This post: Teens and sexual consent: 8 steadfast rules they need to know
In a few short months, my son will be venturing off to college.
Like most parents of soon-to-be college freshmen, over the last several months we’ve been deep in the throes of college prep, going on college visits and mapping out what he needs for his dorm.
Amidst all the planning and trips to various colleges to see if they’re a good fit for my son, I’ve been doing my best to sneak in a few important conversations with him about life in college. I’ve covered everything from eating healthy (no, cold pizza and warm beer are not part of the five main food groups) and not getting caught up in the party scene to staying focused in his classes and being a thoughtful roommate.
But, there’s one conversation we still need to have… again.
A conversation we’ve touched on quite a few times throughout the last several years. A conversation that isn’t easy – for me or my son. A conversation that even though I can see the dread in my son’s eyes every time I broach the subject, I still feel compelled to bring it up one more time to make absolutely certain he understands.
The rules of sexual consent.
When it comes to teens and sexual consent, years of research have proven that open communication at home is the key to preventing teenagers (both boys and girls) from getting into precarious situations. Yet, one study found that the vast majority of parents don’t talk to their teens about consent.
Another study confirmed that when it comes to teens and sexual consent, some parents are apprehensive about engaging in conversations about sexual consent with their kids out of fear that their kids will view those discussions as approval to have sex. But, the fact is, kids whose parents open the door to open, honest conversation are more inclined to make mature, responsible decisions when it comes to relationships and sex.
The reality is, by the time parents get around to talking with their kids about the rules of sexual consent (if, at all), their kids have already internalized concepts based on what they’ve seen, heard, read or experienced.
And, in many cases, those “lessons learned” don’t provide the skills and tools they need to understand what consent is, how to grant or decline it, and the critical factors that can muddy the waters.
Teens and sexual consent is a very complex issue – one that encompasses far more than simply “no means no.” While I can’t dive into every nitty-gritty detail of sexual consent with my son, there are few things I need him to understand before I send him off to college. Here are eight things I need him to know – things I feel every teenager should know.
Teens and Sexual Consent: 8 Steadfast Rules They Need to Know
Not Everyone Speaks the Same Language
When it comes to sex, consent should always be unmistakably clear and voluntary. Yet, not everyone speaks the same language. Some people are comfortable being direct and candid, while others are more indirect, guarded or even timid. For some, saying “no” can feel awkward and uncomfortable which may lead them to do something they’re not willingly ready for.
If you hear words like, “I’m not sure about this,” “I don’t think we should do this,” “I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” or “this isn’t the right time,” that should always be your cue to stop in your tracks. If you’re not absolutely certain the person you’re with is giving 100 percent voluntary consent, STOP.
“No” Can Be Conveyed Non-Verbally
Non-verbal language can speak just as loudly and clearly as the spoken word. If you’re with someone who isn’t engaged, looks fearful or worried, doesn’t appear to enjoy your touch or advances, avoids eye contact or otherwise appears “closed off,” their actions are speaking far more clearly than their words and it’s your responsibility to listen.
To avoid inadvertently pressuring someone into doing something they don’t want to do, communicate honestly with them. Saying things like “are you okay with this?” “Does this make you feel uncomfortable?” “Are you okay with us going further?” will ensure that your partner is on the same page as you are.
“Yes” Can be Withdrawn at ANY Time
Surely our kids have heard the phrase “no” means “no,” but do they fully understand that “yes” can be withdrawn at any time?
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship with the other person, if they’ve said yes a dozen times before, if they said yes two hours ago or if they said yes even five minutes ago, if they change their mind, regardless of how far along you are, you need to back off and respect the other person’s wishes. Bottom line, “no” means “no” and “yes” can be revoked at any time.
Sexy Clothes, Flirting or Touching Isn’t an Invitation for Sex
Just because a girl walks into a party wearing a low-cut blouse and a short skirt doesn’t mean she’s on the prowl for sex. Just because she’s had a couple of drinks, loosened up a bit after a long week and flirted with you all night long doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to expect sex. Just because she leaned in and touched you on the chest or ran her fingers through your hair doesn’t mean it’s an invitation for sex.
