As I am preparing dinner, my son comes up to me and says,
Jay: Mom, next week we are talking about sex at school.
Me: Oh yeah, that’s good.
Jay: Yeah, but I already know everything about sex.
Me: Rolls eyes, you’re 14 years old, and you think you’re an expert?
Jay: I know a lot. I know you need to use protection.
Me: OK, what do you know about the term consent?
As we stood in the kitchen talking, I started thinking about my own experiences with young boys and men. I remember the boys at the playground in junior high school who would smack my butt and run while I yelled at them to stop. When I was in high school, a guy repeatedly tried to kiss me and stick his tongue in my mouth as I tried to push him off. And on so many occasions, I remember having to walk home from school and grown men following me in their car trying to get my number. But no matter how many times you said: “No” or “Stop,” they would persist. From a young age, girls are taught to say no and to protect themselves. But it doesn’t feel like the same effort to respect those “No’s” or ask for consent is talked about enough with boys, and they carry this behavior into adulthood. As I prepare my son to enter high school, I feel it is important to revisit this conversation but go more in-depth. We have had plenty of talks about setting boundaries for himself and respecting others, but we hadn’t gone into great detail about the word consent.
Communication, respect, and setting boundaries are the foundation of consent. Teaching kids about consent is about helping them learn to set boundaries for themselves while also respecting other people’s boundaries. Communication is vital for both parties, so no one ever feels pressured, and nothing is ever assumed. Too often, when any unwanted attention or affection occurs, the person applying the pressure is only focused on their wants and desires. So they must have a clear understanding of what consent is in all situations.
So What Is Consent?
Consent is an agreement that is willfully given without any external pressure or factors. Consent is required for everyone, regardless of gender, promiscuity, provocative clothing, or flirtatious behavior. Consent is also needed if you are in a relationship or married. Being in a relationship does not obligate a person to engage in any sexual activity. Consent means both parties say “yes” and are comfortable with what is happening—taking a moment to ask your partner if they want things to move forward. But also understanding that your partner can change their mind at any point during the interaction, even if you are in the middle of having sex, you must respect their decision. If a person says no, stop, don’t, you immediately stop and acknowledge how they feel—but also be sensitive to the fact that a person does not need to say “no” or stop the action from taking place to signify that they were not consenting. People can find it difficult to say no in a high-pressure situation, so paying attention to body language is essential. The is no room for gray areas. The best way to avoid any confusion is to ask every single time.
How To Ask For Consent
You may find asking for consent awkward, a mood killer, don’t think you need to, or are just unsure how to ask. The Healthline article “Your Guide To Sexual Consent” had some great tips on how to ask. You can say things like, can I kiss you? Can I touch you? Do you want to have sex, or would you like to wait? If you’re already in the heat of the moment, you could say:
- Are you comfortable with me doing this?
- Do you want me to stop?
- How far are you comfortable with going?
Here are some responses that ensure you have consent:
- Don’t stop
- I want to
- I want you
- I’m sure
The person initiating always needs to make sure the other person is 100% comfortable. You never want to assume or pressure someone into anything. Choosing to bypass their feelings is sexual assault and can result in criminal charges.
What Consent Is Not
- Assuming a person consented to something by their actions is implied consent and should not be replaced with verbal consent.
- Repeatedly asking someone to engage in a sexual act until they eventually say yes is not consent it is coercion.
- Understanding that not all affection, no matter how well-intentioned, is going to be welcomed.
- Intimidating or threatening someone is not consent.
- Thinking there are different rules for people who’ve hooked up before.
- If a person cannot say yes because of being intoxicated or passed out, there is no consent. It is best to avoid engaging in any sexual activity where drugs or alcohol are involved. Your partner needs to make decisions with a sound mind.
- Understanding that, just because your partner did not say “no,” then they are OK with what was happening. Some examples of non-verbal cues that indicate you do not have consent are pulling away, shaking their head no, looking scared or sad, pushing away, crying, etc.
Handling rejection needs to be discussed with the same importance as asking for consent. Teaching our kids how to react and handle their emotions is vital. They must learn to recognize and accept the rejection of affection and not take it personally. Explain to them that someone may not want the same things the same way they do, and vice versa. And in some cases, rejection does not necessarily mean that they do not like you. They might not be ready to take things to the next level. A person does not need to have sex with you to show that they like you. But no matter the case, if someone is not interested, you respectfully oblige to their wishes. Below are some ways you can say no:
- Eye contact with a firm NO
- I am not ready or comfortable
- Tell them you’re OK with kissing but not ready to have sex yet
- Leave the situation
Lastly, explain to your kids if anyone makes them feel the slightest bit uncomfortable after they have already said no or stop, they should immediately remove themselves from the situation if possible, yell or call for help and report that person. It doesn’t matter if it is a parent, family member, friend, or stranger.
Empowering our kids with information on sex and consent is very important and will help them navigate this world a little easier. Sex is a huge part of life, and therefore, these conversations are important and need to be discussed regularly. Build their confidence in this area by having plenty of talks instead of leaving them to figure things out for themselves.
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