Talking to one’s kids about sexual consent isn’t exactly easy for most parents. It can be hard to know what language to use, or how to even start the (crucial) conversation. In the personal essay Every Rapist is Someone’s Child for Cosmopolitan, sexual assault victim Amy Hatvany opened up about how she broached the topic of consent with her teenage son.
Hatvany said that she’d always been open with her kids about safe sex, but talking specifically to her son about consent — and how he must always get it before moving forward with a girl — was inherently awkward. She emphasized that he’s a good kid who she knows would never purposefully hurt someone. However, she wanted to ensure that he understood that many girls and women are under major societal pressure to please others. So while a girl may not explicitly say, “stop,” or “I don’t want to,” that could very well be what she’s feeling inside.
So, how did she broach the issue with her son?
After gently asking if her son knew what consent was, Hatvany spoke matter-of-factly about WHY it’s so important. “You need to be absolutely sure she wants to have sex,” she said to him. “If she’s too drunk, or you are, to speak clearly, you don’t even try it. You go home alone and sleep it off. If she’s sober, you need to ask her if she’s sure she wants to do it. Whatever ‘it’ is. Touching, oral sex, intercourse.”
She noted that he cringed when this part of the conversation was happening, but she forged on anyway.
“You need to say the words, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ and she needs to give you a verbal yes,” she said. “It’s a good idea to ask her more than once. If she hesitates in any way, physically, like if she is stiff or not responding to your kissing her, or if she says something like ‘wait’ or ‘I don’t know,’ you stop. Right then. It’s over. You don’t push it. You tell her it’s fine. That you want her to be comfortable with whatever happens between you. And that you’re fine if nothing happens at all.”
Her son gave the typical teenage response of “OK, OK. I get it.” But she went on to write,” I could sense the wheels turning in his head, processing everything we’d discussed — internalizing it — and my heart fizzed with relief.”
While it might have been slightly embarrassing for both parties involved, Hatvany’s words were so utterly important. We’re applauding her decision to broach this issue with her son, despite the fact that she doesn’t think he would ever intentionally hurt someone. Having these conversations with our kids — especially our sons — is crucial.
Thank you for sharing your story, Amy. We hope it inspires so many other parents to have similar dialogues with their kids.