Humans Of New York post shows the importance of teaching kids consent
Humans of New York (HONY) shares photographs with “slice of life” anecdotes from all around New York City. Sometimes they’re poignant, other times they’re funny, and often the important issues they highlight stop you in your tracks.
Recently, HONY shared a photo of a young woman, along with a caption about one of her first sexual experiences, and the sad story she shared highlights just how much we’re failing at teaching young people about consent.
“It was the summer between 8th and 9th grade,” the photo’s caption begins. “We were make-out buddies. Sometimes he’d talk to me during the day. Other times he wouldn’t.”
She said they were drinking in his basement one night, and he kept pressuring her to have sex. “My heart was racing and I was terrified,” she said. “I kept saying: ‘maybe,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘maybe.’ Then he said: ‘No more maybes. Let’s flip a coin.’ My stomach sank.”
You can probably guess who won the coin toss.
“After we finished, he said: ‘I think I heard my dad upstairs. You need to leave,'” she recalled. “I went home and filled up a whole page in my journal. I wrote in purple sharpie, over and over: ‘It didn’t happen.’ For the longest time I felt like it was my fault for feeling hurt. Like I was being overly sensitive. It took five years for me to realize that consent is not a coin flip.”
The post is heartbreaking, because it sounds like sexual experiences so many of us have had or have heard about from friends — blurred lines, coercion, discomfort, a feeling that you’re not ready for what’s happening but you have to go along with it. I grew up learning about sex education and consent from reading my mother’s Cosmopolitan magazines, and I can recall several times when I did things I didn’t feel comfortable with because I wanted someone to like me and I didn’t understand that it was okay to say no — and my partner didn’t understand that true consent required my enthusiastic “yes.”
About a month ago, Fusion released the results of a small study they did on consent. They asked 48 men, ages 18-49, how they first learned about consent. Disturbingly, 75 percent of them said that, until college, they’d never even heard the term “consent,” and had never had anyone explain to them what it means or how to ask for it. It’s a small sample size, but it’s indicative of a larger problem we have with young people: they don’t understand that the absence of “no” doesn’t automatically mean “yes.”
No parent likes to think about their kids having sexual experiences, but when they do finally reach the age where they’re ready for that sort of thing, we want those experiences to be healthy, we want them to be safe, and we absolutely want them to be consensual. That means both parties need to be aware of their right to say yes or no, and they need to understand that consensual sex requires an explicit “yes” from both parties.
Too many people — myself included — have stories from their pasts that closely mirror this one shared by HONY. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re raising the next generation of young people, and it’s up to us to teach both girls and boys that sexual consent is 100 percent yes or nothing at all, every single time.