As I teach children about consent, these are some of the mind-blowing things I hear over and over.

  • If I’m really drunk and they’re really drunk, does it make it okay?
  • Isn’t laughing a yes?!
  • I know they said no the first time but when I asked again, they changed their mind, so it’s okay.
  • She didn’t say no.
  • That’s so awkward to talk about that kind of stuff with someone.
  • No one talks about that stuff!
  • She’s one of those girls, she does it with everybody.

April was Sexual Assault Awareness month. I decided to post a blog on consent in May because this is a discussion that needs to continue all year long.

Start the conversation early

Working with kids who committed sexual offenses, every day I discuss consent relating to sexual contact. However, I don’t remember ever having conversations about obtaining and maintaining consent in high school or college. With the #metoo movement, this is definitely more common and present in the mainstream media. Kids need to understand consent and being the boss of their own body, and it should start when they’re young.

In sexting cases, with the use of technology there is often a lack of consent. Kids (typically boys) ask for pictures over and over until the other gives in. Boys and girls send pictures or videos (boys often send masturbation videos) without asking if the receiver wants them.

Consent is permission. Although giving consent is a discussion occurring more often, frequently the conversation misses the mark. The emphasis is typically placed on someone having the right to say ‘no.’ Focusing on someone’s response is really step two. Step one is making sure someone asks for permission in the first place.

Talk to your kids when you see teachable moments in pop culture or the media, in person or within their own relationships. Talk about grey areas where they might be saying yes, but their body language is saying no. Point out scenes in television shows or movies where lack of consent is romanticized (for example: a guy grabs and kisses a women, they stop kissing and she slaps him across the face, the guy kisses her again).

Consent is

  • both people feeling safe and comfortable enough to talk about what they want and do not want
  • clear and enthusiastic
  • a way to show respect and care
  • checking in: “is it okay if…”, “are you okay with…”
  • an on-going conversation
  • established every time
  • paying attention to someone’s body language

Consent isn’t 

  • the absence of no
  • giving in after someone keeps asking
  • when one person has power over another: teacher/student, coach/player, babysitter/child, supervisor/ employee
  • “um, well, I guess”
  • assumed
  • when a person laughs
  • saying nothing at all
  • someone under the influence of drugs and alcohol
  • when the person is falling asleep or passed out

Consent can be nonverbal

The body language of consent consists of

  • opening arms
  • head nodding
  • pulling someone closer
  • actively touching someone
  • participating in sexual activity
  • initiating sexual activity
If you’re not sure how to read someone’s body language, ask.

Important points

  • If you are not ready to have an open and honest conversation about sexual contact, you are not ready to have sexual contact.
  • The initial consent conversation should not occur when two people are on top of each other with half their clothes off. They should discuss when in an upright position, with their clothes on, and not acting on impulse.
  • Remember, kids are watching porn and getting an INACCURATE sex education. Consent is assumed in porn and rarely discussed.
  • The legal age of consent varies by state. Making sure your kids understand consent and how to get consent can keep them out of the legal system, which could negatively impact them long term and be very costly. If you aren’t having a conversation with them about consent who is?

Parents of young children, I HIGHLY recommend the workshop from Parenting Safe Children. Live workshops are available in the Denver area. If you’re outside the Denver Metropolitan area you can watch the workshop online. This is a great resource for parents and professionals for keeping kids safe from sexual assault and teaching them about body safety.

Questions? You can reach us here. Let us know how it goes.

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.