Consent is as easy as… Credit: Crystal Yung
Hey Venus Envy,
With Ontario Premier Doug Ford in power, it doesn’t seem like we’ll get decent sex education in public schools any time soon. Can you share some tips on how to talk to teens about consent?
I only remember being embarrassed when adults talked about sex as a teen (back in the ’90s, the last time the sex-ed curriculum was updated), but then all they seemed to discuss was mechanics — anatomy, how to put on a condom, things like that.
Trying to Educate About Consent and Hookups
A surprising thing I’ve discovered through my time at Venus Envy is that most people love to talk about their experiences of sex education in high school. Not because they got incredible sex ed, but because their experiences have been outrageously bad.
Personally, I had one teacher talk about his friend’s “green, oozing penis” as a lesson on STIs, and another who asked a 13-year-old classmate to explain rimming when she wasn’t familiar with the term. And honestly, that’s pretty stellar compared to some other horror stories I’ve heard.
Just because something’s common, it doesn’t mean it’s consensual
It’s also rare that anyone I talk to remembers consent being involved in their sex education – I certainly don’t. Yet it’s the single most important thing we need to know about sex.
Sometimes we have a tendency to make consent seem like it’s the simplest, most obvious practice in the world. And on one level it is – if someone says no, or doesn’t say anything, or is pressured into saying yes, then that’s not consent. No grey area, no wiggle room, only yes means yes.
The problem is that a lot of sex education stops there, and that leaves a lot missing. Teens (like all of us) already live in a world that is full of consent violations, and likely already feel uneasy or unsure about things they see happening around them.
So start the conversation there, by asking about what they already know: What do they think they’re ‘supposed’ to do when having sex? How do their friends talk about sex? Who’s talked to them about consent up to this point, and what have they thought about it?
As you talk, make sure to really listen to their answers. You might disagree with some things, but try your hardest not to jump in with judgement — shame is rarely a useful teaching tool. Instead, share how human you are, and how you came to understand the importance of consent.
Maybe you used to believe something you no longer do, or there’s a time you wish you’d spoken out and didn’t. What were the impacts of that on you and the people around you? What do you wish you’d done instead?
Make it clear that just because something’s common, it doesn’t mean it’s consensual. If sex is being used as a weapon or revenge, if pictures or videos are shared without someone’s knowledge, if someone is falling down drunk – none of those situations are consensual. Repeat, over and over, that you can always change your mind, that sex you’re not enjoying is very rarely worth having, that you never owe sex to anyone and no one ever owes it to you.
Also talk about how to do consent, practically-speaking. Emphasize that it’s not one question, but an ongoing process of checking in. Sometimes people hear this and imagine an awkward, robotic series of questions that interrupts the passion – but it doesn’t have to be that way! So offer some alternative suggestions about ways to ask for consent, how to say yes and say no, and how to handle rejection without making the other person feel bad.
In my experience, teens also love to hear that good consent practices lead to hotter and more fulfilling sex. This is not the only reason you should care about consent, but it is a valuable message to push back against the idea that consent is boring, unsexy, and incredibly uncool. In fact, consent is anything but that. While it is always, always necessary, it’s also the foundation on which pleasure is built.