For the most part, all children, regardless of gender identity, need to learn the same things about consent: that they own their own bodies, that only yes means yes, that consent is never implied — even in the confines of an established sexual relationship — and that they are never to blame if they are sexually assaulted.
I’d love to say that I’m giving my son and daughter the same exact lessons in regard to consent, because anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a rapist, regardless of gender identity. But the truth is that they do not live in a society in which the messages about rape, sex and consent are gender-neutral. The messages my daughter receives about herself in relation to sex, consent and sexual assault are going to be different from the ones my son will receive.
Because of this, it is necessary for sexual education to be, in part, individualized, in order to encompass our children’s identity-specific perspectives. Which is why the conversations I am having with my daughter are slightly different from the ones I am having with my son.
Here are 10 examples of the things I am telling my daughter about consent and sexual assault that I am not telling my son (at least not in the same way):
1. Saying yes doesn’t make you a slut.
Your worth is not dependent on maintaining virginity, or only having sex with one person, or never having casual sex. It is completely all right for women to want, have and enjoy sex. It’s also no one else’s business how many partners you’ve had. You’ll be asked, but you don’t have to tell — unless of course you want to.
2. If you don’t say yes, it is rape.
There’s a misconception out there that it is a woman’s responsibility to scream no and fight back in order to prevent their own rape. There are so many problems with the “no means no” education that was popular when I was young, but the biggest issue is that it places the responsibility on the victims to not only say no, but to make sure that the person they are rejecting actually received the message. But it should always be the responsibility of the person who is initiating contact to obtain consent before touching someone. Don’t ever blame yourself for not saying No loudly enough or directly enough.
3. You don’t owe anyone access to your body.
Girls are often given the message that in order to keep a man they must please him sexually. This goes hand-in-hand with the (obviously wrong) ideas that a married woman cannot be raped and that if a guy buys you dinner and you don’t go back to his apartment you’ve wasted his time. But guys are never entitled to sex. You can let him buy you dinner even if you’ve already decided you won’t be going home with him. You don’t even have to consider it.
4. Men might try to touch you without consent in public, but it will never be your fault.
This goes beyond the oft-cited statistic that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime; even more women are rubbed up against on the subway, grinded against on the dance floor and even forcefully kissed in formal settings. I have never met a woman who hasn’t experienced some type of unwanted touch. These things are assault, even if our culture usually gives them a pass. If these things happen to you, they will never be your fault. No matter what you were wearing, how you were dancing or whether it was a date or not.
5. Guys aren’t sex-crazed monsters.
No matter what you hear, remember this: Guys can help themselves. They can say no. They aren’t always in the mood. They don’t need you to dress modestly in order to keep their hands off of you. They are capable of having healthy relationships. They are capable of understanding consent.
6. If you are assaulted and decide to report it, do not ever believe that you are ruining your rapist’s life.
The person who assaulted you will be 100 percent responsible for the consequences of their actions, which I hate to tell you will mostly likely not be harsh enough.
7. If you ask him to wear a condom and he doesn’t, he raped you.
Or if he does anything during sex without your consent. Saying yes to one thing does not mean you are saying yes to all things.
8. You can revoke consent at any time.
Any. Time. Saying yes to sex doesn’t mean that you are obligated to lay there uncomfortable until he decides it’s over. You have the right to decide that you want him to stop. If he doesn’t respect that, then he raped you.
9. You are not paranoid if you feel uncomfortable around a certain man, or even just men in general.
You will receive messages everywhere about how you are supposed to protect yourself from being assaulted, and how if you don’t it will be your fault if some guy decides to rape you. “Stay safe,” everyone will constantly tell you, as if there is always a man lurking around the next corner waiting to pounce if you take a wrong turn. But at the same time, when you tell people about all the things you’re doing to stay safe, they might tell you you’re being paranoid, and that you need to stop seeing rapists everywhere.
But you aren’t being paranoid. All women do these things, even though most of the time we know that the chances we’ll be raped by a stranger are extremely low and that if we really wanted to protect ourselves we’d never trust a single man, because it’s the men we trust that are most likely to hurt us.
10. Live your life.
This is the most important thing we can say to our daughters: Over the years, you’re going to hear long lists of sometimes conflicting tips to avoid being raped; you’re going to probably wind up fearing poorly lit parking garages and contemplate buying a gun to protect yourself from the rapist lurking in the shadows. But that’s not where most rapists lurk, and strange women is not whom they usually target. And you’ll know this — but still carry with you the fear of doing any of the things you are warned could lead to your rape. I want you to do your best to recognize when that fear is completely useless, ignore it and live.
Of course, your conversations with your kids might look different after you take into account their gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual identity. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, nor a guide for discussing consent and sexual assault with your child, but rather a reminder that we have a responsibility to think about the messages our children will receive about themselves through media, school and peer groups.
If your child has not told you how they identify or what gender/s they’re attracted to, please do not assume anything. Create rapport by talking about basic, neutral concepts inclusive of any identity; stress that you are not assuming anything; and give them room to be open with you about topics surrounding sex and gender. It’s important that they guide the conversation to what they need to know; your role is to provide them information without judgement.
strong>Before you go, check out our slideshowbelow: