What Does Sexual Consent Really Mean?

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I recently read an article by Ann Brasco in Everyday Feminism Magazine about the need for parent(s) to talk with their teenage sons about sexual violence since 44% of rape victims are under the age of 18 and 90% are female. 

I would like to point out the difference between talking “to” your son and talking “with” your son.  In order to have any impact you want to engage him in a discussion and ask him questions.  What does he know, what does he hear from his peers, what are his attitudes?

A caveat - parent(s) needs to be comfortable with the topic, have appropriate beliefs and attitudes, and have the necessary resources. These are difficult conversations.  No parent would like to believe that their son is capable of  such horror.  However, every rapist is someone’s son.

The age of consent is a good place to start but it is complicated so you will want to refer to http://www.legal-info-legale.nb.ca/en/no_means_no

Next, attitudes about the word ‘no’ can be discussed. It’s not enough to say that ‘no’ means ‘no.’ Although that is accurate, does your son believe that a prostitute, a slut, or a virgin mean it when they say ‘no’?  What if the girl does not say no – is that consent?  What if she says ‘yes’ and then changes her mind?  What about if she is drunk or stoned?  Does her inability to say ‘no’ means ‘yes’ in his mind?  Remind him that once a person is intoxicated they are not considered legally capable of consenting to sexual acts.

The next discussion needs to be about the consequences of his choices.  Being intoxicated, claiming that he was being ‘teased,’ or that “she was asking for it” because of what she was wearing do not exclude him from being responsible for his actions. 

Your son needs to understand the social rules and laws to which he will be held accountable.

Discuss the pervasiveness or disrespect for girls which begins much earlier than the rape scene.  Is your son listening to popular songs that call men ‘pimps’ and women ‘hoes’?  How enamored is he of the sport heroes, movie stars, music idols, and political figures who are celebrated for their sexual indulgences? 

Challenge your son to break out of the socially prescribed role of being the aggressor, the one in charge.  Point out to your son every time that you come across a double standard for men and women, every act of misogyny.  In the past boys were encouraged to dislike girls at an early age.  As a parent, did you follow this prescription and were proud that your son did not want to play with girls or “girl toys” as a boy?  If you did, now is the time to correct that teaching.  Encourage your son to notice these attitudes in himself and others, in the music and the movies, on social media and the Internet and to challenge himself to reframe these outdated views.

Most importantly delve deeply into the concept that rape is not about sex.  Rape is not a case of “I was so horny that I could not help myself.”  Rape is about power and control by one person who sees himself as more deserving, more capable, and entitled to get what he wants regardless of the other person involved.


If you are not able or willing to have this conversation with your son, make an appointment with a social worker or counsellor so your son can be educated in a clear and explicit way.  A professional can help him explore his attitudes, consider his choices, learn about the many ways to respect himself and others, and provide him with resources that are relevant, powerful, valuable, and accessible so your son can continue to deepen his knowledge and capacity for healthy relationships.

Please send your comments to info@familyenrichment.ca

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