5 Lies We Teach About Consent

ConsentConsent may be one of the most important concepts that can be taught and yet so many teachers, parents, educators, and adults in general are doing it wrong. Between the things society does, the things they accept, and the things they outright say, our kids and teens are getting a pretty warped view of what consent is.


1. No Means No.

Why It’s Problematic:

When we teach “No means no” what we are saying is “do whatever you want until someone complains”. It is a policy and a culture that isolates people who feel threatened or are afraid to say no; this idea forces victims to prove that they made their “no” clear, and that they fought hard enough. Beyond that it implies an “action first” mentality, the idea that you should just do something and then hope that the other person doesn’t say no, but if they do, that is the point where you stop doing the thing that you were already doing.

What We Should Be Teaching:

Instead, consent should be taught with a “yes means yes” mentality. What’s the difference? Well, “yes means yes” talks about an idea of enthusiastic consent. “Yes means yes” does not accept a silence as enough, or a mumbled “I guess” as enough, it looks for smiling, hip bucking, back scratching, enthusiastic consent.”Yes Means Yes” demands that a partner receive clear and enthusiastic consent before they act. It puts the onus on the people to be sure that everyone involved wants to be there, not on the person who is uncomfortable and possibly threatened to come forward to defend their right to that discomfort.

2. One Yes to Rule Them All.

Why It’s Problematic:

Consent is not just one question, or even one conversation; consent should be an ongoing dialog between partners throughout their entire relationship.  A “wanna do it?” and a mumbled “sure I guess” is not consent, consent shouldn’t be vague, it should be clear and deliberate. Yes to a kiss is not yes to oral sex; yes to vaginal penetration is not yes to anal sex. Once again this mentality puts the onus on the receiver, they are left wondering how to revoke a prior “yes” when things start to cross a line they weren’t ready to cross.

What We Should Be Teaching:

If we talk about consent as a conversation rather than a question we create a culture that allows for consent to evolve in a relationship. Tastes and comfort levels change, someone who said yes to vaginal sex yesterday may only be comfortable with mutual masturbation today or someone who wasn’t comfortable with spanking three months ago may have seen some porn that made them curious. Any sort of sex play should be punctuated with phrases like “Do you mind if I…?” and “Would you like me to…?” instead of starting with a single and never speaking of it again.

3. It’s awkward.

Why It’s Problematic:

There are endless people who will tell you that you can’t ask for consent without “ruining the mood” they talk about it the same way they talk about safer sex,1 they treat it as a chore. The problem with chores is, people don’t do them, and they certainly don’t want to. Make consent sound awkward and the conversations we have about consent will be brief, stunted, mumbled, and gotten through as quickly as possible. To put it simply, if we tell people that something will be awkward, they will make it awkward.

What We Should Be Teaching:

Consent can be fun! It’s a way to game out all of the sexy things you can do with your partner before, or even during, the main event. Like dirty talk? There’s nothing that encourages dirty talk more than consent. It doesn’t have to be “may I put my mouth on your vulva?” (which is pretty darn sexy if you ask me, but maybe that’s just because of my unadulterated love of the word vulva.) but instead you could say “I’ve wanted to taste you all fucking day, will you climb up on the bed so I can suck your clit?” or whatever sexy things you enjoy saying to your partner. Asking for consent can sweet and endearing or downright filthy, but it all gets the message across the same way; the one thing it doesn’t have to be is awkward.

4. It doesn’t matter.

Why It’s Problematic:

So this one isn’t one that we outright say so much as show people with our actions. How often do you hear things like “Go give Grandma a hug”, “Don’t be rude, your uncle wants a kiss”, or “Don’t you love your cousin? Go sit on their lap and watch the movie.” at your family holiday parties? What does that kind of talk teach out children about their bodily autonomy, about their right to decide what happens to their body? It’s simple, it teaches them that it doesn’t matter, it teaches them that there will always be someone who’s right to their body outweighs their own. It says that its “rude” to not let someone touch them who wants to, or that we show love by letting people touch us in ways that make us uncomfortable. Say whatever you want when they age, you’ve already taught them something entirely different their whole life.

What We Should Be Teaching:

Instead, consider asking our children how they’d like to greet their family. Teach them to treat people with respect, of course, but don’t dovetail that respect with unwanted touch, because they are NOT the same thing. Approach the children in your life by saying things like “may I have a hug?” and if they say no, then respect that. Instead allow them to offer a high five or a handshake, or even just their words. Give them respectful and fun outlets to say hello, goodbye, or thank you without using their bodies.

For a fun way to teach consent when it comes to touch, play the tickle game with the children in your lives. Tell them that they get to control when you start and stop, all they have to do is ask. They will love the chance to control the play and it will also tech them to verbalize what they want, and that what they say should and will be respected.

5. It’s all about the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

Why It’s Problematic:

For some reason, consent only seems to matter in our culture when we’re talking about a vice, something that our culture deems taboo, irresponsible, or just plain bad. Sex, alcohol, drugs, all things people have every right to say no to. They are told: stand up to peer pressure, respect yourself, you can say no.

On the other hand going to see that movie Friday night? Trying that food that they say they don’t like? Well, those are perfectly acceptable things to force people to do. In fact, it is even socially acceptable, or expected to say no to some things first and then allow yourself to be “convinced”. Each time this happens, it dilutes the meaning of “no” from “stop, I don’t want this” to “I could probably be convinced if you tried hard enough” or “just do it anyway I won’t complain.”

What We Should Be Teaching:

We need to start taking these words seriously if we expect others to, imagine explaining the concept of “no” to someone who has never heard it before. “When someone says no it is a very serious thing, except for the times when you can convince them otherwise because you’re more important.” No needs to be a word saved for when we really mean no, which can be scary. It means taking ownership of the things you want and actually saying “yes” when you mean yes and “no” when you mean no. We can’t just treat no like it sometimes matters, or soon it will never matter.

  1. By the way we should change how we talk about safer sex too… []

About Bex

Bex talks about sex, a lot, and feels this is the only way to reduce the stigma and lack of education surrounding it. When they're not trying to save the world, talking about sex to strangers, typing frantically, or sticking things in various holes they are usually indulging the other facets of their geekery.

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  • T Byrd

    To go along with #4- tickling is probably the earliest, most common, most innocent-seeming way our families accidentally teach us that consent doesn’t matter. I’m freaking 30 years old and only in the last couple years have I finally found my way to a place where I can say “It doesn’t matter if you meant to or not- you violated my consent by doing that.”

    Seriously. Don’t tickle kids if they A) don’t enjoy it and/or B) don’t have a say in when it happens.

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