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 it is true that 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 son receives about himself in relation to sex, consent and sexual assault are going to be different from the ones my daughter 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 son are slightly different from the ones I am having with my daughter.
Here are 10 examples of the things I am telling my son about consent and sexual assault that I am not telling my daughter (at least not in the same way):
1. Don’t buy into the idea that your goal should be to have as many sex partners as possible.?
If you don’t want to have sex at all, that’s fine. There is no shame in being a male virgin. And most importantly, women aren’t conquests: they’re people. And you stop thinking of them as people when you start thinking of them as numbers.
2. Men don’t always have to be in the mood.
You can say no too. You aren’t any less of a man for doing so, and if this hurts your partner’s feelings then that’s too bad.
3. If you are initiating any type of physical contact with a woman, it is your responsibility to obtain consent first.
The idea that rape is commonly a product of men not understanding that a woman wasn’t interested in his advances is a myth. The problem isn’t that men aren’t understanding no, it’s that they aren’t waiting for a yes. When miscommunication does occur, the person to blame is the one who initiated contact without ensuring enthusiastic consent. If you ever are even a tiny bit unsure if your partner is really into having sex, ask!
And speaking of asking for consent…
4. It’s not a mood-killer to ask for consent before initiating physical contact.
And even if it were, I hope killing the mood is preferable to raping someone.
5. Always wear a condom if you’re asked to.
Do not try to talk your partner into having unprotected sex. Doing so is not only a bad idea in terms of your sexual health, but it is coercive.
6. If she says stop, stop.
If she looks uneasy, or even stops seeming enthusiastic, stop and ask if she wants you to stop. Make sure she is all right with you changing positions or touching her in a different way.
7. Trying to talk a woman into sex is coercion.
And you can’t obtain real consent this way. If you pressure a woman into sex, and she gives in, you are raping her. Take no for an answer.
8. Your friends might be rapists.
Anyone can be a rapist: our neighbors, members of our family, or even our friends. Just because someone is nice and respectful to you doesn’t mean they behave the same way with women. It might catch you off guard when a friend ends up with sexual assault or rape charges pressed against them, but despite your personal feelings about the person, do not defend them! Don’t write letters of support to the courts if they are convicted. Don’t participate in shaming the woman who came forward. Doing so helps create an environment where victims are afraid to disclose sexual assault and press charges.
9. Don’t contribute to rape culture.
Believe victims of sexual assault when they come forward. Don’t question what the victim was wearing or what they did to deserve it. And don’t tell rape jokes; they aren’t funny.
And most importantly,
10. Sexual assault isn’t a woman’s issue.
Rape is more likely to be committed by a man, regardless of the gender identity of the victim, so rape is definitely an issue men need to tackle. Do better than just not participating in rape culture: actively fight against it. Speak out about it. Listen to victims of sexual assault. Tell your friends rape jokes aren’t funny. Be a good ally.
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 judgment.