As parents, it is becoming more common to understand the importance of having “the sex talk” with our kids, and making it an ongoing conversation through their pre-teen and teen years.
But what is just starting to become more clear in recent years is the importance of teaching our kids beyond just the basic body parts, puberty stages, contraception options, and then mechanics of sex and intimacy.
It has become very clear the importance of teaching our kids about sexual consent, especially since the prevalence of the #MeToo movement.
However, chances are, your parents never had “the consent talk” with you as part of your own sex talk when you were growing up.
Many of us were never really taught about consent much at all, if ever.
So we don’t really have a blueprint that we are working from.
What does “the consent talk” with your kids even sound like?
Where do we start?
What are we supposed to cover?
And most of all – when we really get down to it – are we clear ourselves as parents about what consent really is, and isn’t?
photo credit @alexcamilleri
This is where I can help.
As a Registered Psychotherapist and author, I’ve spent over 4 years researching this topic in depth, from every angle I could think of.
I’ve put it all together in one amazing book that you can read either together with your young teen, or have them read it on their own.
My book Real Talk About Sex and Consent: What Every Teen Needs to Know – find this book on Amazon here breaks down each and every step to true and total consent.
And I can tell you, consent has a lot more layers and parts than even I was aware of when I set out to write this book.
I think most people have a pretty good understanding these days that “no means no.”
But what’s more important when it comes to consent is actually “yes means yes.”
And it’s not just any yes, it’s specifically an enthusiastic, affirmative, freely given yes. And, one step further, it’s not just any enthusiastic, affirmative, freely given yes.
It is one given under the right circumstances and in the right environment of true safety with another person – legally, socially, physically, and emotionally.
There are many different aspects that have to be all on the same page for true and total consent to exist.
Just “asking” and getting an answer actually aren’t enough – context has to be taken into consideration.
So “the sex talk” needs to be a sex conversation throughout the years, and it needs to have consent woven into every single part of the discussion from the start.
Because without consent, sex and intimacy just can’t happen.
photo credit @alexcamilleri
One of these points I cover in the book to help keep it all straight is the acronym HOT SPICE.
This stands for 8 aspects of consent, once the legal parameters of consent are considered.
From there, consent must be:
Honest – each person has checked in independently with themselves about what they do and don’t want, and feel comfortable and safe to express this with their partner(s).
Ongoing – consent is needed for each aspect of intimacy in a sexual encounter as things change and progress.
Talked-About – consent must be both verbal and match with body language – they must go together.
Specific – consent to the specific act in question is required, and anything outside this must have its own consent conversation (i.e. consent to sex with a condom is not giving consent to sex without a condom).
Present-moment – consent has to be given in the moment – consent earlier in the day or week is not adequate, it must be given in the moment itself, by the person themselves.
Informed – each person must have informed consent regarding accurate information to who a person is, their age, and any risk factors (i.e. STI risks) they might need to be aware of.
Changeable – consent can be revoked at any point in an interaction, for any reason, and the other person(s) must stop.
Enthusiastically Affirmative – each person must be actively enjoying and participating in the activity – a robotic yes or passive mumbled “sure” can be signs that a person has gone into a trauma response, and that they do not actually want to be engaging in the activity.
This last point is one that I am particularly passionate about.
The book talks in much more depth about how this can happen if we feel cornered, frightened, pressured, or trapped during a sexual encounter – even unintentionally.
Our body has a whole host of trauma responses we often aren’t taught about when we learn what we “should” do if someone is crossing our boundaries.
How many people reading this article now were taught to kick, scream, yell, or fight in some way if someone was assaulting you?
I know I was.
And I also know that wasn’t the set of responses that showed up in the moment for me, no matter what I was taught.
It often isn’t for most people.
And there are reasons for this that we should all understand.
In a moment of panic, we often turn to less threatening and de-escalating types of responses automatically, and we don’t always have control over this initial response.
These are the responses beyond fight or flight: we can freeze, appease, tend, and befriend.
And understanding these responses is paramount to understanding what a true enthusiastic, affirmative “yes” really looks like and sounds like – both as we give it, or when we look for it in a partner.
It is also part of teaching our kids about personal safety, so that when or if their body ever has a different reaction in a scary moment than they thought they might have (if they feel the urge to freeze, appease, tend, or befriend) they can understand what it is and why it is happening to them.
Then, instead of feeling confused in the moment, they can be empowered to try to take different steps toward safety. The book covers some of these safety best practices as well.
As you can see, the consent conversation is more than just teaching our children to respect each other and to ask permission before approaching someone for sexual intimacy.
And while these are vital messages to teach, if we are going to teach consent in a way that might truly help spare our next generation from experiencing their own #MeToo movement, we have to make sure we go one step further.
And we have to be learning right alongside our kids.
Start with Real Talk About Sex and Consent – “The Consent Talk” With Your Kids.
And start as early as grade 5 or grade 6, depending on your individual child’s readiness.
But by grade 7, children should ideally have a solid understanding of consent before the school year begins.
If your child is older than this and you haven’t yet talked about consent, don’t fret! Start as soon as you can.
At any age, this is powerful information, and can always only help to keep our kids – and our society – safer, healthier, and happier.
Thank you, parents in this new wave of sex education, for empowering your kids and teaching what true and healthy sexual consent looks like!
You can also start with my online Consent 101 course that follows the contents of the book, here: https://courses.cherylmbradshaw.com/pages/home/
If you are interested in learning more about the trauma responses starting today, watch my free video explaining this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fPAANjtMlI&t=8s
About Cheryl M. Bradshaw:
CHERYL M. BRADSHAW, R.P., B.Ed, M.A., is a registered psychotherapist working in private practice, and author of How to Like Yourself – a self-esteem guide for teens – and The Resilience Workbook for Teens, and her newest book, Real Talk About Sex and Consent. Each has been a #1 New Release on Amazon, and Cheryl has been featured on various television and radio shows, articles, reviews, and podcasts, including Breakfast Television, Global’s The Morning Show, CBC Radio, and Today’s Parent. Her first book was also selected as a 2016 Foreword INDIES Finalist for the 2016 Young Adult Non-Fiction category.
In addition, Cheryl received the inaugural Outstanding Alumni Award from Yorkville University in 2017.
Bradshaw served as a counsellor at both Sheridan College and the University of Guelph. She has a background in teaching, and continues to work with and volunteer with schools and charities to talk about youth and young adult mental health, self-esteem, and also to support parents with their teens.
Find out more about Cheryl at www.cherylmbradshaw.com, and on social media @cherylmbradshaw.
photo credit @alexcamilleri