Resources to Help Kids & Adults Understand Consent and Sexual Assault

by | Apr 24, 2020 | Abuse, Uncategorized | 35 comments

How to talk to your kids about consent

In church, we simply don’t have a good working understanding of the importance of consent in sex.

I think it’s because we tend to operate with the idea that women aren’t allowed to say no to sex, and that sex is an entitlement upon marriage. As we found in our survey, and as we’ll talk about in our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue, when women feel like sex is an obligation, orgasm rates go down, libido goes down, and rates of sexual pain go up. If we want women to have fulfilling sex lives, and marriages to feel intimate, we need to talk about sex in a healthy way–as a passionate, mutual “knowing” of each other where both people matter.

Rebecca and I talked about this in our podcast yesterday, prompted by this comment that was left after ANOTHER podcast about The Act of Marriage two weeks ago:

I find it so bizarre that the church so rarely talks about consent – in fact outside of this blog I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon or Sunday School lesson or *anything* church related that mentioned it. I grew up with the “sex before marriage = bad!” talks in church, and I’m assuming that youth leaders just assumed that teenagers would know that pressuring others into sex or sexual acts was wrong because those were wrong outside of marriage anyway? I think that the importance of sexual purity and sexual consent should be treated almost like two separate issues and that the church should begin education around consent as young as they do sexual purity.

As I think about this it saddens and baffles me that that even has to be addressed. My husband loses interest in having sex with me if I don’t seem very into it, let alone if I was crying or screaming! How exactly do the “Christian” men who do this to their wives view themselves as loving or caring for them? How do they see that as laying down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church?

We tackled it in depth yesterday (please listen in to that podcast!), but today I thought I’d share some resources to help us talk about consent in a good way. But first, let’s talk about what NOT to do.

About a year ago, this “Sexual Refusal Commitment” made the rounds on the internet. I bookmarked it to put in our book, and this week I reopened that thread to get some additional facts. And since I brought it up again, it’s gone completely viral. You may have seen it (many have sent it to me again), but here it is:

(I believe that this was part of a handout from a Phyllis & Shane Womack marriage conference on Sex & Solomon, according to the person who originally uploaded it last year, but if anyone has more information, I’d appreciate it!)

This is an example of lack of consent. It tells women that they have no right to refuse, which is entirely different from the “do not deprive.” The verses do not say do not refuse, and do not refuse is infinitely different from do not deprive. In fact, the do not deprive passage also is warped when we think of sex as being about a man’s ejaculation, rather than an intimate, passionate, pleasurable experience for both. God doesn’t want us to be deprived of healthy sexuality in marriage; he isn’t concerned that a man gets to ejaculate as often as he wants. And yet we read it as the second.

Again, listen in to the consent podcast yesterday!

The second thing that comes to mind was some comment mining we were doing for our book, The Great Sex Rescue. I came across some comments from men with regards to sex in the postpartum phase or during her period. Several guys said that the do not deprive verses were saying that you couldn’t say no except by mutual consent. And they said nothing about a doctor’s consent. So if she’s refusing and he doesn’t want her to refuse, she’s in sin. If he doesn’t agree with the refusal, then it’s not mutual.

In his mind, you need two nos to refuse sex, but only one yes to have it.

That’s so twisted and warped, and exactly the opposite of consent and what we should be looking for.

We need two yeses to have sex, and only one no to stop it. 

Here’s how I think about consent:

At essence, understanding consent is twofold: It’s understanding that you have the right to say no to something that you don’t want, and it’s understanding that you need to honour someone else’s no.

And yet I don’t think this has been taught or understood nearly enough in Christian circles, because instead we’ve had things like that “sexual refusal commitment” hanging around, along with messages that men will automatically lust depending on what a woman wears. All of this adds up to women feeling as if they have no ability or right to have their no heard.


