In Order To Prevent Rape, You Must Talk About Sex

In light of the recent Steubenville rape trial, there has been a flurry of internet activity discussing rape culture, consent, and the role of social media. This is great, since the silence and shame surrounded sexual assault must be combated with open communication and social analysis.

However, I’d like to make a precise point here: in order to prevent rape and sexual assault, we – ALL of us – must talk about sex.

This Polyamorous Misanthrope post on teaching your sons about consent is a wonderful step in the right direction: it involves a clear, honest, direction conversation that defines consent and goes through a number of sample situations where consent might or might not be possible. The topic of that conversation is implicitly sex… but I’m arguing that it needs to be explicitly about sex.

And here’s the thing: there are a lot of people who simply refuse to talk to their kids about sex. They don’t want their kids getting sex ed in schools. And I’m sure a lot of them are decent human beings who teach their kids that bullying and violence are not okay, but unless consent is explicitly linked to sex in these conversations that help teach children the difference between right and wrong, I believe that some young people will have a gap in their knowledge and may commit sexual assault.

I mean, you can’t know that rape is wrong unless you know what sex is. Some people will pick it up intuitively based on empathy or whatever, but others won’t. They’ll probably know that what they’re doing is wrong; they may even get off on the thrill of transgression. But maybe, on the chance that someone simply didn’t connect the dots between “it’s wrong to punch someone” and “it’s also wrong to sexually assault someone,” just maybe, shifting the conversation to talking about consent and boundaries in the context of sex would help.

Don’t believe me? Think everyone intuitively understands what rape is? Read this blog post about how one of the Steubenville teenagers present at the rape said, “Well, it wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.” Boys are not taught what rape is with the same frequency and urgency as girls are, and that needs to change. Talking about what sex is in concrete terms needs to be part of that change.

I know that I like to talk about consent as it applies to, say, street harassment and even food, not just sex, but I thought it was very important to make this basic point. Talk to your kids and the young people you know about consent, by all means – but make sure to also explicitly talk about consent in the context of sex (this blog post by a mom contains a great example of how to to do).

Talk to your kids about consent, rape, and sex. You need to do it, because the media (which is handling the Steubenville case horribly in so many ways) sure as hell won’t.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.