Birds, Bees, Consent

Kids. I’ve got them. And everything to do with prepping them for sex ed seemed pretty easy when they were very little. I’ve been a strong proponent of sex educations in the schools, which, if you are from Texas, you’ll know isn’t always much. And it’s been pretty easy to think, “I know what to tell my boys.”

The technical stuff? The ins and outs, so to speak, that’s not hard to discuss. I figure most of us got a decent education one way or the other about what parts go where and why. But one thing that is usually left out of classical sex ed programs, and oftentimes left out of parental Birds And Bees talks, is the conversation about communication with your sexual partner.

Think about it. Do we ever tell our kids, “Here’s how you ask your lover what they’d like in bed,” or “Here’s how you read body language”? I don’t recall any such conversations with my highly liberal mother.

But just like learning how the biology of your body works (to avoid STIs and pregnancies) is important, so too is the education of how to communicate with each other. About when sex happens. About how sex happens. It’s a skill and a necessary one.

Enthusiastic Consent is a huge issue right now in the sex positive and feminist world, and one that is truly underutilized in the education of all of us and sexuality and taking care of each other. I have two sons just getting ready to travel through puberty and I’m wondering if we can come up with ways to introduce the concept of enthusiastic consent to them. How blunt to be? How and when do we teach this?

I mean, my husband and I already have a lot of conversations about consent with kids while they are young. Don’t take your brother’s toys without asking. Return them when he asks. You’ll hear about it from me or your dad if you don’t. If you are roughhousing, pay attention to the point when the laughing stops and the panic begins. Then STOP. Don’t ever be afraid to tell someone to leave you alone. Your body belongs to you.

But when actual sex is involved, when they are in that stage when they are starting to date and things are getting fraught, how do we talk about sexual and enthusiastic consent with them?

First of all, I realize as the mother, I may not be the right person to deliver this lesson. Perhaps an uncle or an older family friend should be the messenger of something I think all boys, and all girls, and everyone in between should hear. Consent matters a whole hell of a lot, and empathy and awareness of the other person in any relationship matters. The other person is, well, a person. And I want my kids to really know that. I’d like all people to know this.

So here is a draft of a speech I’m preparing, for them, from me or someone well placed to deliver it when the time is right, which is not now, not yet, but will come, sooner than I am likely ready for:

“Dear boys. There will come a moment in your life when you will have a partner and you will start to fool around and eventually you’ll have sex. Orgasms are powerful amazing things. There will often be times when they will be so powerful and amazing that the idea of stopping before one happens will seem impossible or like the worst thing happening to you ever in life. Worse than the dentist or PE class.

And I know how bad you think those things are.

But the thing is, barring any unforeseen medical issues, you will probably have approximately 20,000 orgasms between the ages of 15 and 75, so if for some reason the partner you are having sex with needs or wants to stop (maybe their back hurts, or they get scared, or they just don’t like what’s going on) you can stop, knowing that you will have another orgasm. Maybe even ten minutes later if things settle down and your partner feels better. So you can wait. You can learn to wait, even though the feeling can seem overpowering. You can learn to wait, so that your partner can catch up.

You should place your partner’s safety and comfort ahead of your pleasure, and frankly they should do the same for you. If YOU want to stop, you should stop even if your partner gets irritated with you, for they also will be able (generally) to have another orgasm later.

Sometimes your partner won’t say stop with words. Sometimes it might be a change in their body language or breathing. Ask. Pause. Check in. Also? Have those conversations about communication, about body language, about not being able to read each other’s minds with your clothes on, so you don’t need to worry quite so much when things get more intense.

At some point you are going to think you are grown up enough to have sex. Good. If you really are that grown up? Then you need to be grown up enough to talk about sex with the person you are going to have it with. To listen to their words and their body. And to have them do the same for you.

Because both of you should be doing nothing other than really enjoying each other with a big old YES between the two of you. Yes is important. No means No. Pause the action if there is any question about which word is which.

Now go clean your room.”

It’s a start and a beginning of a conversation with my kids. I just hope I’m grown up enough to have it.

