatment of male offenders yet fail to react with the same behaviour to female offenders, when we tell boys that their suffering is not the same as girls, when we celebrate female sex offenders and create a film that treats their plight as comedy, we tell boys that their sexual wellbeing is less important than the sexual needs of women. When we congratulate boys who outright state that they did not enjoy what happened to them we tell them their suffering is not really warranted. We tell them that they are weaker than the average man for not enjoying it, and we tell them to suppress their feelings because they are destroying the fantasy of somebody else.
It’s not up to me to tell anyone, male or female, boy or girl, how they should be feeling about a sexual experience. It’s not up to me to justify the manipulation and sexual exploitation of a pre-teen boy by an older women with jealous expressions of boyhood fantasies. The second I start to justify a sexual assault — rape — of a pre-teen boy with exertions of disappointment over the same scenario not happening to me when I was a boy, is the second I truly prove my lack of compassion and humanity.
We seem to be moving past this kind of backward thinking when it comes to girls. We tend to see through instances of victim blaming, and we tend to react with anger and indignation when male offenders are treated leniently. We don’t quite seem to have reached that point with boys. We celebrate when abusive, manipulative males are sent to prison, yet we complain when abusive, manipulative females are simply arrested for similar crimes?
This perception needs to change. However, there isn’t a simple answer. It won’t happen overnight. We need to start seeing boys as just as vulnerable and emotionally malleable as girls. The most important thing is that the change in perception needs to come from a neutral standpoint. It needs to come from a place free of ideological agendas and biases. We need boys to understand that we are here to listen. Telling the media that an 11-year-old boy is ‘sex mad’ is not a justification. It’s no more a justification than saying a 14-year-old girl acts ‘older than her chronological age’. We need to stop listening to other people telling us what the victims did or didn’t do and start listening to the actual victims themselves.
The fact is simple – 14 year old girls and 11 year old boys say a lot of crazy stuff. I know; I’ve been a teacher for a long time. I also know that, despite what a lot of young people say, most of them are simply not ready to be sexual. Adults who ‘sleep’ with teenage children, particularly adults who work in education, are exploiting very powerful positions of trust and authority. There is no way to justify it, no way to condone it, and no way to explain it by projecting your own unfulfilled wishes on it.
When it comes to fantasies, we all have them, no matter how disturbing, controversial, or seemingly contradictory to everything we may believe, but we know there is a line that we don’t cross. If a woman has a rape fantasy we are, as functioning adults, able to see the divide between fantasy and reality. We are able to see the divide between a fully consensual enacting of a non-consensual act. We do not react to women being raped (for the most part) with wistful expressions of disappointment that, for some reason, we have not been the target of said rapist.
So, when it comes to teenage boys, why are we so willing to see that line broken? Why are we so willing to not only see that line broken, but to justify it by removing the boy from the situation and expressing disappointment that that scenario didn’t happen to us?
Why are we so unwilling to put our own feelings above those of boys who have been manipulated, exploited, and abused? Why are we so unwilling to treat boys the same way we treat girls?
Why are we so unwilling to let boys develop sexually when they are ready? Simply put, why are we so unwilling to allow boys to be boys?