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Sex and Consent: Is a Yes Ever a Yes When It Comes to Consent?

By Randi Mazzella 

My son is a young teen and starting to navigate the world of dating. Our conversations about the subject are awkward because like most kids, he doesn’t want too many details when discussing these topics with his mother.

Beyond the standard “birds and bees” talk, I find myself not always knowing what to say. Heightened awareness about sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses have placed my primary focus on making sure my son understands what consent is.

I must sound like a broken record.  Recently when the topic of sex and consent came up my son countered, “I get it, Mom, ‘no means no’ but out of curiosity, do you think that ‘yes ever mean yes’?”

Sex and Consent

I wasn’t giving my son a balanced picture of sex and healthy relationships. Michael Thompson, Ph.D., speaker and author of several books including Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Health of Boys says, “When we educate the young by only emphasizing the scary parts, we disqualify ourselves. Sex is pleasurable and exciting, and kids know this is true. We need to explain to young adults that attraction and sexual urges are normal.

Of course, talking about sex can be uncomfortable and embarrassing.  Thompson says, “Every generation wants to believe that they invented sex and their parents know nothing about it. Young adults don’t want to talk to their parents about their own sexual excitement. But it’s our responsibility as adults to talk about it anyway.”

I’m not alone in my concerns to ensure my son knows the importance of consent when it comes to sexual relationships. In fact, many parents of sons slightly older than mine tell me they insist their sons get “videotaped” consent before they are intimate with anyone.  But is that any more appropriate?

Thompson says, “If you feel the need to videotape someone’s consent, then you probably don’t know them well enough to have sex. It just seems like a bad idea. It’s also a bad idea is to have sex with a drunk person or if you are drunk. We know drugs and alcohol impair judgment.”

Dating Rules: How To Get Consent

So how does a young man make sure he has consent? It’s simple: ask.

According to Thompson: “When you are with someone you need to say, ‘Are you good with this?’ before continuing to engage. To get sex right, they must consider another person’s body and feelings, not only their own.”

We also need to educate both young men and women about what consent means. “Both parties need to acknowledge their sexual desires. For years, we have made the wrong assumption that boys wanted sex and girls did not – that boys needed to ‘push’ so that girls would ‘give in’ to sex.  We want boys to understand that they have to hear a ‘yes’ and also let girls know that it is okay to own their sexuality and say ‘yes’ if they want to,” Thompson explains.

Is Chivalry Misguided?

I always thought I would want my son to be a chivalrous gentleman – to ring the bell when he picks a girl up for a date, hold the door open, ask to carry her bag, etc. But now I wonder, are these types of dating rituals somewhat dated and anti-feminist?

Thompson does not think so. He says, “A few months ago, I was asked to speak on a radio show about an article in The New York Times on how to raise a feminist son. A caller said, ‘I never thought about whether I was raising my son to be a feminist.  I just wanted to make sure I raised him not to be a jerk.’ I think that’s exactly it. Don’t raise a jerk – raise a good human being.”

It is never a mistake to be kind and considerate, in courtship or life in general. Encourage young men to hold the door for the person behind them, man or woman.  If for some reason the person is offended by the polite gesture, shrug it off.

Don’t underestimate the power of teaching by example. “A young man that sees his father treating his mother with kindness and respect will model this behavior,” Thomson states.

Have Those Awkward Conversations

As difficult as it is, parents owe it their children to teach their children about sex and relationships. These conversations should include acknowledging pleasure, love and excitement as well as self-control and consent. By including both sides, teens are more likely to believe what parents are saying.

Thompson’s final thought: “Love and pleasure motivate all of us. As teens become independent and move away from their family, they crave other people to be intimate with emotionally and physically. It’s natural and healthy and something to be celebrated.”

I need to provide my son with a safe environment where he can openly discuss his questions and concerns with me. By providing him with a more balanced picture of sex and dating, I can help him to become the responsible, caring man I believe he wants to be.

Randi Mazzella

Randi Mazzella is a mother of three and freelance writer/journalist/blogger. Her work has appeared in many online and print publications including Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy, and Teen Life.