You may also enjoy:


A while ago on the blog, a frequent commenter said that she had only recently understood that she had been a victim of date rape as a teen. She hadn’t wanted sex; she had said no; but because she grew up in the purity culture that told her that men couldn’t resist sex, she felt it was her fault because of what she was wearing, and because she kissed him (which then obviously led to sex). It was only now, many years later, that she realized that she wasn’t to blame because she did say no, and her no should have been listened to.

So we need to talk about this well!

I asked on Facebook the other day for some resources to help kids understand consent, and some resources that can help us start the conversation as well. Some great suggestions came in! And so I’d like to share them with you:

Preparing Kids to Understand Consent

We need to teach kids from an early age that they are allowed to say no, and also that their bodies are their own. Here are some great resources for that:

Children’s Resources on Consent

1. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Consent Dont Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

An awesome picture book that tells kids at the very beginning–no matter what happens, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus! The rest of the book is the pigeon trying to convince the child to let him drive the bus, and the child has to keep saying no. It teaches kids how to keep their “no” even if people try to manipulate them. Plus it’s really, really funny.

2. God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Kids Protect their Bodies

A great book to help kids understand body autonomy:

God Made All of Me

 

3. Honour your children’s “no”–and allow them to express it.

One woman on Facebook shared this story:

The dad of the family was tickling his daughter (age 5). She started saying “stop it stop it”. He did not stop immediately and told her “I didn’t hear your nice words”. He proceeded to tickle her until she said “stop tickling me please” (you know between breaths). It burned me up! He just demonstrated that he did not respect her decisions about her body and also that she has to ask nicely for a man to quit touching her. I feel like saying “please” when you ask for something is great to teach kids, but not when someone else is acting upon them in a way they didn’t ask for to begin with. I think it’s also important for males and females alike to understand that women sometimes have a tendency to say “yes” to things they don’t really want just because they don’t want to say “no” to their man. Sometimes because they think it will hurt his feelings, because they feel they already put themselves in a compromising position, etc. so we should make sure in any interaction that we and our partner are truly comfortable and relaxed.

4. Ask Kids Permission to Touch

The organization Darkness to Light also helps parents teach kids about consent, and they have this great video to guide adults in how to talk to kids before you touch them (the stuff about coaches at the beginning is especially good):

 

5. Teach Kids They’re the “Boss of their Body”

And this catchy YouTube video helps kids understand that they’re the boss of their body–in all kinds of circumstances:

 

 

Preparing Teens to Understand Consent

1. Would you like a cup of tea?

A while ago, a British organization made this amazing video comparing consent to sex with a cup of tea. It’s pretty awesome! This was one I was already thinking of, but so many people recommended it, too.

 

2. Take the Consent Quiz!

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has a great Consent Quiz that teens can take. Again, we may run into the same problem that we’re asking kids not to have sex until they’re married anyway, so some may think this doesn’t apply to them. But it’s important that everybody realize they can say no, and having the conversation that consent is true whether you’re married or not is also important.

Take the quiz!

3. Make these conversations easier

I know having conversations about sex and consent and dating and all of these things can be difficult with teens and preteens, but we also want to make that easier for you right now. My daughters and I created an online video course called the Whole Story: Not so Awkward Talks about Sex, Puberty, and Growing Up. My daughters do the videos for the girls explaining sex, body changes, dating, peer pressure, and more, while mother-daughter discussions and exercises help YOU continue the conversation. We’ve got it available in two groups: for girls aged 10-12, and then for girls aged 13-15. A year later we added the boy’s version, featuring TV personality Sheldon Neil from Crossroads TV, with my sons-in-law sharing stories, too.

We’ve drastically cut the price during COVID, because we think now is an awesome time to take advantage of this course while you’re stuck at home! And then you can start these conversations, and also start talking about consent. Check it out here!

You’re telling me WHAT goes WHERE?!

Talking about sex with your kids doesn’t always go smoothly. 

That’s why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!

