What Men Need To Learn About Consent, According To Sex Educators
Consent is often a topic primarily discussed with people who identify as women, likely due to the mistaken belief that a) only women are sexually assaulted or harassed and b) it's primarily the potential victims' responsibility to learn about and prevent sexual misconduct. But since both these things are false, sex education for men is just as important. While we're still in dire need of more resources for those who identify as men looking to practice good consent, writer and sex educator Inti Chavez Perez's new book RESPECT: Everything a Guy Needs to Know About Sex, Love, and Consent is a great start. It includes a wide range of things young men should know about sex and relationships, including how to practice consent.
"Consent is an inseparable part of good sex," Chavez Perez tells Bustle. "Unfortunately, our culture downplays consent through its representations of sex. Millennia of gender inequality in our society have shaped our views, and as a result, sex is often portrayed as a power struggle. I teach guys a different perspective on sex: good sex is all about communication. I believe we need a shift in our views on sexuality in this direction, because it will make everyone’s' sex lives better and it will diminish the amount of sexual violence committed by men."
Here are some key lessons from the book that will help men (and everyone) better respect others' boundaries as well as their own.
1. Pressuring Is Assault
Unfortunately, many men learn that it's a badge of honor to be able to "get" someone to have sex with you. But if someone's having sex with you because you either verbally or physically communicated that you would not take "no" for an answer, that is assault. As an example, Chavez Perez describes one man who would put his hand on a woman's thigh then put it back after she moved it away.
This isn't just something men do, however — men who have been verbally coerced into sex by someone should recognize that they've been assaulted as well.
2. It's OK Not To Want Sex
"According to the male gender role, guys are supposed to always be horny, and many guys therefore pretend that they would sleep with anyone just to get some sex," Chavez Perez writes in his book. "But guys have feelings, thoughts, and tastes just like girls. Sometimes you're tired, sad, or angry and so you don't feel horny. Sometimes you think it would be more interesting to talk and get to know each other instead of having sex. Not everyone gets you aroused, and not every kind of sex is tempting." So, men should feel free to turn down sex if they're not interested, and their partners should respect that.
3. Nobody Owes Anybody Sex
Society too often views sex as a transaction and teaches men that if they provide love, financial stability, or commitment (or if they're "nice guys"), their partner owes them sex. However, it's important not to treat sex as something owed to anyone, sex educator Anne Hodder-Shipp, ACS, tells Bustle. "You don’t owe it to your partner and your partner doesn’t owe it to you," she says. "Be mindful of how sex plays a role in your relationship and if you or your partner might be treating it like some kind of transaction."
If your partner seems to believe you owe them sex as if it were a transaction, Hodder-Shipp suggests reevaluating the relationship. "Transactional sex can be dehumanizing if there isn’t clear communication about expectations and boundaries beforehand, and there often isn’t space for affirmative consent — especially changing your mind about it — when one partner feels the other owes them sex," she says. She also recommends reflecting on any problematic beliefs around sex that you may have learned. If you may be engaging in transactional thinking about sex, she recommends talking to a sex therapist or coach about it.
4. Consent Should Never Be Assumed
Even people who know the basics of consent may have learned that if someone is in a relationship with you, has already started having sex with you, has had sex with you before, or has given off apparent signals like going back to your place, they have consented to sex. However, consent should never be implicit. You cannot be sure someone is consenting unless you get a clear, verbal "yes."
"It's not a bad thing to ask for positive consent during sex," Chavez Perez says. "Not everyone is going to enjoy the same things, so you have to communicate with your lover."
If you or your partner thinks talking during sex is a turnoff, Hodder-Shipp suggests researching ways to make getting consent sexy. "Start googling and see what sex educators and sex bloggers have to say about affirmative consent in and out of the bedroom — they’re pros and have all kinds of hot tips," she says.
5. A Lack Of "No" Is Not Enough
"The word 'no' doesn't specifically have to be said for it to be rape," Chavez Perez writes in his book. Other "no" signals that he lists include silence, stillness, stiffness, an uncomfortable expression, any indication that someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and most importantly, the absence of "yes" signals.
"Wordless communication is sometimes difficult to interpret and can lead to misunderstandings," he writes. "That's why it's good to ask! 'Does it feel good?' 'What do you want me to do?' 'Would you like me to...?' 'Would you like us to take it slower?' 'Do you want us to stop?'"
To better understand affirmative consent, Hodder-Shipp suggests thinking of sex like dessert. "You want your partner to respond as though you’ve just offered an enticing treat or presented a bowl of their favorite ice cream," she says. "Anything less than that is NOT affirmative consent — and if someone isn’t 'ooooh yes' about the idea of sex with you, why would you still try?"
6. Consent Is Not Just About Sex
Consent "is part of every interaction between human beings, at school, at work, in bars," Chavez Perez says. "Say that someone at work asks for a colleague's private cell phone number, and doesn't take 'no' for an answer. That is also a breach of consent."
Unfortunately, breaches of consent among men are prevalent within our culture, and it can be difficult for men to learn to respect others' consent when their own is not respected. "Groups of male friends sometimes push one another's boundaries as a way to have fun," Chavez Perez says. "It's a bad way to socialize because it devalues consent, and when friends hurt each other’s feelings, often a guy won't dare tell his friends that their actions made him sad." It's never OK for anyone to do anything to you, sexual or otherwise, and you also need to show others that same courtesy.
7. Men Have The Power To Prevent Sexual Violence
Many men witness sexual harassment, assault, or inappropriate behavior like use of sexist slurs and don't say anything because they want to fit in, Chavez Perez says. "The majority of adult men have at some point behaved badly in a group or just refrained from stopping their friends' bad behavior," he explains. "As they mature, men tend to try to forget that they engaged in this type of behavior, or they look back on the times it happened as isolated lapses of judgment instead of formative experiences. So, they stay passive when they confront this language in groups as adults, and then a new generation of teenage guys make exactly the same mistakes."
The flip side of this, however, is that if men speak up in these groups and teach boys who look up to them how to practice consent, they can help stop this cycle. "Men as a group must take a larger responsibility in ending sexual violence, by examining themselves, and by playing a larger, more positive role in the lives of boys," Chavez Perez says.
Rather than get defensive in response to the conversations the #MeToo movement has sparked, men should take this cultural moment as an opportunity to reflect both on their own behavior and on how others treat them. Once we acknowledge that everyone of every gender could stand to think about both these things, we'll be able to work together to create a world that's more respectful to all.