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Talking to your kids about: Consent

There is currently a lot of great conversation around the teaching of sexual consent in classrooms which is fantastic because lessons about consent are an essential element of any effective comprehensive sexuality education program in schools. Another essential element of comprehensive sexuality education programs is parents. Sex-education at school is limited in its capacity to have a positive impact unless supported by similar messaging and conversations at home.

Almost all parents I talk to want to do the right thing by their kids and are willing to have these awkward and even difficult conversations, but are plagued by doubt and a lack of confidence in what they are saying and how they are saying at.

Many people confuse consent education with talking about the law. The age of consent in WA is 16 and while this is relevant of course, don’t focus solely on the law in your conversations. We are not trying to teach our young people how to avoid sexual assault charges. We are trying to keep them far away from sexual encounters that are degrading, disrespectful and leave them feeling ashamed or less human than when they began.

Here are a few basic things to remember when talking about sexual consent with your young people.

Educate yourself on consent and keep it simple

Consent isn’t really that complicated. It’s largely a conversation and an agreement between people who want to take part in sexual activities together. Consent is an evolving interaction, a conversation and a communication. Convey these basic elements in your conversation.

Consent is: FRIES

Freely given You shouldn’t have to convince someone to give it.

Reversible People can change their minds and take it back even once they have started.

Informed The person fully understands what they are agreeing to. This cannot happen when someone is drunk or impaired by drugs or under the age of consent.

Enthusiastic They want to hear a YES YES YES! to any question that starts with, “shall we”, “do you want to” or “can I?” Tell your young person that they should only be engaging in sex with someone else that really wants to be doing it with them. They shouldn’t have to convince the other partner that it is a good idea. Uncertainty is a no. When someone really wants to have sex with you it should be obvious.

Specific Consent to sex yesterday isn’t consent today. Consent to kissing isn’t consent to sex. Consent to touching body parts isn’t consent to other things. Consent to sex with a condom isn’t consent to sex without a condom. You get the idea. Young people should look out for cues that it is ok to continue and be told that if they are unsure, stop and ask!

Talk sooner rather than later

Don’t wait until you think your child may be sexually active before you talk about sex or consent with them. Don’t assume you know where they are at in their sexual development and don’t ask for information about what, if any sexual activities they are engaged in during this conversation. It is largely irrelevant. If you think it is too early, you can safely assume the information you provide will be useful at some point in the future.

Look for opportunities or ‘ins’ to bring up the conversation about consent

Conversations don’t always need to be structured and there should definitely be more than one ‘talk’. You can use TV for example, as opportunities to bring up the topic. Don’t immediately turn off sexy scenes in movies as they can be a great conversation starter. This series of MAFS for instance, was ripe with opportunities to discuss respect and consent!

Be clear that you are talking about sex

Young people are bombarded with sexual imagery, information, music and storylines about sex all over the internet. You don’t need to be precious about the topic. While analogies and metaphors can be useful, it needs to be clear that it is sex that you are talking about. Be straightforward with your language and your messaging.

Talk about pleasure

It’s almost impossible to talk about sexual consent without talking about pleasure. Don’t shy away from it. Research shows that when conversations about pleasure are included in a young person’s sex –education, they are more likely to make better choices about their overall sexual health and wellbeing. So – let them know. Sex should feel good, great even, for everyone involved not just one person. Don’t shy away from this fact. It’s an often overlooked, but important one. Unless young people, girls in particular, know that sex should feel good, they will be more willing to accept sexual interactions that are uncomfortable, painful or even shameful.

Avoid gender stereotypes

Be careful to avoid using phrases or messaging that reinforce gender stereotypes that paint women as the gatekeepers of sex and men as the pursuers. For example, avoid encouraging or insinuating that boys need to ‘ask permission’ to have sex with girls or ‘do things to them’. Sex is something people do together and it is the responsibility of both people involved to seek consent. It is not the girl’s responsibility to say no to sex. Despite the stereotype, boys are not always more interested in sex than girls and are definitely able to control their ‘urges’. In reality most young people are interested in sexual exploration. Differences in levels of interest or desire are more to do with individual differences than gender.

In the end, I am a firm believer that any conversation about this is better than none. So I strongly encourage you to just give it a go! Feel free to email me at for more information.

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