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Warning: salty language ahead.
My son is 12. He’s not dating yet, but he will be in a few blinks.
In this age of toxic masculinity and #MeToo, it’s important for me to raise a son who will be a good man, treating people with kindness and respect—the foundations of understanding consent.
I have to admit, I don’t understand the confusion around consent. It’s not complicated—it’s actually simple as fuck.
As we transition from little league and LEGOs to seventh grade and girls, he may not yet understand the dynamics of sexual relationships. But he does understand that boys and girls get to make choices about what they want to do socially and what they don’t, and that those choices should be respected.
That understanding is not universal, however. Some writers have attributed problems with consent to miscommunications, inexperience, women playing mind games, and the lack of clearly defined expectations prior to physical contact.
But the truth is, consent isn’t hard to understand at all.
We do not have consent if:
>> Someone says “no.”
>> A person’s judgment is impaired—after drinking for example.
>> We use a position of influence or a power differential to coerce sex.
>> We use emotional force or intimidation to obtain sex.
>> We had consent at one point and someone changes their mind.
Inexperience plays a role—we’ve all been there. My son will be there too, and he’s going to make mistakes gauging people’s interest while he learns how to interpret both verbal and non-verbal cues. But he’ll also have to learn that inexperience isn’t an excuse to disregard someone’s boundaries or act inappropriately if they aren’t interested.
Understanding “no” isn’t an issue. Like many pre-teens, he knows what the word means, even if he doesn’t like it. Kids want what they want, and enduring the associated tantrums is a staple of parenthood. The problem is that as boys grow into men, too many carry their tantrums into adulthood.
Many of the problems around consent are nothing more than men reacting poorly to rejection and acting out, just as they did as children. They still want what they want, trampling someone else’s boundaries and discomforts in the process.
The rape culture and misogyny that underlie consent issues are learned at a young age.
Instead, here are four things I want to teach my son to help nurture his understanding of boundaries and respect:
Boys won’t be boys. The idea that “boys will be boys” is a damaging one. It sets a double-standard for our sons from the beginning. We hand out free passes for bad behavior and treat misogyny as a rite of passage. We’re communicating the wrong idea of what it means to be a boy, and later a man.
We need to eliminate the double-standard and teach our boys to respect boundaries instead.
We can stop pressuring kids to show affection for others when they’re not comfortable doing it.
Sometimes I’ll see my son give an awkward, uncomfortable hug to a relative, and cringe. I’ll then make it even less comfortable by asking him why he doesn’t give a better hug.
And that’s how we inadvertently deliver the mixed message. We ask our kids to respect other people’s discomfort with physical contact, yet we disregard respect for their own discomfort.
We can teach boys to respect girls for making the same choices that they make.
Boys and girls will have similar feelings around sex. We can teach them to have equal respect for those feelings, and for the similar choices that girls will make.
Instead, boys often learn to respect other boys who ignore boundaries in the name of persistence—a violation of consent—even shaming girls who are equally interested in sex by labeling them “sluts” and judging their intentions by how they dress and the makeup they wear.
Instead of condoning this behavior, we need to teach them early on that it’s not okay, and that there is no place for shame and judgment when it comes to sex and consent.
We can model the behaviors we want our boys to practice.
We can act like the men we want our sons to become. Our kids watch and emulate us all the time. They’ll pick up on any misogynistic behaviors they see in us. Instead, we have an opportunity to model the respectful, loving behavior that we want our children to practice as they grow up. Let’s make the most of it.
Father of daughters:
My daughters are 11 and 12 years old and I sometimes fear for their ability to give consent that will be honored.
Our daughters are at risk. We know this as men raised in a society deep in the midst of toxic masculinity and the #MeToo movement. Women’s wishes are not always honored by men when it comes to consenting to sexual activity. It varies in severity, but the risk is there nonetheless.
That scares the shit out of me.
At the very least, I get discouraged that my daughters will eventually be exposed to men who haven’t been taught a damn thing about being a man. I know I didn’t fully appreciate my place as a man until I sought out formal male initiation on my own.
In this modern culture, young men have no initiation to teach them to become men of integrity and accountability. Having respect for another’s right to consent requires one to integrate those vital characteristics into their decision-making process. Men need to make every effort to do the right thing and own up to those times when they don’t get it right.
A man can’t fully respect his feminine nature, and subsequently women, if he hasn’t been taught or encouraged to grow from his wounds. These days, shame brings forth the largest wounds for too many of us.
So what’s a man going to do with that shame? What’s he going to do when he gets laughed at, criticized, or openly mocked for exposing his desire for sex when the time wasn’t right? Is he going to become manipulative or aggressive toward the next girl, or is he going to shut down and never “close the deal?” Every day we hear about campus sexual assault, binge drinking, and drug overdoses as boys try to figure out adulthood on their own.
Sadly, I can’t imagine my daughters avoiding men like this.
To be honest, I’m glad that boys haven’t entered the picture for my daughters yet. Thankfully, I have a little more time to provide the guidance that I can. Guidance that they aren’t going to get from any other but their dad who cares greatly about their safety and sense of worth.
The fact is, boys and men will often be bold and come out with a request for sex. They might be unsure, or even expecting rejection, but they still do it. While I want my daughters to be kind while rejecting someone’s advances, I also want them to understand that they are not responsible for how others react to rejection.
I also expect that my daughters will stand up and fully exercise their need for respect and safety if that boldness isn’t kept in check. These are the values that I modeled for them all of their lives. It’s sovereignty and right action, two components to living a life of respect and integrity.
If there’s only one thing that my girls learn from me about consent, it must be communicated clearly, verbally and physically. Both partners must express a, “fuck yeah!”
If uncertainty exists, or someone’s needs are not being met, then it stops there. Both partners will only benefit from being present and communicating clearly with each other. If men and women can act from a place of respect for both the other person and their boundaries, consent becomes simple to understand.
“No is a complete sentence. It does not require an explanation to follow. You can truly answer someone’s request with a simple no.” ~ Sharon E. Rainey