Sex is a rollercoaster of emotions and feels different for everyone. As parents, you should create a safe space for discussion with your children and enable them to learn about the emotional and social side of sex, not just the mechanical part. Everyone approaches sex differently — for some, it is about having children, for some, it is for pleasure.. There is no single approach to sex— there is a wide variety of emotions associated with sex, which are not often understood by everyone. There should be an understanding between consenting individuals when engaging in sex. In these situations, we often hear the word “consent”, but do we understand what it entails?
A formal definition of consent is“permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” To break down this information for your children, here is an easy analogy: consent is like driving a car. Firstly, you don’t drive a car until you reach a mature enough age. Like so, children are unable to give informed consent until they’re young adults. It’s you, their guardians, who have the power to consent for your children until they, themselves, can do so. It is crucial that you understand consent as well.
Next, when driving a car, there is only one driver. They are in charge of controlling the car and are allowed to make decisions that will keep their car and other cars on the road safe, even if the decision is impromptu. They can change lanes, step up the accelerator, and even brake when appropriate without having to explain why they’re doing so to the passengers in the car. We can say that every individual is driving their own car, and their partner is the passenger. We navigate through our lives ourselves and make decisions we feel ready for, even if they’re instantaneous. We don’t have to explain this to our partners as long as we keep our car (i.e. us and our partner) and people around us safe. Just the same way backseat driving can lead to accidents, our partners controlling our lives can harm us in the long run, both mentally and physically.
Additionally, consent is not a one-time thing. A driver needs to be alert at all times while driving, and actively make different decisions in the process. Consent can often vary in different situations. For example, an individual may choose to give consent to sex one day but maybe not the next. They may even change their mind within minutes of giving consent. Consent is not set in stone — an individual has the choice to change their decision any time they like. For better understanding (and the many follow up questions your children may have), I’m attaching two more analogies here and here.
Consent may seem subjective, but it really is one of the few concepts that is truly black or white. Every day, we see stories of people who were harassed while drunk, unconscious, or even asleep. Victims are often blamed, saying that the clothes they wore or their outgoing nature meant they “asked” for sex. Non-verbal “cues” like these and body language aren’t consent. Maybe, hmm, and I don’t know do not count as consent. Uncertainty is not consent.
Only yes, an explicit statement, is consent.
Until next week,
Siya (from the REDefine team)
Featured artwork by Prathna Anand
Consent definition taken from Oxford Languages