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
Reader Question: Why is it Important to Validate Feelings?
“Do you really have to always validate other people’s feelings? What if they are just plain wrong?” Natalie, Lafayette, CO
Validation (of feelings) is a buzz word used frequently in parenting books and relationship self help. But what does it actually mean to validate someone’s feelings and why is in important? Often time, validation is confused with agreeing with what the person is saying or their perspective. Validation is not about agreeing with the other person’s thoughts, but it is about understanding how someone might be feeling. It requires using empathy, or putting yourself in that other person’s shoes. If you have ever been in an argument with someone and you take the approach of trying to change their mind and convince them that their facts are wrong, you have most likely found yourself in a debate or a power struggle, where anger and defensiveness takes over, and where no one actually wins or feels better. This is also true when someone is very anxious and you try to fix the problem before you validate the feeling.
On the other hand, validating feelings diffuses the emotion of the situation by acknowledging the feelings first and not getting into the facts until both parties are calmer. This may sound something like this “Ok, I see how upset you are. I can understand that you are feeling overwhelmed and like you have no power in this situation.” When someone is upset, they are operating from their emotions and the rational part of their brain is offline, therefore, if you pause and help to address and validate their emotions first, then the rational part of the brain (pre-frontal lobe) is more easily accessed.
Next time you find yourself in a heated moment with someone, remember this mantra: Diffuse, don’t Debate.
Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC
Has The Spark Left Your Relationship?
Do you feel lonely in your relationship? Does it feel like it’s been months or even years since you were last touched or really seen or heard by your partner? Have life commitments like kids and careers consumed the energy and time you once had for each other? Do you oftentimes feel angry, frustrated, resentful or just plain sad? Do you long to feel closer to your partner and want him or her to desire the same feelings of closeness?
Even the strongest of romantic relationships can go through fazes of emotional and romantic strain. It can be a brief slump – following the birth of a child or a new job – or it can turn into months or even years. During these times it’s not unusual to wonder if you still really know the person you married. It’s common to wonder what happened to the spark, when it went out and if it’s possible to get it back. You may feel heart wrenchingly lonely and ache to regain a physical and emotional connection with your lover.
Relationship Ups and Downs Are Common
The feelings of disconnect that you’re experiencing toward your partner are totally normal. Relationships are kind of like roller coasters. It’s common to go through ups and downs as well as periods of time when you experience closeness followed by times when you feel very far apart. Things happen in life that trigger these ebbs and flows. Babies are born. Kids take over time. You may move. One or both of you may experience great success or strife with work. What’s important, however, is that you take the time to recognize what’s happening in your relationship and learn how to rekindle your intimate connection.
Couples Counseling for Intimacy Issues Can Work Wonders
A highly trained and experienced BPS therapist can help guide you and your partner back to each other. Therapy, at its core, is intimate. It allows for a safe space to begin talking and reconnecting. Even your first meeting with a good therapist can help. It can provide the spring board needed to begin a conversation when you’re at a loss about where to start. With help, both you and your partner will have the ability, time and space needed to speak the truths around your primary emotions. You’ll explore what blocks each of you from being more intimate. Just the process of sharing actually helps to begin the rebuilding of your intimate connection.
Your BPS couples therapist can teach you how to have more honest and deepening conversations. You’ll learn how to ask your partner – and yourself – questions that are open and strengthening. Eventually you’ll move out of a place of conflict and disconnect and into one that is emotionally supportive and nourishing.
But you still may have questions or concerns…
I think my partner and I really need therapy, but I don’t think that he/she would be willing to try.
One partner desiring therapy while another does not is more common that you might think. If your partner is hesitant about therapy, you may try to gently encourage him or her to try, to experiment with you. Often people have fear that they will be blamed in therapy or have a fear of honesty, especially if an infidelity has weakened the relationship. Together you can decide to give it a trial run – maybe three sessions – and see how it goes. Your therapist will be able to explain to you both that no one person is at fault. Rather, it’s something in the “system” of your relationship that isn’t working and needs to be addressed. Alleviating the fear of blame can oftentimes be very helpful.
If your partner still refuses, therapy can still be beneficial if you come on your own – and it may even elicit a curiosity in your partner to attend a session. Although it is highly recommended that both partners attend, working on your own issues and learning some tools to help improve communication and build intimacy can lead to a stronger and more connected relationship.
I’m afraid that things will get worse if we go to therapy. What if we learn that there’s no hope? I’m not ready for divorce.
The idea of reconnecting can be really scary. And, it’s not uncommon to wonder where the relationship will be headed if one or both of you decide that your relationship is beyond repair. However, you may want to ask yourself how many years you’ve been fighting or feeling detached from each other. And, yes, the worse thing that can happen would be that you realize that a divorce is necessary – which may be entirely possible if your relationship goes on as-is without therapy anyway.
If things between you and your partner really are that bad, therapy gives you the opportunity to address what’s happening and to try to get back to a nourishing and supportive place. You may be surprised and learn that it’s entirely possible to reestablish the connection that you once had.
I’m afraid of the things that I may say to or hear from my partner in therapy.
Talking honestly about feelings can be hard work and make you feel very vulnerable. And, it’s common to experience fear about talking openly with your partner – especially if you’ve both been walking on eggshells for a long time. But, the only way to move toward bettering your relationship and becoming closer is to share your feelings. Sharing honestly, while scary, actually creates intimacy. Your BPS couples therapist is highly trained and has the experience to coach you through the sharing of difficult emotions. With help, it’s entirely possible for you and your partner to share and communicate in ways that don’t feel scary. Rather, your relationship can feel comfortable and supportive. It is possible to regain that feeling of closeness.
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, your partner 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 with a therapist who has expertise working with couples’ intimacy issues.
BPS therapist Kat Austin, LPC
, LAC helped create the content for this page. Kat was specifically trained to work with couples. Her practice focuses on working with couples to help them improve their communication and increase the closeness and harmony within their relationship. Kat has been working with couples on intimacy issues since 2009.