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He (mostly) seems nice online: should I meet him in person?

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simonewheat asks:

I'm 13 and I really need some help. I have been talking to this guy for ages on my phone and texting him. We have Skyped, and I know he might be 'one of those older people who have random children acting for them and they have voice filters' etc, but he has Facebook and I know loads of people who know him, but I just haven't met him. He is really nice and we both wanna meet each other... We decided we were gonna meet and I'm really excited. He says he wants to finger me, and he want me to give him head, that's fine because I have done it before so all's cool. Then when he asked if I wanted to have sex with him, I got creeped. Just need someone to say if I'm doing the right thing or not.

Heather Corinna replies:

We have a good piece on safety when it comes to online relationships and meeting up here, but let's review the basics and talk about you and this situation specifically.

Meeting someone who you don't know in person and haven't met before alone, especially if and when they may feel you agreed to be sexual with them before meeting, isn't a very safe thing to do. Instead, you ideally -- and this is true whether someone is 13 or 31 -- want to first meet them, if you're going to, with someone else you know and trust. Better still, bring someone you know and trust and meet in a public place without agreeing or planning to do anything sexual at that meetup at all, even if, based on what you've said to each other so far, or felt per seeing his images, you suspect that when you meet them, you might have those feelings.

How someone seems and acts online can be really different from how they seem and act face-to-face. You might meet this guy in person and get a vibe you really don't like, they might act very differently: he might not seem as nice in person at all. You say you know loads of people who know him, but I don't know if you mean in-person and know him well, or if they also only or mostly know him online, or, if in person, know him, but not very well. The difference matters. A lot.

You also may find you have zero interest in being sexual with him at all if and when you meet in person. Of course, no one should ever figure that if someone says they will or might want to do something sexual with them that that's a promise that person is beholden to: it's not. Everyone can always change their minds when it comes to sex. But you still probably don't want to say you're going to do something sexual with someone before you have even met them, especially someone who might be -- and it sounds like that could be the case here -- seeking you out expressly for sex. Some people react poorly or even aggressively around that kind of situation, and you, like everyone else, probably do not want to have to deal with that. But that's yet one more reason not to meet alone.

Based on what you've said here, it sounds to me like this person's primary aim in their communications with you is probably sex. I don't know how you feel about that, and I certainly can't tell you how you feel about that, but it sounds clear that, to some degree, that makes you uncomfortable. It also sounds like you feel a bit wary, and I think that's wise.

Do you want to enter into a relationship with someone that they've decided is going to have a lot to do with what they want from you in terms of sex right from the start, before even meeting you? Where they may have even sought you out expressly with that aim? Again, these are your feelings to figure out, I can't tell you what they are. But I'd pay attention to your guts when you're thinking about that: usually if we feel creeped out, there's a good reason why. That's often a feeling trying to tell us something just isn't right for us, right with someone else, or safe.

I know that when we talk to people online a lot, we can feel like we've met them, and in some sense we have, but there's a big piece missing, too. And that piece often has a lot to do with if we turn out to actually have sexual feelings and really feel like that person is someone we want to be sexual with and feel right about being sexual with.

One other thing to know is that most of the time, most people don't feel okay having a given kind of sex with just anyone just because they've engaged in that kind of sex with someone else before. In other words, that'll rarely make everything cool for people when it comes to engaging in any kind of sex, including the kinds you're talking about.

It might help to put that in a different perspective. Let's consider something else we can do that's not sexual, but, like any kind of sex, asks us and others to take some physical and emotional risks that can potentially have some rough consequences. Like, say, talking a friend through a really deep depression. I have done that before and had it go well sometimes. But just because I have done it before doesn't mean it will always go well or will be the same situation every time, nor that I should do it every time someone asks me to. I know full well that just doing that once before doesn't mean that I can always do that or that every situation like that will be even remotely similar. I still need to think about doing this on a case-by-case basis. Why? Well, for example, if someone is in way deep and needs a level of care I can't give them or am not qualified to give, I could really mess them up and make things worse by trying to help them myself. If I'm in a space where I am already too stressed out as it is, or am in my own crisis, I could wind up hurting both of us badly. If someone who asks me to do something like that is -- however a lovely person they may be otherwise -- an absolute jerk when they're in crisis, they could wind up really hurting me AND not be helped themselves. Something that could be challenging but ultimately really positive could, based on the specific situation, wind up being seriously awful for one or both people. As with something like this, sex is situational: because we've done something before doesn't make it safe for us to do it any time we could, or the right thing to do just because there's an opportunity or someone else wants it from us.