So that’s a smorgasbord of resources to start talking about consent. 

I think this is an important conversation to have in Christian circles, and we don’t do it well. Let’s change that!

Do you have any other resources on consent you’d recommend? Why do you think we’re so bad at this? What did you think of the “Sexual Refusal Commitment”? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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35 Comments

  1. Anon

    Thank you for sharing these resources. It is so important to start educating kids young, because ideas absorbed young root deep. And because so many adults absorbed harmful messages when they were young, there is still a lot of bad teaching out there, even from very well-intentioned people.
    I hate it when my friends’ kids are ‘ordered’ by their parents to hug or kiss me, and I’ve got into some fierce arguments (out of the kids’ hearing) with the parents over it. For one thing, if they are forced to hug an adult when they don’t want to, how is that teaching them that it is ok to say ‘no’ when an adult asks them to do something else they don’t like?! There is nothing I love more than getting a spontaneous hug from one of my friends’ kids, but I can’t understand anyone who would get enjoyment from a coerced hug.
    We need to be so careful we aren’t teaching kids bad messages. When I was 13, I was inappropriately touched by a boy in my youth group, in front of two of the leaders – their response was to laugh and comment ‘he’s growing up fast’ and ‘welcome to a woman’s world’. So we both learned in that moment that it was ‘grown up’ male behaviour to sexually assault women, and that a ‘woman’s world’ involved submitting to unwanted sexual contact. It has taken me decades to undo the damage from that lesson, and I still wonder about the impact it had on that boy. I’m not someone who copes well with confrontation or finds it easy to speak out, but I’m driven to confront this kind of behaviour wherever I see it, because I’m determined to do all I can to prevent the next generation growing up with the same mindset that we were given.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, isn’t that awful? I can remember back now and some stupid things I said when I was a camp counselor or when I was in youth group leadership. I hope I never did anything that terribly dumb and ridiculous. I certainly am so much more aware now. May we all start recognizing how harmful this stuff is!

      Reply
      • Anon

        Your blog has really helped me reframe my thinking about so much of this stuff – I’ve known it in my head for years, but when so much early teaching has been based around ‘put up and shut up because that’s life as a woman’, it’s hard to shift that head knowledge about consent down to the heart ( I just did the ‘consent’ quiz and although I got the answers right, it was interesting to see how uncomfortable I felt choosing the ‘right’ answer to some of the questions, so it’s shown me that I still have some work to do! Although a few years back, I probably would have got some of those answers wrong, so I’m making progress!!!)
        I’ve also been helped by my fiance who has actually taught me a lot about consent without realising it. When we first kissed, I felt really uncomfortable – I wanted to be ok with it, but at the same time, it was bringing up a lot of unpleasant memories of past situations where I hadn’t been given a choice. So I was saying ‘yes’ because I wanted it to be ok, rather than because it was. And he picked up on that. “I don’t think you are happy with this, so we won’t do it. I don’t want you doing anything you’re not 100% comfortable with just to please me.” He constantly reiterates that if I’m not happy with something then it shouldn’t be happening. I’m so blessed to be marrying someone who is sometimes more in tune with my feelings than I am myself!

        Reply
    • Madeline

      Anon, I completely agree with your thoughts on forcing kids to hug! I think my parents’ thoughts on forcing their kids to hug someone who expected it, regardless of whether their kids were comfortable with it or not, was that they didn’t want the other person to be offended or have hurt feelings over it. But really, a full grown adult shouldn’t take it too personally if a child doesn’t want to hug them! Like you said, what’s enjoyable about a coerced hug anyway? If the person expecting a hug is a child, it can be a good teaching moment to teach them about consent.
      Your story from youth group makes me want to scream!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Totally agree! I think I figured out the hug thing by the time I was a teen at least. It’s amazing how much time it takes to “unlearn” a lot of these things. I hope we can make sure the next generation gets this right from the beginning!

