Consent — when you think of this concept you probably think of sex, and possibly in a negative way. Discussions of consent usually center around “lack of” consent, and miscommunication, sexual assault, even rape.
We have focused on messages that emphasize the importance of saying and respecting someone’s “no.” We have given people tools to practice saying “no” proudly.
Now don’t get me wrong. Teaching that “no means no” and that sexual consent must be asked for and freely and enthusiastically given have always been among the very most important lessons I teach as a sex educator
However, there’s a big piece missing from our consent conversations.:
WHAT HAPPENED TO YES?
Seriously, I think that we have made a mistake. We focused so much on saying “no,” that we have forgotten to give people tools and criteria for how and when to say, “yes.” This has always been an issue for me. As someone who spends a lot of time working with kids and teens, schools and parent groups are often hyper-focused on talking about “no.” Now I understand why this is: it is an emphasis on combating peer pressure, and adults’ desire to delay sexual experimentation. But (and this is a big BUT), at some point, many people will make the decision to say “yes.” Shouldn’t we also be giving people the tools to evaluate that decision? (To me, the answer is clear: YES! YES! YES!) Pardon the pun. Or don’t. Up to you.
Now, I’ve obviously written this sentence many times in the past, but it deserves a place here, too. I do not assume “sex” is one particularly activity so when I use the word sex, I am not just talking about penis in vagina intercourse. I’m referring to any sexual way you choose to share your body with someone else. The criteria for saying “yes” can apply to anything or any sexual activity. I don’t make assumptions about your sex, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else for that matter. I don’t even assume that all of you want to say yes to any type of sex at any point in your life…but, you might. And if you do, or if you want to, there should be no shame around that decision.
I think that we all know the reasons for why someone might say no to sex, but what about the reasons for saying yes? Perhaps I can help you think about this through:
- Is this something that you want to do?
- If you are nervous about doing this, can you comfortably talk to your partner about your feelings?
- Do you know about (and are you committed to) protection and/or contraception?
- Are you capable of making a clear, thoughtful decision (read that as: not under the influence of drugs or alcohol)?
- Do you feel safe (emotionally and physically) with this other person?
- Will you still feel good about this decision even if other people talk or gossip?
- Again, do you want to do this?
That first (and last) question are really important. It’s okay to want to do something sexual. Sexuality and the expression of it are huge parts of our life and wanting physical intimacy is natural. (Yes, there are people who are asexual and for them not wanting something physically sexual is natural, too.) But you don’t just turn your sexuality on or off. It’s always there, we should treat it with respect.
Look, I know that it can sometimes feel awkward to come up with the right words – whether it is in the heat of the moment or not. Awkward isn’t a bad feeling, it’s a really important one. To me, it means that you know something is important but it doesn’t always come out of your mouth perfectly. It’s not a big deal. But…if you are looking for assistance, try the following:
- I really like the way that feels.
- I really want to kiss you – do you want that, too?
- Can I touch you?
And it’s always a good thing to reassure someone that you’re cool with slowing things down, too. “If this seems too fast, please tell me. I promise, it’s okay.”
As you begin a new school year (or any other post-summer chapter of your life), consider that lots of people are also trying to figure out how to navigate sexual intimacy (post-COVID, post high-school, post- well, anything). These decisions aren’t always simple and that’s okay. Sharing your body with someone (and talking through that choice) doesn’t exactly come easily to all people. Though what I would urge all of you to think about is that these decisions are yours to make. Not your parents, not your friends, not your professors, not politicians, no one but you. However you choose to incorporate sex in to your life, please know that it should be fun, pleasurable, safe, and consensual. Adults sometimes fear that younger people have a hard time with those four qualities, but I don’t buy it. You are just as capable as making smart (and good) decisions as anyone else, particularly when you have the right tools.
So with that, I shall wish all of you a good fall. And whatever you decide to say yes to, do it proudly. It’s your call.
About the Author
An internationally recognized expert on sexuality and relationships, Dr. Logan Levkoff is an author and educator dedicated to perpetuating healthy and positive messages about sexuality and relationships and encouraging honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in our culture. As a thought leader in the field of human sexuality and personal relationships, Logan frequently appears on television including Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CNN. Logan is an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Educator Supervisor and served on the AASECT Board of Directors. She received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Life Education from New York University and holds an M.S. in Human Sexuality Education.
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