If that's still confusing, maybe think of sex as kind of like secrets. Not that sex has to be kept a secret or shouldn't be talked about. Not the Oprah-kind of Secret, either. That's not what I mean.

What I mean is that you've probably shared a secret with someone before, something you really didn't want most people to know. When you chose that person to tell it to, you probably had your reasons for picking them specifically. You also probably didn't tell just anyone, or didn't tell someone your secret just because they wanted you to tell them a secret, but because your secret being safe, and that person being trustworthy, and the right person to tell it to all around, were likely very important. Sex, of any kind (not just intercourse), is often like a secret in that way: it's not usually something we will feel safe about sharing with just anyone, or will be safe in sharing with just anyone, nor something where we choose to share it with someone else just because they want it.

If you feel that just because you've done something sexually before, it's utterly no big whoop at all to do it for anyone who asks you for it, that suggests there might be a problem when it comes to a healthy sense of your own sexuality, which always includes some kinds of limits and boundaries. So, if that's genuinely how you feel, I'm concerned. At the very least, I think you're probably diving in deeper than is sound just when it comes to education and information about engaging in sex, on top of lacking in support from more informed people and your own internal sense of healthy boundaries and safety. Without good education and information about all that any kind of sex involves or can involve, it can be easy not to realize some of the more complex parts of it until we feel the hurt of choices that weren't sound or deal with consequences or outcomes we didn't want and probably could have avoided by making different choices or making our choices differently.

Since you're asking me for advice, here's my suggestion: you say you know loads of people who know him. Have any of them dated him at all? If so, how about asking them for their impressions of him, not just before you meet him, but before you get more involved with him at all? It's really helpful to know many people who know someone, because you can often find out from them what someone is really like. Since it sounds like what's been going on is about sex or romance, I'd aim to talk to anyone else who has interacted with him in that way. How things went for them with him can give you some more information to make your own choices with.

If you still want to meet this person in person, okay, but I suggest you do so with your safety made a major priority, and without the intent or promise of doing anything sexual that day. It might even help to tell him that before you meet, to make clear that you know you said you would do something sexual with him, but you don't want to do anything sexual just yet, you just want to meet. If he's really not okay with that, gets angry, blows you off, or tries to change your mind, then you can find out right there and then this isn't a sound person to stay involved with or get more involved with, and certainly not to get sexual with. Those are Big. Red. Flags. Healthy people who are ready for healthy relationships with people they really see as don't do that stuff when someone says they don't want to do everything sexual that person wants on the exact timeline they want.

Here's the part where I'd roll my own eyes at myself listening to this part, but I just gotta say it: do your parents or guardians know about any of this?

I don't mean about every detail of your sexual history or sexual interests, or that they should know all of it because they have some kind of right to all of your business. Sex and sexuality is something that people tend to keep private to some degree, and it's not like anyone has to tell their parents every gory detail. You get to have some privacy, and I think everyone is entitled to some level of privacy at every age.

There isn't an "average 13-year-old," okay? People of all ages are different. However, what we know from talking to more young people than you can imagine, and also from good studies done on all this, is that most often, people who start getting very sexual quickly with other people, or who have sex-only relationships in their younger teens with people they don't know very well in person is that they a) don't usually feel so great about it later or during, b) tend to more often go without the kind of care, including healthcare, we all need, at all ages, to lead sexually healthy lives and have sex most likely benefit our lives, and less likely to derail them, and c) most often aren't realizing until afterwards when they have been played, manipulated or coerced by other people sexually.

If you have parents or guardians who aren't noticing any of what's been going on with you, including starting a sexual life, and who also aren't giving you information and support about starting to enter into and negotiate sexual interactions with people, that's one more red flag to add to our ever-growing flagpile we've got going on here. Something else we know from all this talking and studying is that people whose folks are not paying any kind of or enough attention when it comes to their kids and sex, and being involved in that part of their lives in some solid ways, are at a much higher risk of unhealthy relationships and sexual abuse. That's mostly because without some level of involvement from your family, you're much more vulnerable to people who aren't so awesome; that kind of isolation and being alone in all of this kind of puts a bullseye on you for people who really aren't nice at all. And that lack of support and care means you can go into things like this more blindly than you think.

At 13, if your parents aren't a decent part of any of this picture, including helping you make these kinds of decisions, you probably also haven't started things you need like sexual healthcare that you need. If you didn't use condoms for giving head to anyone in the past, for instance, you've possibly been at a real risk of sexually transmitted infections you can get that way, and which everyone needs testing for. If you have contracted an STI -- and you usually won't know if you did without a test -- and you don't get treated, you could get really sick. If you were about to go have oral sex with this guy, I'm willing to bet you weren't going to ask him to wear a condom, so were about to take a big health risk yet again. And that's just the physical stuff.