The same goes for boys and girls – sexy clothes, looking “hot,” flirting, and even what appears to be sexual advances aren’t a given that the other person is looking for, interested in or seeking sex. Never assume. (It’s also important to note that if you’re not interested in having sex, don’t send the message – either verbally or nonverbally – to others that you are.)
When Alcohol or Drugs Come into Play, It Drastically Changes Perceptions
Nothing muddies the water of sexual consent more than alcohol and drugs.
If you’re with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, depending on their state of mind, they may be in no position to authorize consent – especially if they’re drunk, physically helpless, unconscious or unable to communicate unwillingness.
Does this mean that sex is always nonconsensual if both parties have been drinking? The short answer is no. But when alcohol or drugs are involved, communication is often impaired making it far more difficult to accurately assess the situation. That’s why it’s crucial for both parties to exercise a high level of caution when engaging in sexual activity when alcohol or drugs are involved – especially if you don’t know the other person very well. And, if you’re unsure whether someone is sober enough to offer consent, it’s best to “play it safe” rather than later being held legally responsible for an act of sexual misconduct or assault.
Just Because a Boy is Aroused, Doesn’t Mean He Wants to Have Sex
Quite often society views boys (or men) as the sexual aggressors, but traditional gender roles of young girls and women are drastically changing. Even girls as young as 13 years of age are pursuing boys far more than they did in decades past. Girls and young women, in general, are taking a more commanding (sometimes aggressive) role when it comes to sex and using their power of influence to pressure boys into engaging in sexual activity that they’re not ready for or willing to do.
Boys – and especially girls – need to understand that simply because a boy is aroused doesn’t mean he’s interested in having sex. (After all, he’s a guy and guys are always in the mood, right? Wrong!) Yes, his body may be responding to the advances, but that should never be confused with what he’s saying verbally or nonverbally.
Boys are under pressure to define their masculinity and they often fear that saying “no” to a girl could impact their reputation or self-esteem. Rather than succumbing to the pressure, arm him with a few gentle comebacks when he’s feeling pressured. “I think you’re great, but let’s wait before we do this,” or “I’m not interested in doing this right now, let’s get to know each other better.”
There Are Plenty of Ways to Say “No” Without Being Awkward
Most teenagers who engage in sexual activity before they’re ready do so because they felt pressured – either by their boyfriend or girlfriend, society’s expectations, peer pressure, etc. But it’s important to know that if you choose not to have sex, you’re not alone.
Not everyone is having sex. In fact, a New York Times poll found that upwards of 41 percent of college students are virgins. In other words, it’s okay to say no. If you want to hold off having sex until marriage, stand in your convictions. If you want to wait until you’re in love and in a committed long-term relationship before having sex, then wait until that time comes.
Rather than waiting until the moment when your partner begins pressuring you, prepare ahead how you’re going to handle it. Be clear and direct. Tell them what you are and aren’t willing to do. Saying things like, “I’m not interested in having sex,” “I’ve chosen to wait to have sex until I’m in a relationship,” or “I’m not ready for sex,” might make things easier. But remember, you don’t have to explain yourself. “NO” is fine. You don’t “owe” anyone a long-winded explanation.
Neither Boys nor Girls Hold Any Claim to Another Person’s Body
Considering the fact that 61 percent of young girls feel pressured to have sex with their boyfriends, chances are most girls will experience some form of pressure at some point in their relationship(s). And, when it happens it’s easy to believe that “everyone is doing it.” But they aren’t.
Although the average age when most people begin having sex is 17, many wait longer and some wait until marriage. It’s okay. Anyone who cares about you will respect your decision.
Don’t allow yourself to be pressured, coerced, or manipulated into having sex. And, never pressure, coerce or manipulate anyone else into having sex. Respect your own and other’s boundaries and convictions, and always exercise caution when alcohol or drugs come into play.
Talk to your teens about the rules of consent. Talk to them early, frequently and honestly. Regardless of the situation, no one holds any claim to another person’s body – ever.
Teens and Sexual Consent – Share your story in the comments section below. How are you teaching your son or daughter about consent?