For reasons I can’t explain, our culture still often doesn’t understand consent — but as a recent viral Reddit post about consent proves, there’s one surefire way to change that: Start teaching kids about consent from an early age. Published on the r/TwoXChromosomes subreddit on Tuesday, the post was made with what I’m assuming is a throwaway account — the username is u/StPatrickConsented, which is likely a nod to the fact that the incident described in the post occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, on top of which the post itself is the only comment in the user’s history — but the story it tells is definitely worth reading; it’s evidence of the power of teaching people about consent starting when they’re still young.
According to the Redditor, they went out on Saturday night this past weekend — St. Patrick’s Day — and met a guy they liked and made the first move. The pair hit it off so much, though, that u/StPatrickConsented realized that, although they wanted to go home with him, they didn’t really want it to become a one-night stand; they were interested in really getting to know the guy over time. “I was also a little drunk and wanted to remember some of the details about him,” they wrote.
u/StPatrickConsented did go home with the guy, and they did start fooling around — but then, wrote the Redditor, “I stopped him. I told him I was a little too drunk and wanted just to get to know him.” And hey, guess what the guy did? He stopped. He said, “Yeah, that’s cool. Do you still want to hang out? I’ll give you shorts or something?”
That? Gets a big thumbs up. When someone tells you they’re not into sex anymore, you don’t keep going. You stop.
The Redditor was “ecstatic” about this guy’s response; as they put it, “most guys don’t handle the situation like that, especially on a day like St. Patrick’s Day in a college town” (even though everyone should handle situations like this exactly like that). What’s more, continued u/StPatrickConsented, after they stopped hooking up, “His attitude didn’t change at all and the conversation was just as good.”
They were so impressed by his response that they commented on it — at which point, the Redditor said:
“He went on to tell me his mom and dad taught him about consent in like 4th or 5th grade. He said there was this scene in a Queen Latifah movie where she hangs a guy over balcony and makes him say ‘No means no’ after trying to sexually assault a girl. He said his parents made him watch it, explain what was wrong with the guy’s initial actions and made him say ‘No means no’ like 10 times.”
What’s more, said u/StPatrickConsented, they did end up hooking up a couple hours later — but, they wrote, “It was on my terms and I initiated it when I was comfortable.” They ended up hanging out a gain a few days later, too. Concluded the Redditor, “A lot of guys would’ve felt entitled to sex, especially because I came on to him, but he didn’t and it felt awesome. Shoutout to his mom and I guess Queen Latifah, too!”
For the curious, the Queen Latifah movie with the “No means no” scene is 2003’s Bringing Down The House; after teenager Sarah (Kimberly J. Brown) is assaulted by Mike (Aengus James), Charlene (Queen Latifah) intervenes, holding Mike by his feet off the top of the house while making him apologize to Sarah and repeat the aforementioned “no means no” lesson.
Admittedly, there’s more to consent than just “no means no” (although no definitely means no) the absence of a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean that a “yes” is present, for example, and consent must be both enthusiastic and continuous for any kind of sexual situation to begin and to keep going (sexual coercion is a thing, and it is not OK.) But the fact that the guy in u/StPatrickConsented’s anecdote stopped when they said they wanted to shows that he understands this; the Redditor revoked consent, even after previously granting it, and he respected her right to do so. That’s exactly the way it should go — and a lot of that likely has to do with the fact that his parents started teaching him about consent when he was still young.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of (generally straight, cis) men — far too many of them — don’t understand consent, or even what constitutes rape or sexual assault. A study out of SUNY Binghamton published in November of 2017, for example, found that most men conflate sexual interest with consent, when the two are not the same thing (you can be interested in someone, but still not consent to any kind of sexual activity with them). The men who participated in the study were also more likely to assume that if they’d had sex with someone before, then consent was automatically present for another encounter — which, again, is not the case: You can have sex with someone in one instance, and then say no to having sex with them in another.
What’s more, a study published in the journal Violence and Gender in 2014 found that a third — a third — of the (again, straight and cis) college-age men surveyed would be willing to use force in order to obtain sex if they thought they wouldn’t get caught. The men surveyed who coerced women into having sex were also much less likely to call what they did sexual assault or rape.
None of that is in any way OK.
If consent isn’t given enthusiastically, and if it is at any point revoked, and if it is not obtained for each and every sexual encounter or activity, then there is no consent. And if there is no consent, it’s not sex. It’s assault. It’s rape.
But you know how we can combat these troubling behaviors? By teaching people about consent — and by starting to teach it when they’re kids. The guy in u/StPatrickConsented’s story would have been somewhere between the ages of 9 and 11 when his parents started talking to him about consent, which I would argue is an age at which you can start teaching the concept in relation to sexual activity specifically — I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, we started covering sex in health class at around that age — but if your kids are younger, you can still start teaching them about consent even if sex isn’t part of the conversation yet.
Show kids that they control their own bodies. Show them that they don’t control anyone else’s. Don’t make them receive hugs or other types of touch if they’re not into it. Don’t make them hug or touch someone else who isn’t into it. Show them how to set boundaries, both physically and otherwise (they are not entitled to someone’s attention just because they want it and vice versa).
There is so much to teach, and so many ways to teach it — and although it might not be easy, it’s absolutely necessary that we step up to the plate about it with the kids in our lives.
It’s also, by the way, worth noting that u/StPatrickConsented has a lesson to teach us themself, as well: When they realized they didn’t want to go any further, they were able to clearly define and communicate their boundaries. Women in particular are socialized in our culture to ignore their own discomfort in favor of what other people may want or desire — something which can be difficult to unlearn. To be clear, even if u/StPatrickConsented hadn’t given a hard no here, it still would have been on their sexual partner to pay attention to their body language and check in with them frequently about whether what they were doing was still OK; however, u/StPatrickConsented’s actions are a reminder that setting boundaries for ourselves is not rude, or mean, or a “tease.” It’s something we are allowed to do — something we have the right to do.
As this Reddit post shows, when you teach kids about consent, they grow up to be adults who are both adept at setting boundaries and respecting the boundary-setting of others. And that can make a huge difference in our world.
It matters. It always, always matters.