Sex of any kind with others can certainly offer us possible rewards, but it also poses a bunch of risks: in order to make the rewards most likely, we've got to deal with the risks, and do the things we need to to help reduce them. That's about your physical health, but it's also about your emotional health, which includes staying reasonably safe, in your body and your heart and creating a sexual life you feel really great about.

I know hearing some of those kinds of things can feel lousy, because no matter how old we are, we all want to feel in control of our lives and like we can handle everything we want to do. It can also feel like we need to start some parts of our lives RIGHT FREAKING NOW ALREADY because waiting feels annoying, or someone else is pushing us to move things along. And no one likes to think they might be less safe than they thought, or like someone has been playing them. But we're often not in as much control as we think, especially when something is very new to us, which sex and sorting out sexual safety and relationships is to anyone anywhere near your age. Hopefully, no one expects you to have it all sorted already, including yourself, because you just couldn't possibly. A lot of people in their 40s are still just getting a handle on it, after all. It's a process for all of us, and one that often doesn't go so well if and when we try and hurry it up or others try to push us ahead of where we're really at or use our vulnerabilities to get what they want. The thing about processes is that they take time, and trying to leap way forward in the timeline of a process usually means we miss building blocks we need.

I'm not saying that exploring sex can't be healthy and awesome for you just because of your age. If that's something you want to do with someone, at a pace that really feels right for you and that you can handle well, it can be. But without some of the basic things that support a healthy sex life -- like sexual healthcare, like older people with the power to help you with some things you can't help yourself with yet, like healthy relationships where you're really seen as a whole person, not just a sexual vehicle, like a strong sense of self so you feel able to set limits and boundaries and not say yes to just anybody -- it's not very likely to be. And a scenario like this is just coated in so many things that set off my radar, my feeling is that you might be stepping into something, or a pattern of somethings, that you're going to feel not-so-great about and may even be risking your safety with. Something or a pattern of somethings that also could keep you from seeing some other ways of going about dating and a sexual life which would probably be of a lot more benefit to you, and be way more likely to feel really good to you, and without any creepy feelings in your guts at all. The stuff that's right for us? It also tends to feel really right.

If you can talk to a parent or guardian about any of this, I'd encourage you to do that. If not one of those people, how about another trusted adult, like an older sibling, an aunt or uncle, a friend's parent you like, a school counselor, a teacher you look up to or your doctor? Someone who can be a good second set of eyes and ears for you who is outside your immediate circle of friends (it's really hard to be objective inside of it, and not just because of age), and who can help you navigate all of this. If you can't think of anyone like that to talk with, since it sounds like you may need to start with sexual healthcare soon just based on the kinds of sex you've engaged in so far, a sexual health clinic is somewhere you could find someone like that (they also often tend to have people on staff just like me, who you were obviously comfortable talking with). If you want help seeing what's available in your area, you can use this database we have here on the site, or ask me directly and I'd be happy to help you find someone nearby.

So, long story short? For now, I'd suggest stepping back instead of moving forward. Think about this some before you even text him again, let alone meet him. Go with your gut feelings and combine them with some information like I've given you here. The links at the end of this page should help, too. Talk to someone like me in person. Ideally, more than one person like me. Even more ideally, pick one person who can talk to you like this who you also know has a history of knowing you well and caring a lot about you (not this guy).

If you still want to get more involved with this guy, talk to the people who do know him in person, and well, and hopefully at least one person who has had the kind of relationship with him he seems to be seeking with you. (If no one who knows him online knows him very well in person? There's yet another flag.) And if you do meet him, don't go alone or agree to anything sexual in advance. Be safer than that: your personal safety is a big deal, and it should also be a big deal to anyone who claims to give half a hoot about you. A truly nice person will not have any issue with making things safe for both of you at all: they'll want that, in fact. Go with a trusted friend, to a public place, see how you feel, and then get your friend's take on him, too. If this guy really is awesome and everything really is golden, he'll be chill while you take the time to make sure and get to know him offline to really figure out how you feel and if any kind of sex with him really feels right for you or not. The good stuff can always keep while we make sure it's the good stuff: it's the not-so-great stuff, or the absolute crap, that often has some kind of ticking clock we might feel like we have to race to beat.

And here are those links for you:

Volunteer advisors and editors for this piece: Stephanie and Alice

written 26 Mar 2012 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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