Originally posted at GoodVibes Magazine and

By Julie Gillis

Julie Gillis is an artist, producer and social justice activist. As a parent, she believes in advocating for comprehensive age appropriate sex ed in the schools, and as a grown up she believes in sexual literacy and equal rights in relationships. She loves food, theater, and documentaries, and waxes feminist most of the time.

7 replies on “Birds, Bees, Consent”

I raised two of mine long before I heard of the concept of enthusiastic consent – had I known about it then it would have been a specific topic in our talks. As it was, I could only go with what I knew as a survivor of sexual violence – which, now that I think back, was probably pretty much in line with EC, just without some of the finer points.

As for you maybe not being the right person to have the discussions – sure you are! I really thinks boys need the input from a woman’s view. The sure get enough input from the guys, don’t they?


I agree with @Juniper – I think teaching your kids about enthusiastic consent is great, but what’s mostly coming across first when I read that draft is orgasmsorgasmsorgasmssexsexsex. Enthusiastic consent applies to all sexual activities, and basic respect for other people’s boundaries and comfort is not sexual. It’s not something you only have to start thinking about when you start having sex, and it’s not about sacrificing your orgasm for your partner’s comfort.

Absolutely it does apply to all activities. Having had many a male teenage friend, and hearing so much pushback from MRAs during my time at Good Men Project, the idea of “I can’t stop” has come up many times.
I want to encourage them to think of sex in terms of bounty (lots of opportunities for pleasure and connection) rather than scarcity (this has to happen NOW).
Of course my own history with a boy who didn’t want to stop that freight train may have influenced my perspective.

And yes, we’ve long taught them about the idea of consent from a non sexual perspective.

Came across this article this morning - It makes it really clear it’s so, so important to talk to young people about this. I think the part about actively seeking consent is relevant here – so you’re not just waiting for your partner to call a halt;  you know – because you’ve asked and they trust you enough to tell the truth – that they are as into whatever’s happening as you are.

…it’s about taking responsibility for consent, so making it clear it’s not just the person who has the responsibility for saying ‘yes’. Young men should actively be seeking consent.”

It isn’t just about the words, she says. “We’ll explore what ‘yes’ does, and doesn’t, look like.”

“Often people don’t say ‘no’ but they’ll say ‘that hurts’, or ‘not yet’, or ‘I don’t like it’. Or it might be in their body language,” she adds.

Then there are the assumptions about timing, she says. “A lot of the young people I have met are shocked that you can revoke consent – you might have had sex with somebody before, or started a sexual act, but that doesn’t mean the sex can’t stop at any time.

“I’ve spoken to young people who have said they didn’t really want to do it, but they didn’t know how to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’.”


. . . now go clean your rooms.

I’m sorry, that line just cracks me up. Excellent speech!

Also, I’m super glad you mentioned consent in non-sexual contexts. It’s one of the big things I have to get across to parents of kids with disabilities, that you can start teaching about consent young/at a level of understanding appropriate to the individual.

I find this interesting, but it’s not an approach that Mr. Juniper and I are planning to take. Of course, we’re in the early stages of sex education (Juniper Junior being five-years-old) and so the focus is on the mechanics of how babies are made, and non-sexual respect and consent, which we hope will evolve into continuing discussions about respect and consent. Certainly, I enjoyed Elfity’s article on enthusiastic consent, and it’s a concept we hope to teach Juniper Junior about (practise what you preach, and so on). I’m wary of the weight put on orgasms, however, because – to us at least – the focus is more on intimacy, respect, and therefore pleasure that can come from that.

Indeed. When my 13 year old was younger the focus was on other things. As he ages and asks questions (oh his many questions) about arousal and pleasure we’ll focus there (as well as on other areas).
It’s all malleable and flexible but I do think that the idea of scarcity has invaded many a mind when it comes to pleasure and “having” and if there is a culture or idea of plenty (there are more later, even later tonight, and that goes for girls and their experience of sex) then maybe there won’t be as much pressure to “do the deed.”

Thanks for your awesome comment!

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