        Reply
      • Anon

        Madeline, I agree with you that an adult should be ‘adult’ enough to cope if a child (or anyone else) doesn’t want to hug them.
        One of my friends who is very strong on making her kids hug even if they don’t want to argue that it’s important because they need to ‘be polite’ to family and friends. But another friend who is adamant about teaching her kids consent from day one gives options – she says that it’s important to be polite, but you can choose HOW to be polite. So it’s polite to greet someone, but you can choose whether you give them a hug, a handshake or a high five. And it’s polite to say thank you for a gift, but you can choose whether to say thank you or give them a hug. So raising your kids to be polite doesn’t mean you have to coerce them into something that makes them uncomfortable, you just have to teach them the various options that are available.

        Reply
        • Madeline

          That’s so true, Anon! It shouldn’t be seen as impolite to not hug someone as long as the child acknowledges them in some way. This lesson extends beyond physical touching too – sometimes you have to risk being viewed as ‘impolite.’ It makes me think of Katie’s (one of Sheila’s daughters’) video about how sometimes you have to do things that aren’t “nice.”

          Reply
  2. Buttercup

    I’ve seen quite a lot recently about consent not being enough. That we should be looking for enthusiasm before we have sex with someone.
    Women especially may consent because they feel they should and are pressurised by their husband, themselves or society to do so. Enthusiasm is harder to make yourself do. It doesn’t have to be wild and energetic; it could be a sleepy, snuggly desire for intimacy but it’s a higher benchmark than just saying “ok”.
    That’s what I’d like to teach my sons.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so true. I think that the root comes down to the obligation message that we give women. When women feel as if sex is an obligation that they can’t refuse, then it’s hard to get enthusiastic about it. When people feel as if they do have a choice, then enthusiasm returns.

      Reply
    • Anon

      Perhaps another reason women might find it harder to be enthusiastic is that in some circles, it’s still not seen as ‘nice’ for a girl to be too enthusiastic?!
      We’re saving sex for marriage, but my fiance & I do kiss and hug now, and I’ve had to learn to sound enthusiastic when he asks for a kiss, because he won’t kiss me if he thinks I’m not 100% happy with it. I’ve found it surprisingly hard to let that enthusiasm show, because of years of being told that ‘nice girls’ don’t seem keen!!!

      Reply
  3. Active Mom

    Great post!

    Reply
  4. Nathan

    > > do not deprive
    > > no not refuse
    I think you hit on something very powerful and very subtle. You’re right that these are NOT the same thing, yet many people read them so, and that’s caused a great deal of problems.

    Reply
  5. Janalin Leach

    My six year old son loves our cat and constantly wants her to cuddle with him. This gives me lots of great opportunities to talk about how, “Only hold kitty when kitty wants to be held. Make sure and let her go if she wants to”. Consent doesn’t have to be taught in the context of sex. Very young children can learn to respect the wishes of someone else and grant them over their own desires.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So good! Exactly. I love that.

      Reply
    • Meghan

      We do the same with our toddler and the dog! I swear I say “no Baby Girl, Hermione doesn’t want to be petted right now” at least 10 times a day.

      Reply
      • Bibliosworm

        I’m still working on getting my 3yo boy to understand this. He’s constantly grabbing the dogs face to get her to lick him. I tell him she doesn’t like that, be gentle, pet her nicely or she will be scared of him. Sometimes he’s rough and I have to forbid him from touching her at all! In his mind all that matters is that he wants kisses, even if they aren’t freely given.

        Reply
    • K

      I actually do this with siblings, too. The three older children often want to hug the youngest (2 years old) when getting their good-night hugs from me, but the toddler doesn’t always want to hug/be hugged. I tell the older ones that she doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to. I’ve said at other times/in other contexts to never force affection on someone who doesn’t want it. So even if it’s great that brother/sister wants to hug a sibling, if the sibling doesn’t want it, don’t do it. Now the older ones will ask the youngest, “Do you want to hug me?” They seem to be OK with it when she doesn’t want to.

