September 20, 2005

Dear Wendy,

I recently read “A Return To Modesty" at the urging of good friend. I had expressed some concerns I had about the direction society is heading, and she recommended it to me. I don't know if you will even read this, but I feel compelled to communicate my experience with you.

First let me say that I am what most people would call a liberal, although I hardly find myself in step with most of the liberals in this country when it comes to sex and the roles of men and women in our society. Your book made me laugh and brought me to tears at the same time. So much of what you wrote hit home. At 8 years old, I was the victim of sexual abuse by my peers. The school system told my parents, who had only an inkling of what was going on, that "boys would be boys." I entered my teen years terrified of sex. My parents actually thought I might be a lesbian because I didn't want to go on dates with boys.

In college, I ended my long period of abstinence by with everyone. Other girls were actually jealous of me and my ability to without getting attached. What they didn't know was that love and sex had been violently separated for me before I ever hit puberty. I hated sex . . . but I didn't know how to say no. I somehow got through that period without any permanent STDs or pregnancy. I did not escape with my sanity; I developed an alcohol problem that drove me out of college and straight into a 12-step program.

The 12 step program turned it all around for me. Not just because of the help I received there, but because of what I saw. I saw men who should know better preying on young girls who suffered from the same delusions that you describe in your book: that viriginity is burden, that with no strings attached is normal, that saying no is wrong. I watched young girls deteriorate and leave the program to do more dangerous drugs and end up worse off than they were before they came in. I fought with these men, I begged these girls not to do it. Yet I was the freak, I was the prude, I was told that I was not the "arbiter of other people's sex lives." These men told me that these young girls "knew what they were doing." After reading your book, I realize that these men had probably convinced themselves that this was true!

Three years ago, I met the most wonderful man in the world, and we have been together since then. We took it very slowly; I was shocked that he didn't want to sleep with me right off the bat, but I learned to appreciate it. Now, at 25, I look back on my past and realize that I wish that I could take back every single person I was intimate with prior to him. I joke that if I would have known he was coming, I would never have touched another man, but truly, I mean that. I wish I would have waited for him to come in my life. Many of my friends think I am crazy, that I should not regret my past; some still look up to me for it. I try to explain to them that who I used to be should not be anyone's standard. I was miserable! I do not feel bad about regretting my past. I don't lie awake at night and think about it, but I am properly ashamed. That shame is there for a reason; if things do not work out with my boyfriend and I, I hope this shame will prevent me from repeating past mistakes. Your book helped me resolve that shame, to realize where it was coming from and its place in my life.

As I have grown older and developed real self-esteem, I no longer feel the need to dress provocatively. I no longer feel the need to flirt shamelessly for attention. More importantly, I no longer feel bad about saying "no", about being modest and refusing to tolerate society's expectations for my behavior.

Thank you, Thank you for this book!!! I would say do not listen to your critics, but no reasonable and intelligent person blocks out debate. Instead, I encourage you to keep spreading the message, to keep being you. So many of your detractors most likely have never travelled the road that girls like myself have, raised in the era of sexual liberation and left to fend for ourselves. Perhaps some would call me out due to my experience with abuse as a child, but my experience is your ammunition. What makes a group of 8-13 year old boys molest and attempt to rape another child? Do your critics have an answer for that? I doubt it.

Thank you for listening, and thank you for all that you do,

Your liberal fan,

Dear Katherine,

There aren’t words to express how sorry I am to hear of all that you’ve been through, especially as a child. Unfortunately, even adults in our society can’t draw lines anymore. I wish I could say that I’ve never heard a story as awful as yours, but tragically, yours is not the first. One consequence of sexualizing girls at increasingly young ages is that the sexual abuse of them becomes “no big deal.”

It sounds like you’ve dealt with more than your share of blows, and emerged with admirable self-awareness and good sense (much more than the average 25-year-old, I might add).

I am happy for you that you’ve found such a special guy, but I have to admit I was a bit taken aback to read “if things do not work out. . .” towards the end of your letter. After hearing so many great things about your boyfriend, I couldn’t help but wonder: why this note of insecurity?

I want to tell you something I see a lot. Though it may not apply to you exactly, it does connect to the issue of shame. A woman may have several casual encounters, and feel somewhat less than stellar about them. She starts to develop a self-concept that she is “cheap” and before long, keeps falling into the same short-term relationships— even though they’re making her feel worse. What’s happening?

Shame does have a purpose: to move us to the point where the same thing won’t happen again. But after you’ve felt bad, it’s time to move on.

Granted, I don’t know you very well, but I’d venture to say you are feeling shame where you oughtn’t. There was nothing you did at age 8 that you need to feel bad about now. The adults in your life failed you, that is simply all. Your way of dealing with it in college was also understandable; you didn’t know any better. As soon as you realized that there was another way, you jumped for it. Good for you. I think you can be quite proud of yourself. You are not “damaged goods”—you are obviously a heroic, special soul with a offer the world, and any man lucky enough to marry you.

Which brings me back to my earlier point: part of me is concerned that you're still insecure. You’re no longer having casual flings, but how high are your standards? Are you waiting for a serious commitment before giving yourself completely to a man, or are you settling for less? I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but if you are in a sexual relationship with your boyfriend, I would encourage you to pull back a bit. Give yourself the chance to see what this relationship is really based on.

And don’t settle for anything less than the best—you deserve it!

Thanks so much for writing, and all my best,

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