How to talk to young boys about consent
The answer, to be honest, is complicated. The fact of the matter is that both genders should be hearing both sides of the talk. Both boys and girls need to be prepared to set their own boundaries and respond in situations that cross the line. They also need to be prepared to respect the bodily autonomy of others.
That said, it does make sense that some parents have specific questions and concerns about talking to their sons about consent. Given what we know about sexual assault, there is certainly no harm in wanting to make sure all the bases have been covered.
Encourage Empathetic Thinking
For all children, developing empathy for others is an important component of becoming a person who respects the boundaries of others. Encourage them to think about how they would feel in certain situations, giving them examples from their own life.
“Most guys don’t want to be aggressive jerks,” says Jill Whitney, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and author of the blog Keep the Talk Going. “Help your son understand the possible effects on the other person if sexual situations get out of hand.”
Boys Can Say No, Too
As parents prepare their sons to operate respectfully in all relationships, it’s important that they don’t forget that boys need to talk about giving consent, too. Boys also experience pressure and sexual assault, Whitney reminds us. She says that, when parents forget to have a conversation with boys about setting their own boundaries and how to respond under pressure, this can create confusion and pain if they find themselves in a compromising situation.
Be Upfront About Pornography
As uncomfortable as it might be for some parents to accept, most boys will be exposed to pornography at some point in their life. In light of this, an important part of talking to older boys about consent is an open and honest talk about the difference between what is portrayed in pornography and what healthy, consensual sex looks like in real life. “Boys need to be told that what they see in pornography doesn’t reflect real life,” says Whitney. “That’s true in many ways, but especially when it comes to consent. Porn often shows women objecting to something, having it done to them anyway and ending up enjoying it. That’s not how it is for real women.”
Talk About Compromising Situations
In their teen years, boys should be prepared to respond to compromising situations. Adolescence is a good time to begin asking your teen how he might respond in certain circumstances, and talking through his response in a supportive way.