Talking to boys about respect, sex and consent

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Young men need to grow up knowing their rights and responsibilities when it comes to sexual relationships.

Understanding things like respect, free agreement and consent (what it is, why it's important and what it looks like) is an important part of boys’ sexual education.

For young people, the line between consent and no consent can be confusing, difficult to remember and often hard to put into practice. They’re trying to figure out so much in an environment of strong passion, social expectations and a whole lot of new experiences. Things can go wrong – so a bit of advice can go a long way.

Many young men these days look to pornography for their sex education. This is not surprising, given how easy it is for them to access. The problem is that a lot of pornography promotes really bad ideas about control, violence and power in sex, and a lack of respect for women, in particular.

Young people may also feel pressured to live up to certain outdated social expectations about being a man or woman. Many young men believe they must be the ones who initiate sex, and be sexually active or aggressive, while many young women believe they are expected to be passive, nurturing and do what they can to ‘make boys happy’.

Why you?

You’re in the best position to instil values around respect, free agreement and consent in your kids – even if they tell you otherwise! Yes, boys might squirm when you try to start these conversations, but the fact remains that, as parents and carers, you are one of the most trusted sources of information your children will ever have access to.

When?

Don’t think your son is ready, or ‘that type of boy’? Around 1 in 6 young people have sexual intercourse for the first time at age 16 or 17¹. Chances are they’ll start getting their ‘sex education’ from online porn even younger than that.

If you’re not sure when to have the talk, remember, it’s safer for your son to be equipped with this information too early, than too late. Even if your son isn’t thinking about sex, yet, you can talk about respectful relationships and having permission to touch another person’s body. Plus, it’ll be easier to bring these topics up again later if you’ve started the discussion previously.

How?

Consider when and where your son is going to be most up for a chat. Remember, this doesn’t have to be ‘one big talk’. Making it an ongoing conversation lets you talk about more topics and more complex concepts as they come up. Use ads on TV, jokes about condoms, sex scenes in movies, news stories about sexual assault, etc. as conversation starters.

If you think your son might just get up and walk away from the discussion, you can try bringing it up in the car or somewhere else he’s buckled in and can’t escape! If the conversation is proving to be hard work, just remember the enormous benefits this kind of discussion will end up having for him and his future partners. Stay strong!

What to cover:

Young men need to take responsibility for negotiating mutual consent with their sexual partners, respectfully, and without pressuring them. Equally, young men have a right to only participate in sex to which they, themselves, have given full and free consent. A conversation about consent should include the below.

  • The importance of consent, and that the consequences of not getting consent can be devastating for everybody, now and for years to come.
  • Free agreement: The concept of free agreement means that in order to give consent everyone involved needs to be sober, awake/conscious, and able to understand and communicate their feelings.
  • That when you’re in the heat of the moment signals can be misunderstood, and you might think one thing when the other person has a totally different take on what’s going on.
  • Consent is mutual everyone involved has to agree.
  • Consent must be continuous – anyone can stop at any time, and can change their mind.
  • Consent isn’t all encompassing – just because someone’s into one thing, doesn’t mean they’re consenting to everything.
  • Consent is definite – it isn’t a ‘maybe’ or an ‘I think so’.
  • Consent can only be given voluntarily – it can’t be given through pressuring someone, coercion, bargaining or threats.

Where to go for help

If a young person has experienced sex that is unwanted, pressured, coerced or forced, they can call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or get support through a local sexual assault service. For a list of sexual assault services in different jurisdictions, see:   respect.gov.au/services    

If a young person has pressured someone else into sex they didn’t want and want to learn about engaging in more respectful relationships, they can contact Mensline Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or via mensline.org.au

Additionally, Kids Helpline supports young people aged 5-25 with a range of issues and can be contacted on 1800 55 1800 or via kidshelpline.com.au

Reference

¹ Warren D. and N. Swarmi (2018) “Teenagers and Sex” in Growing up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Children. Canberra: Department of Social Services, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed online on 26 November 2020 at: growingupinaustralia.gov.au

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