Everything I Never Learned About Consent

When it was suggested that I address consent in my blog, my heart dropped right into my stomach. I could think of no topic more laden with red flags and potential pitfalls. And it’s probably exactly why it’s important to talk about it.

A loaded topic. Emotionally super-charged.

When I grew up in the 70’s I don’t remember any awareness about a conversation for consent. It is a new distinction in our culture. It’s not that consent didn’t exist when I was growing up, but the idea of having a conversation about consent didn’t exist.

I grew up on the East Coast in a classically white upper-middle class family. A conversation about consent fell into an entire category of “things we don’t speak of.” Consent, sex and most of any conversation that requires vulnerability were out of bounds for my family. While avoiding this kind of conversation kept us comfortable and safe, it robbed us. It robbed us of connection, and I was left feeling ill-equipped for the coming teenage years.

What was left was a vacuum. And nature, abhorring a vacuum filled it. With doubt.

Doubt. Doubt about what I was doing. Was I do sex “right”? Was I “good” at it? Even it was in doubt whether my partners enjoyed it. I was awkward about talking about sex, and so were my partners. Was this a cultural thing or was my silence an invitation of more of the same? We didn’t talk about what we liked or didn’t like. What we wanted more of or less of. We didn’t talk about what was OK or not OK. And that’s an invitation for assumptions and crossing boundaries.

We have to break the silence. Our kids need this conversation from their parents.  Our kids need it equally from both parents. If we don’t normalize talking about consent and sex, then it becomes taboo and is a recipe for misunderstanding.

We have to open this conversation up, because what’s underlying is a conversation about worthiness.

So many adults felt ill-equipped as teenagers; Ill-equipped for the emotions, ill-prepared for the mechanics and staying silent in the void. And most parents (including me!) still feel ill-equipped to have this most important conversation with our kids. And that can no longer stop us.

This is a conversation about rejection and worthiness. A fear of rejection and how the rejection is a reflection on our worthiness. It can seem like your very worthiness as a (man/woman/person) is on the line. It is true for both boys and girls.

Parents fostering an internal sense of worthiness irrespective of the approval of others what we can gift our girls and our boys. We want our kids to own their worthiness. Then they can say yes and no loudly and clearly separate from the opinions of others.

We want them to talk about what they want, to talk about what they don’t want. To have frank open conversations about sex, to engage in it if they choose to, not engage with it if they don’t and that their worthiness is not at all attached to the opinions of their partners.

I remember struggling as a boy. Some days, I still struggle as an adult. But what has shifted the internal sense of worthiness is something that is so worth fighting for.

If having this conversation with your kids freaks you out, you’re not alone. Every important conversation I’ve ever had has made me feel uncomfortable. It means we’re having an important conversation. If you’re coming from love, you can’t screw it up. You may not say all the words in the right order and may feel super-uncomfortable, but your willingness to start the conversation will make a huge difference. What we’re really getting at is when we have; when we operate in silence, we’re really getting it out of fear of rejection. What were you left with?

If we raise our children to believe that they are worthy of having a self-directed life and worthy of everything they want without anybody else’s permission or approval, we will change the world. We will be introducing adults in the world who are capable of living authentic lives with plenty of access to joy and satisfaction.

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