(The Root) — Eight years old was far too young for me to lose my virginity. And I certainly didn't have the opportunity to lose it at that age. But if I could have, I would have. It was all I could think about, and it was all any of my teammates on my little league team talked about. Some were telling the truth about doing it, most were lying, but one thing was for certain: We thought it was normal.
When Chris Brown told the Guardian that he lost his virginity at the age of 8, I wasn't shocked. His story sounded familiar: He was a kid having sex with a girl who was 14 or 15. That was how most of my friends, the ones we all considered lucky, usually lost it — with someone older who had an easier time getting out from under their parents watchful eye, usually because their folks worked nights or went out of town for the weekends. And when Brown said, "It's different in the country," I knew exactly what he meant. Even though my small town of Seaside, Calif., isn't country, it's still small like most country towns you'd find in the South.
What did shock me: the responses to Brown's admission. "Why Is No One Talking About the Fact That Chris Brown Was Raped" read one headline. "Chris Brown Didn't 'Lose His Virginity at 8.' He Was Raped" read another. No he wasn't, I thought. Not if he said yes, and wait, what? Where I'm from that's a rite of passage. "Rape" is a highly charged word, and the use of it here seemed to be over the top. But then I read the articles. And sure enough, everyone who used the word "rape" was right.
Chris Brown was raped. The law says so.
In Virginia, the state where Brown was raised, the age of consent is 18, which means Brown was a victim to someone else who was under the legal age of consenting herself. I was a little embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about not only the law, but how unhealthy and hazardous my mentality was back when I was 8. I thought about Brown's revelation, and how he reportedly grinned and chuckled in the telling.
The saddest part in Brown's story is that grin and chuckle. I heard it a lot growing up among my peers, as they told stories of having sex at 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. My peers and I weren't even teenagers when we were talking about sex, and sure, some of us were lying about what we did. But many of us weren't — and all of us knew sex was way more fun than what our parents were telling us.
At my school, Ord Terrace Elementary, formal sex education took place in fifth grade. Everyone had to get their parents' permission, which implied a certain forbidden element to what we were going to learn. It was a big deal, and I was excited, especially when our first exercise was to get into groups and write down all the slang terms we used to refer to male and female anatomy and acts of sex. That was the most fun assignment I had in elementary school.
But everything was a snore from there, mostly because everything we were being taught about sex were the most boring parts of it. They told us abstinence was the only way to ensure of not getting and STD and taught us how babies are made — but no one was talking to us about sexuality — and certainly not rape.
According to Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services at Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, children need to be taught even younger than the age of 8 about their bodies and what to do if they're participating in activities that make them uncomfortable. "That conversation needs to start as early as 3," says Marsh. "It should be an ongoing conversation that evolves as the child grows older."
I have a 3-year-old niece, and I certainly would be shocked and scared if the word "sex" ever came out of her mouth. But the point is, a conversation should be happening sooner rather than later. Who knows what preschoolers are picking up around others outside of the home?
Three-year-olds will become 8 in no time, the same age of many kids Kyle Bacon helps as the mentor program coordinator at U.S. Dream Academy in Washington, D.C. He says some kids have their innocence still intact, but many of them don't. "I've heard everything from kids having threesomes to oral sex," he says. "And these are fourth graders."
Such cases would sound extreme only to outsiders who aren't familiar with the social dynamics of places like Tappahannock, Va., where Chris Brown was raised. The word "abuse" or even "rape" would sound extreme only to insiders who come from places where having sex well below the age of consent is common behavior. As Brown said, it's "different" where he's from, but it's a lot more common than even he or anyone else may think.
Of course, I'm only speaking from my experience and what I observed as a black man who was once a black boy growing up around other black boys. Precocious sexuality isn't unique to black folks, and God knows, we've been stereotyped about our sexuality for far too long. (There are few statistics out there addressing this, but the Kinsey Institute places the average age for sexual activities among blacks of both genders at 15.8, compared to 16.6 for whites.) As black parents, aunts and uncles, we need to make sure that our children are being protected — and that they understand that they have a right to say no to sex. And why they should say no.
David Walton is a director of student affairs at a school in San Jose, Calif. He works with students as young as 9. Where he works, students are taught sex education in seventh grade, with permission given by parents. But he has also seen many times where a discussion about sex needs to happen with kids much sooner because of special circumstances, circumstances that are familiar to him.
"I wasn't 8 when I lost my virginity, but I was 12," he says. "I understand where Chris Brown is coming from, because growing up in Mississippi, if you didn't have a girlfriend or you weren't at least making out in the fourth or fifth grade, something was wrong with you.
"Imagine what sex does to your psyche, and you're a kid, having sex with an older woman," says Walton, who is now a happily married father of two. "The same way they say weed is a gateway drug and it makes you want to chase the next high, things just escalated and got crazier after that. It's like when you're in college, and you date a fine girl, the next girl you date, you want her to be even more fine, but imagine what that does to you as a young man, if that's the life you've been exposed to since before you were a teenager."
For kids, sex is nothing more than a game, in some cases literally. Walton recalls how a round of hide-and-seek would quickly turn into a game of hide-and-go-get it. I knew exactly what game he was talking about, where a group of girls will hide, and guys will look for them, and if we find them, we're going to make out. No one had to play if they didn't want to play, but looking back on it now, I'm not sure everyone who participated did so because they wanted to.
Which is why states have consent laws in the first place.
But what do kids know about consent? Nothing. Kids need to be taught the law, just like they're told it's illegal to drive before a certain age, smoking under the age of 18 is prohibited and they can't drink until they're 21. Why not tell them that it's against the law for them to have sex — and there are consequences if they break the law? When I was 8, my mother put the fear of God in me about having sex. I knew it was wrong, but if a girl wanted to make a man out of me, I would've gone for it, just like Chris Brown did. But maybe if I knew it was against the law, that would've stopped me.
We are all taught sex is wrong, but we're not told why, beyond fear of pregnancy or disease. We need to be taught that having sex at a young age is to become a victim of emotional damage that can have long-term consequences. Someone needs to let kids know that sex at age 8 is not only wrong, it's against the law — and it's also not normal.
Jozen Cummings is a contributing editor at The Root. His new column, His Side, brings us men's perspectives on the latest events in news and pop culture. He is a writer for the New York Post, where he covers the blind date column, Meet Market, and writes for his own blog, Until I Get Married. Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at jozenc@untilIgetmarried.com.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.