Talking About Sexual Consent
Parents, it’s time to get ready to have THE talk. Given the events of the past year and the rise of the #metoo movement, the talk about sex must now also include discussing sexual consent. The point of opening up this conversation with your young person is to start to honestly explore and ask questions about experiences, uncertainties, and gray areas, so that when they are with potential sexual partners, they can more effectively have the conversation. Of course there are some absolutes when it comes to this topic, like when someone is too intoxicated to speak coherently, than they are too intoxicated to give consent and this is an automatic “NO”. And, when someone says “No” to something having to do with sex, that is the answer. Consider including the following discussion items:
- What they are and are not comfortable doing;
- That it is fine to change your mind about whether you want to do something, and the partner has to respect this;
- Consenting to one kind of sexual activity doesn’t mean you have consented to everything;
- Consenting one time doesn’t mean that you have consented forever;
- Learning to read body language that indicates that someone feels uncomfortable and how to ask partners if they feel uncomfortable;
- How to set boundaries and say “no”;
- Clarify within themselves about what they want to say “yes” to.
We are moving into long overdue new territory with the conversation about sexual consent. This is a conversation that everyone needs to get (un)comfortable having, so that it becomes the norm. This can be vulnerable territory for everyone (parents included), but there is no shame in asking questions, clarifying what is ok and what is not ok, and learning how to have this conversation. Thirty years ago, the conversation was about how not to get pregnant or contract an STD (STI), then it evolved to preparing young women (and men) to keep themselves safe from sexual assault, and now the conversation has evolved into a more nuanced one about shared responsibility and understanding consent and boundaries. And while parents are a key player in initiating this conversation, I recently heard a story about 4 cis-male college roommates who called a house meeting amongst themselves to make sure they all understood what sexual consent was. These young men exemplify this evolution.
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
By Jan Hittelman
Being victimized is a traumatic experience that for some remains a challenge for the rest of their lives. It can also be a lifelong struggle for their friends and family. On a recent trip to Europe with my own family I was reminded of this as we were the victims of theft on multiple occasions. While it was very frustrating to have our money, credit cards and passport stolen, we were fortunate that none of us were physically harmed. We were very emotionally impacted and embittered by our experiences. It will certainly take us a while to fully recover from feelings of being violated and a nagging sense of helplessness that we didn’t do more to possibly prevent it. As we experienced, it is very common for victims to blame themselves and in hindsight consider a variety of things that they should have done differently. There is also a shift of looking at people more critically, being less trustful of others and being more suspicious. But our situation wasn’t really that catastrophic; passports, credit cards, and money are replaceable. For those who are the victims of more serious acts of violence and/or abuse the healing process can be far more challenging.
There are several steps one can take to help in the healing process, these include:
• Talk about it with someone you trust. This can be a friend or family member, or coworker. Keeping these feelings buried always results in additional problems like social withdrawal, depression and anxiety.
• Give it some time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but can certainly help.
• Resist blaming yourself. Bad things happen and it is the fault of the perpetrator, not your own.
• Learn to trust again. While some people do horrible things, most people have good intentions and are trustworthy. Try not to generalize feelings to those who are deserving of your trust.
• Seek professional help when necessary. If problems persist, particularly with recurrent disturbing memories of the incident, consider seeing a counselor with expertise in treating trauma. There are a variety of techniques (e.g. EMDR, Brain Spotting) that are research proven and effective in addressing these issues.
There are also funds available through the justice system to provide victim assistance to help pay for counseling and other needs for crime victims.
As with physical injuries, we need time to heal from these traumatic events. With the right response, we can work towards recovering from these experiences so that they don’t continue to victimize us further.
Do You Think You Or Someone You Know Might Be The Victim Of Domestic Violence?
Are you, your children, or someone you know, distressed, anxious or confused by the behavior of a partner or family member? Are you worried that being candid and honest with your partner might set them off? Do you often find the need to “be invisible” around your spouse or partner just to get through the day? Do you wonder if the over-wrought reactions of your partner are “normal”?
Maybe you’ve even considered seeking help in the past, but you thought it would only make matters worse. Perhaps you fear that bringing attention to the problem puts your children at risk, or the thought of losing your partner has stopped you from reaching out for help. You wonder how you would pay the rent or put food on the table if your partner is no longer a part of your life. These concerns are normal, as are the conflicting feelings of worry, pain and frustration. It’s important that you realize domestic violence can happen to anyone—and does—regardless of ethnicity, race, social status, religion, age, gender or sexual orientation. Hidden behind the walls in which we live, often stigmatized, or even rationalized, domestic violence all too often goes unreported and/or untreated.
There Is Hope
For victims of domestic violence, the journey back to confidence, intimacy, trust, nurturing, and the fostering of healthy relationships often involves getting professional help as an important and necessary first step. Even though it might be painful for you, initially, to face the reality of an abusive situation, the desired result can be reached within a totally confidential, safe and secure environment. The tools for self-empowerment to help regain and take control of your life are not out of reach.
Life Can Get Better After You Ask For Help
It takes courage to seek counseling for domestic violence, to directly address domestic violence and untangle the confusion you feel and deal with issues of dependence, support, safety and survival. Domestic violence is a hidden condition that many people are unwilling to talk about—so much so it almost seems as if it’s the problem that’s not there at all. But as you know, nothing could be further from the truth. Conflicting feelings of shame, guilt, doubt and uncertainty are common—don’t let this stop you from seeking assistance. With help and effort, you can change the dysfunctional behavior patterns that have a negative affect on your life.
A new life without the everyday anxieties and fear of abuse is possible. Your domestic life can be made whole again and your sense of helplessness and isolation can be overcome. A well-trained professional can assist you in exploring the root causes of your situation and acquiring the understanding and confidence you need to make the necessary changes to your life.
At BPS we know it is important that you find the right person to support you, someone with the expertise to help guide you through the restorative process. The good news is that if you’re reading this right now you are probably ready to make a decision to reach out and speak with someone—and here at BPS we’re ready to help. With our referral assessment we will match you with the right therapist from our network of highly-regarded professionals, for this, one of the most important decisions on the road to a healthier and happier life.
But, you still may have some questions or fears…
I’d like to change the situation but I don’t know how I’m going to survive without him/her.
Taking the first step is important. After that, life needs to be taken one day at a time. You can survive without being a victim for your own sake, and if you have children you can begin to model healthy behavior within a supportive and mutually nurturing environment.
I’m afraid to do anything. My partner might retaliate.
The threat needs to be lessened. Victims of domestic violence live in a fight or flight mode with heightened adrenaline that accompanies a stress reaction—and that must be changed. You need to be able to feel safe enough to look into the mirror and consider your choices.
I’ve thought of therapy before, but really the problem is with my partner, not me.
The first step is counterintuitive for many people, but you need to address your own behavior patterns within this crisis situation. You will need the space and time to be able to allow your feelings to flow naturally and think clearly about your situation. You are caught in a dysfunctional cycle that needs to be broken.
I feel that I am living in a dangerous situation. Things are getting out of hand.
Be ready if violence spirals out of control. Have an escape plan. If you or your children are being verbally abused, threatened or intimidated there’s a strong possibility that physical abuse can occur. If this is the case seek shelter. If a situation turns violent and you are not in a position to leave, call 911, lock yourself and your children in a room. Call neighbors or reliable family members.
We encourage you to schedule a referral assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director, Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your specific issues are and to ensure a good match between you and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.
You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with families and adoption issues.