Talking the talk

Young men need to grow up with a sense of respect and knowing how to ‘do the right thing’ 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 a massively important part of boys’ sexual education, with huge rewards, not just for your family, but also for their future partners.

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. Just as with every generation before, things go wrong and a bit of advice can go a long way.

Many young males 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. Check out the It’s Time We Talked website for more on this.

Young people may also feel pressured to live up to certain outdated social expectations of being a man or woman. Many young men believe they must be the ones who initiate sex, be sexually active and even aggressive; while many young women believe they are expected to be passive, nurturing and do what they can to ‘make boys happy’. Have a look at our article on Talking to kids about gender stereotypes, and try sending your kids some of our articles for young people on gender.

Why you?
You’re in the best position to instil these values in 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 they will ever have access to.

Don’t think your son is ready, or ‘that type of boy’? The average age young people have their first experience of sexual intercourse is now 16 (compared to 19 in the 1990s!) [#1], and around half start having sex much earlier – Also, 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.

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 chat 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.

It’s your call as to whether having both parents there is a good idea, but have a look at our article Dads need to get involved - a partnership approach to talking to kids before making this decision.

If you think he 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 your family and his future partners. Stay strong!

Read our articles for young people on sexual consent, which you can send on to him and use as more of those ‘conversation starters’ later on. Also, the more informed you can be the better. These articles* also provide some great tips:

The Conversation You Must Have With Your Sons – Huffington Post
How to Have the Consent Talk With Your Kids – Slate
How to Talk to Teens About Dating Violence – Futures Without Violence

*Please note, as the above sites are US-based, any help-lines listed are for US services. For phone or online support in Australia please contact 1800MYLINE (1800 737 732).

What to cover:

  • 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. 

Young men need to take responsibility for negotiating mutual consent with their sexual partners respectfully and without pressuring them. And parents and carers have a responsibility to promote this model of behaviour by having the conversation effectively and as early as possible.


Powell, A. (2007). Sexual pressure and young people’s negotiation of consent. ACSSA Aware Newsletter No. 14 (June, 2007).  Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.