Teaching Our Children Only “Yes” Means Yes

I don't know what sex-ed lessons are like in school these days. It's been twenty years since I had them and neither of my kids (9 and 6) are old enough to have started them yet. Even ignoring the fact that mine were taught by convicted paedophile Lindsay Brown, they were very much of the “this goes here, this happens and babies”. I doubt much has changed. My parents, awesome though they are, weren't much better. They bought me a book after I asked why my dad had had to have an operation (it was his vasectomy). I pretty much devoured every page of that, I was probably the most technically knowledgeable twelve year old in my school, but you can pretty much forget any teachings about emotions, relationships, or any of the stuff that gets you to the part where you're ready to put all that technical knowledge to use.

Movies and TV aren't much help either. Couples look at each other and both instantly know it's on. But real life isn't like that. Most of my clumsy teenage fumblings were the result of desperately dropping hints, trying to read body language and proceeding very, very slowly in case I got a slap round the face. Hell, I lost my virginity without anyone actually asking if I wanted to. Sometimes I said no to people, sometimes people said no to me, but I don't think any of us ever said an explicit “Yes”. I never asked anyone “Is it OK if we do this?” and no-one ever asked me.

We didn't know we could ask.

This isn't right. Teenagers are confused enough about their burgeoning sexuality to have to deal with trying to second guess if the other person is 100% happy with where things are going. They shouldn't feel they have to. They shouldn't be furtive about wanting to explore sex when they want to do so. We should be teaching our children that other people aren't some mythical creatures to be tamed, we should be teaching them they are human beings, just like they are. We should be teaching them that sex and sexual desire isn't something bad or shameful and that the best sex is the one where everyone is on the same page. And the only way to do that is to teach them that they must always ask. We should teach them that it's a non-optional component. We should teach them it is normal to ask. And, bad news parents, that means you need to actually talk to your kids about sexual relationships, not just the mechanics of sex. If you can't talk about this with them, what chance have they to work it out themselves?

It's all very well teaching our girls they're allowed to say “no” (and our boys to listen to that, immediately), but that isn't really where the problem is. “She didn't say no” has let too many people get away with rape and sexual assault and has ruined too many lives. We need to teach our boys to wait until they get a “yes”, or an invitation. We need to teach our girls that it's a no until they are asked and willingly say yes. We need to ensure that everyone knows that a blurred line means no, that ambiguity or gut instinct is not enough.

We need to teach that respect means asking first.