Whether or not we as parents want to think about it, our teens are growing up. And part of growing up is exploring relationships, some of them sexual. Although this is a subject that tends to make many parents uncomfortable, we have to work thru our discomfort to help our kids. There is a lot of ground to cover, and we need to talk to teens about sex. Are they ready? Are they protecting themselves? Do they know how to say no? Are they engaging in other risky behaviors? There is certainly a lot to think about. But for today, we’re going to start with the very basics. Let’s talk about consent.
According to the CDC’s most recent report on teen Sexual Risk Behaviors, 40% of high school students questioned in 2017 admitted to having had sexual intercourse. My ever glass-half-full brain immediately goes to the positive that 60% are not. Although many teens think a lot about sex, all kids aren’t making that decision.
Other interesting statistics… 10% of the high school students questioned had 4 or more lifetime sexual partners. 30% had been sexually active in the past 3 months. Of those that had been recently sexually active, 46% did not use a condom before they had sex.
But perhaps the scariest statistic is the one that reports 7% of high school students have been “physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.” The CDC estimates that 3.6 million students in the U.S. will be graduating from high school this year. If 7% of our high school seniors are physically forced to have sex, that is 252,000 students per year. A low estimation that doesn’t include the 7% of 9-11th graders. And also doesn’t account for sexual activity among middle schoolers. Think it doesn’t happen? It does.
What is consent?
Consent is an agreement to do something and also an agreement to have something done to. It works both ways. But regardless of the context, consent involves 2 people. One person gives it. One person takes it. We need to be very clear with our teens, both our boys and our girls, on what consent is. They also need to know that sometimes, no matter what, the answer is no.
Rules of Consent
The person starting the sexual encounter must confirm that the other party is ok with how things are shaping up. Body language is not the primary way a couple should decide that it’s ok to progress. Many times in talking with teens, I will hear that a kid has been on the receiving end of not necessarily welcome sexual activity. Verbal consent did not happen. They report that their body showed interest. But their brain wasn’t ready. Many feel betrayed that their bodies respond when their brain doesn’t. And this disconnect causes a lot of confusion. Maybe they didn’t know how to stop because they felt that they’d already “sort of” said ok. Maybe they thought it was too late to change the game.
2. Progression of sexual activity requires further consent.
Consent to kiss does not mean consent to touch. Consent to touch does not mean consent for intercourse. At any part during an interaction, participants must clarify consent. Your teen needs to know that if they are hoping to advance the interaction, they must clarify consent. Your teen also needs to know that if their partner is advancing the interaction and they don’t want to, it’s ok to say no. Notice I don’t specifically specify boys or girls? It goes both ways.
3. Consent given once does not transfer
You can give consent on one day and not give it on another. Saying yes once does NOT imply a yes every time. Feeling guilty? Do not. You may choose what you do and who you do it with. You are free to change your mind.
4. You may not give consent under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
You cannot get consent if your partner is drunk. Alcohol and drugs impair judgement. You are interested. Your partner is interested. But regardless of this, if the brain is impaired, you cannot give consent.
5. No, Maybe later, or We’ll See is not YES
Are you feeling pressured in your relationship to move faster than you are ready to move? Some teens feel that they are pushed into sexual activity too soon, or that they “had it coming” since they didn’t clearly say no. Saying NO is important if you are not ready for sex. But it is also important to not take anything other than a definite YES as consent.
Not sure where to start? You are not alone. Sometimes all it takes is a simple question. “What do you understand about consent?” can get the conversation started. Still struggling to start the conversation? Check out teachconsent.org for a short video discussing consent.