      Reply
  6. Madeline

    These are so good! I especially love the tea video. Thank you so much for these.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for these resources!
    Question on “whole story” – I am 100% on board, but my oldest is only 5. Would you recommend getting this resource now and hanging onto it, or do you expect updated versions between now and 2025?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a hard one to say! I think there will definitely be updates, but any updates we make will be on the course, so you’ll have access to them immediately. So it may be a good idea to lock in the low price now!

      Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Well whenever we update it we update the course itself–so if you bought it now you would get all the updates. So it’s entirely up to you–you won’t be missing out on anything new if you purchase it ahead of time since you’re getting access to an online database of videos, written materials, printables, etc. and we update the actual database, not just create new versions! 🙂

      Reply
  8. EOF

    The podcast brought back so many memories. One, when I was a newlywed and over at a leader’s house with another newlywed. We were discussing some bedroom issues we had. Both of us were opposed to something our husbands insisted on in the bedroom but we were uncomfortable with. The advice given to us from the older wife was that if that was what our husbands wanted, we needed to find a way to like it.
    Another memory this brought up was one time after a husbands’ workshop at church, my husband came home incensed. He told me that God is going to hold him accountable for every stupid thing I do, and that I need to stop doing so many stupid things. The solution was unconditional submission. (As you can imagine, I’ve been less than enthusiastic about going to any marriage functions since then.)
    I never imaged as a young single Christian that once I was married the only two Bible verses that would apply to me anymore would be to submit to my husband in all things and never deprive. This destroyed my spiritual life and I’ve never been less close to God. Trying to rebuild that is much harder than I’d have ever thought. Thank God I now see the light and am working on that change. Thanks largely to Sheila and this blog.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, EOF, I’m so sorry. You know what? I’m sure that wounded God, too, that people used his words as weapons against you. That’s just awful.
      I hope you are in a better place now. I hope you’re not anywhere near that kind of church anymore. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad that we can help, and I’d just recommend trying to read the gospels and forget everything you’ve ever been taught about what Jesus meant–and simply read his words and imagine yourself there. My husband always says, whenever he gets upset at the church and wants to leave, that Jesus is simply the most compelling person he can imagine, and he can’t leave Jesus. I think he’s right.

      Reply
  9. Meghan

    Tip #3 is such a good one! We’ve implemented it from day one with our daughter. We don’t always do a good job – sometimes it’s hard to hear her say stop when she’s laughing so hard! – but we do try. We also ask nicely for kisses and hugs and don’t try to guilt trip her into giving them if she’s not up for it at the time.
    And – this is the most important part – she sees my husband and I model consent and respect in our own relationship. We are free with our affection for one another and use please and thank you when making requests (like when I ask him to bring me a glass of water) and honor each other’s no. After all, what good would teaching her consent be if we didn’t do it for each other?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      THAT’s wonderful! Absolutely.

      Reply
  10. Arwen

    This is phenomenal! I pray helpful information like this spreads around the world in societies and cultures that need it the most. Sometimes the internet makes me angry because of porn but at the same time the internet is beneficial because it has valuable information like this that can help SOOOO many vulnerable girls/boys who are abused daily on this pathetic planet. That tea analogy is amazing! And i’m a lover of tea over coffee any day! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Tea lovers unite! :)))

      Reply
  11. Diane

    I had a wake up call about consent when pulling a bandaid off my 4yo daughters knee. She wanted to pick it off bit by bit but I was in a hurry and frazzled and pulled it off quickly. Of course she cried and a few minutes later I realised I’d just told her in my actions she had no right to say ‘No!’
    Ouch! I apologised and we talked about it in terms of consent. These are precious teaching moments about respect and boundaries.
    Also as a Chaplain in a primary school (ages 5-12) I plead with parents to speak about all sexual matters especially 10 yrs plus. LBGTIQ included. They or their peers have many backgrounds and experiences and they talk about them in class and out of it. The children have access to news and social media in ways we could never imagine when younger. The answer is not in banning everything but in helping them make smart choices and having good boundaries and a safe place to go to when something or someone is troubling them. A parent who punishes the child instead of listening and working out strategies will only send it underground.
    Sorry a bit off topic but I think important. Get over your embarrassment parents. Thank you Sheila and team for resources to help. Don’t leave it up to someone else or peers!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great message, Diane! Thank you!

