Typical sex education is entirely inadequate for the social reality of the modern world. If you were one of the lucky to have experienced sex education in the public school system, you might recall the diagrams, booklets, awkward videos and lack of conversation. With the #MeToo movement and countless survivors who continue to come forward about their experience with sexual assault, the need for an updated understanding of sex is pressed to the forefront, especially for men and boys. In an effort to empower healthy intimacy and most importantly consensual sexual contact, both adults and young folks must reframe the dialogue and public consciousness on the subject.
When it comes to sex education, the average Joe gets basic information on anatomy and biology, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and in some states, but not all, much-needed information on birth control. Looking at popular culture, we rarely if ever see consent demonstrated or addressed in film or on screen. Although there seems to have been some progress in terms of accessible birth control and encouragements in the media around safer sex, we still have not seen discussion around consent and healthy sexual relationship.
In my experience as a therapist specializing in men’s issues, as well as a former collegiate athlete and football aficionado, I continue to be unfortunately reminded that there exists a seemingly pervasive lack of understanding of consent for men as it pertains to sex. Many men, young and old, express ideas suggesting that they feel consent in sexual contact is a grey area, while it absolutely is not and in fact, this is exactly where the danger of sexual assault lurks. For example, some men might believe that specifically seeking consent isn’t necessary, as long as their partner goes along with it, or men might express that while their potential sexual partner might say NO that what they mean to say is yes. The internet and pornography have become sources of sexual education for a younger generation, with the dangers of pornography aside, consent is absolutely not taught here, thus further emphasizing the important need for dialogue around consensual sexual relationships.
Coercion is NOT Consent
As we further broach the topic of truly consensual sexual relationships, we need to further understand consent, especially as it might compare to pressured consent through expectations and sexual manipulation or coerced sex. It has been commonplace for some male social groups to discuss the way that they might take their date out for an expensive dinner, because then “she’ll have to put out” and if she doesn’t, well then she must be a prude. This type of thinking reflects a certain level of entitlement, expectation and sexual manipulation that can lead to coercion rape.
We MUST understand that you might take someone on a date because in a chivalrous fashion you enjoy their company, NOT because you are expecting to have sex. Furthermore, if the need for consent cannot be respected, stay home and seek some support in navigating intimacy with a trained therapist. As we continue to further the conversation of consent and healthy sexual relationship, we must also account for the ways that many men lack the skills to pursue an intimate human connection with a potential partner.
Talking Consent & ASKING for Permission
With these cultural and generational misunderstandings around consent, sex education must work to talk about pornography, the dangers and the ways that what is demonstrated often does not reflect healthy, happy and consensual sexual contact. Sex education must work to address consent and the fact that this means ASKING for permission to kiss, touch, or penetrate. This can happen in the moment or often, if you feel it may detract from the moment, preferably consent can happen beforehand.
We must reframe consent as being something that IS sexy, especially as it fosters deeper intimacy and connection, elevating the sexual experience or “hook-up” and removing any doubt about consent. Finally, we must be talking more with men and boys about relational skills, intimacy and a healthy relationship. Fostering these skills will serve to empower men to pursue consensual sex through a deeper connection. As we take steps to educate men and boys on this important topic, we can hope to avoid the future pain that survivors of the #MeToo movement have endured and further empower healthy hook-ups. After all, sex is fun, just make sure you get consent! #MeTooMovement #NoMeansNo #ConsentIsSexy