This May we will be working with over 250 seniors in 5 different independent schools in the greater New York area. In addition to preparing students for college rape culture, Prepare will also discuss consent and navigating intimacy – from saying no if you mean no to saying yes if you mean yes.
Being able to express boundaries and enforce them –if need be — is a protective factor against sexual assault and intimate partner violence, but what about all the other harms and outcomes that advance conversations can potentially prevent or help manage?
Dee Rene, in this article, reminds us that communication around sexual consent is an ongoing process and there’s much more to talk about than yes or no “before you get busy.”
- Do you have a mutual interest in sexual activity with each other? If so, please proceed to figure what works for both of you!
- Do you have a mutual understanding of what each other’s preferences are – what’s an enthusiastic yes, please, what is in the no way column, and what’s open for discussion?
- Does the encounter mean the same thing for both of you; what are the emotional consequences to conflicting expectations? For example, will this be an exclusive relationship or a one time deal, or are we both open to see what happens.
- What have you done before and whom have you done it with? Have you been tested, how long ago? What is your status? Have your previous partners been tested before and after you were with them?
- Preventing pregnancy – if you are with a partner with the potential to get pregnant, and that is not what you want, what prevention methods are being used? What’s the plan if prevention methods fail and a pregnancy occurs?
WHAT WE THINK ABOUT
Our students often think of consent as a one-time event, a hurried yes (if they even communicate with words) to the idea of something sexual (vaguely imagined, especially if sexual activity is new or with a new partner). It’s hard to know if you want to say yes or no, when you have no experience of what things feel like emotionally or physically, during or after the activities! Curiosity might feel stronger than self-protection or consideration of the other person’s boundaries. Avoiding “awkward” at all costs inhibits communication.
WHAT WE THINK OTHERS THINK
Sometimes the challenges come from external forces – our social group and the larger social context, including media and entertainment. Some teens think it will make them appear unlikable, naïve, or uncool to broach these topics. Being able to say you “did it” might carry greater weight personally and socially than expressing yourself authentically — within your limits and in accordance with your own values.
WHAT WE’RE TAUGHT TO THINK
There are voices in our society that put people in “no win” situations regarding freedom to express one’s self sexually. Adherence to rigid gender roles and the proscribed behaviors and expectations that go along with them further narrow the ability to think through the range of options and choose what is best for you. These “scripts” may limit us to less direct and less clear communication strategies. There are social consequences to veering too far from the script, sometimes serious.
There are a dearth of examples of relaxed and thorough conversations about one’s expectations and boundaries. It doesn’t even occur to most people, especially younger people, that such conversations can take place. Parents rarely undertake this education with their teens. Prepare instructors might be the first people to mention that one could or would discuss ahead of time what’s on the “menu” of possible activities instead of leaving the more forward or experienced partner in charge of what happens next.
WE CAN LEARN TO THINK AND ACT FOR OURSELVES
We can learn to trust our instincts more. We can learn to take our time, both before and during encounters, to decide for ourselves how we feel. We can learn how to ask and answers important questions honestly. We can learn the warning signs for when our limits will not be respected. We can learn to evaluate a variety of options and responses for those situations and then act in a way that best serves our interests.