“This means anyone’s son could be accused of rape at any time!” or “How would you feel if you were judged by what you did at 17?”
I’m a sexual-assault survivor and the mother of a teenaged son. My heart hurts every time I see these posts (in reference to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation) going around Facebook and Twitter.
Whether these are posted by well-meaning mothers or by Russian bots, I’m not sure. What I do know is that such posts are posted from a place of fear. And they attempt to spread more fear.
Let’s clear out the fear.
Let’s live in a world of enjoyable sex between enthusiastic, consenting partners.
What does that look like? Does it mean we need to teach our kids to be completely abstinent, or constantly interrupt their “sexy times” to ask consent?
FWIW, here’s what I tell my teenaged son:
1. BE INTERESTED IN THE OTHER PERSON’S RESPONSE TO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO / ARE DOING.
Did y’all see that Will Smith movie, “Hitch”? It’s not a perfect movie, but it has some of the best dating advice I’ve ever heard: “Go in for a kiss 90% of the way ... and hold.”
Why is this great advice? Because it signals where you’re at —“I’d like to kiss you on the lips”— and waits for a response. That response could be a lipper (kiss on the lips). It could be a cheeker. It could be a heart-wrenching handshake. But whatever the response, you are signaling your intention and leaving room for the other person to make their decision.
Later on, when things may be getting hot and heavy, stay interested in your partner’s response. Make eye contact. Do they like what you’re doing? Ask them if something feels good. Incidentally, this will only make sex better and more fun.
Tl;dr: Be interested in the person’s response.
2. THERE’S A LOT MORE TO SEX THAN PENETRATION.
Movies seem to show couples going straight from a kiss to intercourse. There’s a lot more fun that can be had. Explore, together. You don’t have to go in a straight line from lips to vaj, you don’t have to progress around certain bases, you don’t have to penetrate something with your penis to have fun. See what makes you feel good. Ask what makes them feel good. Figure it out together.
3. IF YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT SEX WITH THE OTHER PERSON, YOU SURELY AREN’T READY TO HAVE SEX WITH THEM.
In heterosexual relationships, this includes the basics of birth control. In all relationships, this includes the basics of STD protection. You know what’s more awkward than needing a couple of tries to put on a condom? Herpes. Herpes is more awkward.
4. DO NOT MIX DRUGS / ALCOHOL WITH SEX.
Choose one or the other. Not both at the same time. Not when you’re young. Not when you don’t know your limits.
Being high, drunk, or otherwise altered radically diminishes your capacity to discern how the other person is responding. It also radically incapacitates your ability to make good decisions.
Same for your partner: if they’ve been drinking or taking stuff, no hanky-panky. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
When/if someone hands you a drink, a dose, a vape, or whatever: the deal you are making is to close the road to sex tonight. With alcohol/drugs, it’s enough work to stay safe, learn your limits, and get home safely without adding sex to the mix.
5. IF YOU’RE FOOLING AROUND AND YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, STOP AND APOLOGIZE. SAY YOU ARE SORRY.
Don’t blame your partner. Stay open, not defensive. Be humble. Look into their eyes, say you are very sorry, and mean it.
Sometimes we fumble. Braces can get caught while kissing. Certain holes are close together and you might confuse one for the other (even when you’ve been together a long time). Something might hurt that felt good before. A heartfelt apology means everything in these situations.
Which brings me to:
6. EITHER OF YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND AT ANY TIME.
One of you might think you’re ready for something and then you get filled with panic. Just take deep breaths, back off for a moment, communicate what you’re feeling, and listen to your partner.
There’s always time to try again another time.
And if you feel like this is your only chance for something ... let that be a red flag. Something might be quite amiss in that scenario.
7. FOLLOW UP THE NEXT DAY.
Make plans to see the person, or text/call the next day. Let them know you care about their experience. You don’t have to be a weird robot: “Thank you for doing sex with me How are you Do you want to do sex with me again”. Um, no.
Just check in. Let them know you know they are a person. And you are a person. You’re both human, it’s all a process of unfolding and learning. Speaking of being a person:
8. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT.
Things can get out of hand at parties, especially with drugs/alcohol present. You want to be around friends who will keep you safe. And who won’t endanger others (especially girls) who are there.
If you don’t feel good about what’s happening somewhere, GTFO. Text us your secret code and we will come get you — and any friends who also need to GTFO.
9. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING BAD HAPPENING AT A PARTY, YOU MUST INTERVENE IF IT IS PHYSICALLY SAFE FOR YOU TO DO SO.
You don’t need to be some macho “hero to women everywhere.” You just need to be a decent person. Just as you are taught to interrupt racism and sexism, you need to stop an assault. Best case scenario is to stop it before it happens.
Humor goes a long way. If you are friends with someone who’s drinking and seems to be cornering someone or taking them to a closed bedroom, use your friendship to intervene: “Dude, y’all are wasted, stay here with all of us. So we can hold your hair back while you puke.” Or I don’t know, something like that.
If you know of something or see something and can’t stop it, you must tell a trusted adult what happened so we can take it from there.
10. FALSE CLAIMS _CAN_ HAPPEN, BUT THEY ARE EXCEEDINGLY, VANISHINGLY RARE.
If you follow all the above guidelines, I can’t imagine someone accusing you of sexual assault. But should it happen, there is a lot we can do. We can be humble and compassionate. We can breathe deeply. We can know that there is a distinctive pattern to false accusations — generally they are made in a certain way, under certain circumstances. I trust that in the vast majority of situations, the truth will out.
In the meantime: I believe women, and I know you do too.
Be safe, be good to those you are with, and remember: we are all in this together.
* reposted with very slight edits from my Facebook post on Sept. 25, 2018
j.j. johnson, author