It’s Let’s Talk Month, a month dedicated to straight talk between teens and tweens and the adults they trust about sexual health. Both of these things can be a little scary, but if you keep the lines of communications open you should be OK. Keep an eye on the Advocates for Youth social media accounts for topics and resources this month; just look for the hashtags #LetsTalkMonth and #MyHope!
We’re kicking things off this month with the timely topic of consent. Consent is critical to a healthy relationship, yet not everybody understands the rules of the game. So, let’s talk about five big myths about consent, and debunk them one by one.
But first, what even is consent? In short, it’s clear and explicit permission. For any relationship to be healthy and strong, consent must be at the core of every action and decision. When both parties have consent, it means they have each other’s full permission for what is in question. There is a fundamental respect for one another’s boundaries. Okay, let’s look at these myths.
Myth #1: Boundaries aren’t essential
“My partner loves me so much that they want to be with me all the time.”
Starting a new relationship can feel downright amazing! The urge to want to spend all of your time together can be hard to overcome! But, an essential quality of a healthy relationship is feeling in control of yourself. Of your choices. Of your space. You have boundaries and you can change them when you need to. You should still have ample room to do the things that interest you. To get your work done, to excel in school, to exercise. Your partner shouldn’t just tolerate those things, but celebrate them. Your goals shouldn’t be second best to spending time with them. Your partner should be your cheerleader. They should be proud of you, brag about you, and have your back.
Check in with your gut: Do you feel accepted and respected as an individual and a whole person? Are your outside interests valued? Or is your only value as their partner?
Myth #2: Consent is only about sex
“My S.O. is so clingy and hangs all over me at school. It’s not comfortable for me, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”
A lot of people think consent relates only to sex, but it goes well beyond. Quite simply, it’s the line you draw between what you’re comfortable with and what you aren’t…inside or outside of the bedroom. This can range from public affection to how fast they drive with you in the car to whether they show up unannounced at your front door. If your relationship is consensual, you don’t feel pressure to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing. They touch you in ways that you invite. Listen and adjust if you ask them to stop something you dislike. They show up when invited, and also give space when needed. And accept when you change your mind.
Check in with your gut: Are you comfortable with the amount and intensity of the relationship? Do you feel pressure to do things you’re not comfortable with, whether sexual or otherwise?
Myth #3: Silence means yes
“I didn’t explicitly tell him ‘no,’ but I wasn’t comfortable.”
Sometimes silence is mistaken for consent. But it is NOT. Consent should be an explicit and verbal indication that someone is comfortable with, and enthusiastic about, what’s happening – whether it’s making out or sex. Only “yes” means “yes” – and in states like California, that’s the law. Good communication and strong positive agreement is a sign that what’s happening is comfortable. Your partner checks in with you. They make sure you’re comfortable with how you’re being touched. They don’t take your silence for granted. They proceed at a comfortable pace, giving you an ‘out’ if you need to stop what you’re doing.
Check in with your gut: Are you a full participant in the decision-making process about what you’re doing? Can you articulate what you want, and what you don’t? Are you being heard?
Myth #4: No take-backs
“I already said I wanted this, so I guess I just have to go through with it.”
One of the most empowering things about consent is that it is not permanent. This puts you firmly in the driver’s seat of your own experience and in control of your body. A sign of a healthy relationship is that you can change your mind at any moment, and for any reason. And a sign of a healthy, caring partner, is they will listen. Respect your wishes. Not pressure you. What better way to ensure a totally comfortable and mutually enjoyable experience?
By the way, this goes for intimacy that’s happening in real time as well as for intimacy over time, whether you gave consent five seconds ago or last week. If it’s not right now, it’s not right.
Check in with your gut: How do you feel in the moment when you’re being intimate? Do you have the freedom to stop what you’re doing without consequences or blame?
Myth #5: All’s fair when you’re drunk
“I was drinking a lot, which they took as an open invitation.”
If consent needs to be explicit and isn’t permanent, then it’s impossible to give when you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In a caring relationship, your partner knows they don’t have permission to be sexual. So they don’t take advantage. Instead, they back off and wait until you’re sober and have your wits about you.
Check in with your gut: If you were under the influence, would you still feel 100 percent safe and protected with your partner?
With those five myths firmly debunked, now’s the time to start a conversation. Even though #LetsTalkMonth is about conversations between teens and tweens and the adults they trust, we urge you to make this an ongoing conversation with your partner, starting today.