How to Talk About Sexual Consent with Your Kids (Educating and Empowering Children)
When I was in college in the early 90s marching in my first Take Back the Night rally, the refrain we chanted was “No Means No.” That was what I was taught and it was seared into my brain. And, I assume it was imprinted onto others in my generation, too. But, “No Means No” is an outdated concept on its own and has been rightfully superseded by “Yes Means Yes” and “Enthusiastic Yes” as the standards for consent. Unfortunately, I don’t think enough parents– the ones currently having well-meaning conversations with their kids about sex– know that yet. As such, we need to get the word out and I’ve asked my friend Issa Mas, a mother and powerful writer, to share how she plans on explaining consent to her son. Let’s keep talking to our kids and amongst ourselves about this. ~ Isabel
I am the mother of a 10-year-old son. I look around at all of the overdue backlash against patriarchy and misogyny, and my heart dares to breathe into some semblance of hope. Hope that we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift — a shift that will enable us all to get better at treating each other as equals. I think quite a bit about how to distill these, and other difficult adult conversations, down to the appropriate essence for a 10-year-old kid. It’s not always easy. On the heels of the recent Aziz Ansari story, I was struck by the way conversations began to grow around the topics of “non-verbal consent,” “enthusiastic consent,” and even how enthusiastic consent can sometimes be affected by disability and trauma. It was a lot to think about.
In engaging in these conversations, what I got was a clearer picture of what I need to do so that I’m being fully responsible for raising a man-child in a society that would both encourage his dominance over women — only to then (rightly) punish him for what they taught him to emulate. I need to do my part in helping to break that toxic cycle. To that end, I decided that over time I would make sure to teach him certain things that even at this age can be spoken about, with the use of age-appropriate language.
I will be teaching my son that unless he gets an emphatic and enthusiastic, “HELL YES!” that he should not proceed with anything sexual. Ever. Under any circumstances.
I will be teaching him that if a girl is wishy-washy about her consent then she isn’t ready for anything sexual and he should either slow way down or break up with her (I’m not debating this. I was broken up with by a HS senior when I was a very virginal Junior and it was KIND of him. He knew what he wanted, knew I wasn’t the one to give it to him, and he moved on. He didn’t string me along, he didn’t bullshit me, he didn’t smile in my face and cheat behind my back, he didn’t keep at me so that he could perhaps wear me down, he just left. There’s NOTHING WRONG with only wanting sex. Not every sexual encounter needs to be predicated on love. He did me a kindness by breaking up with me because I didn’t want the same thing he did).
I will be teaching my son that even if his partner says, “HELL YES!” if at any point they seem unsure or less enthusiastic in any way, to stop himself, ask what the person is feeling, and back all the way off if they are no longer enthusiastic.
Please teach your girls to give enthusiastic consent or none at all. Please teach them to be clear and direct about their bodies and their sexual consent. Please teach them that ambiguity can be costly, to both parties. Please teach your girls that they never, ever “have to” consent in order to keep a guy, that if the guy leaves he has done her a huge favor. Please empower your girls to own their sexuality so that they do not ingest regressive sexual mores about what giving enthusiastic consent means about them (she’s a slut, a whore, etc.), so that she doesn’t feel the need to couch her consent in confusing ambiguity to “save face.” Please do not make assumptions about what their feelings are around sex; despite what you may say at home, negative societal messages around women’s sexuality abounds. Please be an active participant in their growth as sexual beings. Regardless of how uncomfortable it may make you, your guidance is essential.
I need to believe that we are our children’s best hope at breaking the toxic cycles that have hurt all of us for far too long.
This video on Sexual Consent went somewhat viral in social media last year and we’re dropping here because it’s good and could be helpful explaining the issue to kids:
Top photo of Got Consent? Wristbands from A Long Walk Home’s Shop