      Reply
  12. Joy B

    My mom taught me as a teen to run away as fast as I could from anybody that even hinted at asking me to push my sexual boundaries. That was good advice and I used it. The problem was that once married the expectation I took upon myself was that I automatically gave up my voice about everything, sex included and deferred to my husband no matter what. Thankfully I married a good man who is not a scumbag and didn’t want to force himself on me, but even so, it has taken many painful years to undo the damage of the wrong teaching I absorbed from Christian books and just the general bad flavor of attitudes toward women in some of the circles I grew up in.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re on the other side now! And I’m glad your husband is a good man. That’s great that you’re on a good journey. You’re right–once we’re married we can start thinking of things in totally the wrong way. I did, too, and it took many years to undo it. In fact, in large part it’s only once we looked at the survey results that I realized a lot of things about my own journey. It’s been very healing to be able to say, “that teaching actually leads to worse sex for women.” It wasn’t just me–it’s all of us, because there is something very unhealthy about it. It is not consistent with the kingdom of heaven. And that’s great.

      Reply
      • Joy B

        Yes, this is so true! Obligation and having no rights makes sex get worse and worse. I just can’t believe I was actually taught to respect my body as a single person, but the message was reversed for marriage. Glad you’re writing and speaking on these topics, Sheila! It’s really helpful!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m so glad, Joy!

          Reply
  13. Jane Eyre

    One of the problems in how we teach kids about consent and sexual assault is the “bad man springs from the bushes” trope. I learned that if some awful person assaults you, hit, kick, punch, and run away, and I even took courses in how to do those things quite effectively.
    But the reality is that a lot of assault comes dressed up in much more subtle forms. You tell a man whom you are dating that you believe in waiting for marriage for sex (or until you graduate high school, or are exclusive, or what-have-you). He says he understands. Then he does nothing but pretend you never said that and acts like you agreed to be far more physical.
    We should arm young people with scripts for those situations, and also have them understand something: their boyfriend/girlfriend understands exactly what was said; he/she just doesn’t like it. (In fact, “I was very clear about my boundaries. If you want to pretend to not understand them, that’s your problem. Bye” is effective.) It’s a very subtle, very awful trick used to coerce people into doing something. You can’t throw a punch, run away, or gouge their eyes out, but they are still coercing you and are very aware of what they are doing.
    To the larger point about consent in marriage: you are supposed to love your spouse. What is loving about forcing sex on someone who doesn’t want it? Whatever problems you may have in the bedroom, the solution is never “force sex on someone who does not want it and use the Bible to browbeat her into being used as a penis receptacle.”

    Reply
    • Madeline

      Very insightful, Jane Eyre. When my siblings and I were little, my mom was always vigilant in protecting us from getting abducted. She drilled it into us to never leave her sight and when we got a little older, drilled it into us to always go to the bathroom in pairs. She was almost overly cautious about abduction scenarios, but I don’t think it ever even occurred to her that one of her kids could be abused by someone she already knows, let alone someone in the family (which is what happened to me). In reality, children are so much more likely to be abused by a family member or a close family friend and adults are also much more likely to be abused by a partner or someone else they know, rather than a stranger. Obviously I’m not saying abductions don’t happen or that we shouldn’t teach children “stranger danger,” but like you said, we should prepare children (and adults) for more than the man-in-the-bushes trope.

      Reply

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