Consent is a basic concept that should be taught to and understood thoroughly by youth. Teaching youth about the skills of consent can help reduce sexual coercion, harassment, and sexual assault.
When a young person begins to date, it is important to talk with them about what consent looks like in dating relationships. Start by explaining the importance of asking for permission to touch or kiss someone. You can ask them, “How do you know when someone gives their consent?” or “How can someone tell if the other person is ready to touch or kiss?” Explain that it only means “yes” when someone actually responds with “yes.” Just because a person doesn’t say “no” directly doesn’t mean that they are giving consent.
From the Planned Parenthood website:
“Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you too. It’s also important to be honest with your partner about what you want and don’t want. Consent is required every time you are being intimate, and you should never feel pressured to do something, even if you have done it in the past. Both people must agree to sex – every single time – for it to be consensual. Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.”
“You don’t need to set aside a huge chunk of time to have these kinds of conversations. You can have conversations anytime you’re together without lots of distractions: in the car, at mealtime, etc. Teaching about consent works best when it is talked about regularly in lots of different ways.” ~Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance
Stress the importance of asking, listening, and respecting someone’s comfort level and choice! You can also ask, “If a person’s date or romantic partner touches or kisses them without their consent, what is that called?” Explain that forced sexual contact, which includes touching and kissing, is called sexual coercion (Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, 2018).
But consent is about more than just sex. Consenting and asking for consent are about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner – and checking in if things aren’t clear.
Here are some common misconceptions from One Love’s Five Big Myths About Consent:
MYTH #1: Boundaries aren’t essential – It is important in every relationship that partners have time and space to do things on their own. Each person should appreciate the other’s individuality.
MYTH #2: Consent is only about sex – Consent is about many things, from sex to kissing in public, to disclosing private things, and more.
MYTH #3: Silence means yes – Not true! Consent should be explicit. If someone is silent, their partner should ask how they are feeling and if they feel good about proceeding.
MYTH #4: No takebacks – You have every right to change your mind. You may consent to something and then change your mind as things progress or in another situation. Consenting once does not mean consenting every time.
MYTH #5: All’s fair when you are drunk – If you or your partner are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you are unable to give consent. Drugs and alcohol can affect our cognitive activities such as decision-making, response inhibition, planning, and memory. Wait until everyone is sober to make sexual (and other!) decisions. Explain to youth what the effects of drugs and alcohol are on our decision-making processes.
Popular culture inundates us with situations where pushing and breaking people’s boundaries is portrayed as romantic. It is important to look at these instances with a critical eye, work to recognize these situations, and change perceptions. TV Sexual Assault Portrayals give some examples of the good and the bad of how some TV shows address sexual assault. More examples can be found at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center – Consent in Pop Culture and Rape Culture in Popular Movies.
Teach your youth that it is OK to express their feelings and opinions. Setting boundaries can be hard; set up situations and have them practice saying “no.” Let them know that it is not rude to set boundaries and to make “I” statements (i.e., “I feel when you .”).
Saying “no” does not mean that you don’t like or love someone – and they should also not feel pressured to do something with which they are not comfortable. In addition, make sure that youth are clear that being in a relationship does not give your partner the right to assume that you want to have sex (or touch) at any given time.
As the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance reminds parents and guardians, “You don’t need to set aside a huge chunk of time to have these kinds of conversations. You can have conversations anytime you’re together without lots of distractions: in the car, at mealtime, etc. Teaching about consent works best when it is talked about regularly in lots of different ways.”
From RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network):
What is enthusiastic consent?
“Enthusiastic consent is a newer model for understanding consent that focuses on a positive expression of consent. Simply put, enthusiastic consent means looking for the presence of a ‘yes’ rather than the absence of a ‘no.’ Enthusiastic consent can be expressed verbally or through nonverbal cues, such as positive body language like smiling, maintaining eye contact, and nodding. These cues alone do not necessarily represent consent, but they are additional details that may reflect consent. It is necessary, however, to still seek verbal confirmation. The important part of consent, enthusiastic or otherwise, is checking in with your partner regularly to make sure that they are still on the same page.”
Enthusiastic consent can look like this:
- Asking permission before you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like, “Is this OK?”
- Confirming that there is reciprocal interest before initiating any physical touch.
- Letting your partner know that you can stop at any time.
- Periodically checking in with your partner, such as asking, “Is this still okay?”
- Providing positive feedback when you’re comfortable with an activity.
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement like, “I’m open to trying.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level (see note below).
Consent does NOT look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge “no.”
- A partner who is disengaged, nonresponsive, or visibly upset.
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more.
- Someone who is under the legal age of consent as defined by the state.
- Someone who is incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol.
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation.
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past.
Talking to youth about consent:
Creative ways to look at and explain consent via short videos/songs:
- Two Minutes Will Change Your Mind About Consent
- Tea consent video
- Pizza, sex, and consent
- Flight of the Conchords Ep 8 ‘A Kiss is Not a Contract’
Parental guidance recommended:
SEXUAL ASSAULT RESOURCES
- King County Sexual Assault Resource Center: 1.888.99.VOICE (24-hr resource line)
- Harborview Abuse and Trauma Center (Seattle): 206.744.1600
- Dawson Place (Everett): 425.789.3000
- RAINN‘s Sexual Assault National Hotline: 800.656.HOPE (4673)
- Love is Respect Teen Dating Violence Hotline: Call 866.331.9474 | Text loveis to 22522 | Chat www.loveisrespect.org
- Trevor Project Hotline: Call 866.488.7386 (24-hrs a day) | Text Trevor to 202.304.1200
Solid Ground’s Broadview Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing provides confidential temporary housing for parents and their children experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence. We provide 24-hour trauma-informed support services to help families meet their immediate needs and move forward with their goals. Our team of housing counselors, child advocates, domestic violence/legal advocates and specialized service providers partner with residents as they work to secure permanent housing, heal from trauma, and increase self-sufficiency and stability.
Domestic Violence Help in Seattle/King County
Call 206.299.2500 for Solid Ground’s confidential Domestic Violence shelter services and/or 2.1.1 toll-free at 1.800.621.4636, M-F, 8am-6pm for info about all King County resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1.800.799.7233 or TTY 1.800.787.3224
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