How do I explain consent to my teen?

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What exactly is consent and how can you talk about consent with your teen? Consider the following:

Only “yes” means “yes.”

An old saying for consent used to go “NO means NO.” Which still holds true. However, just because someone doesn’t say “no,” does not mean they are offering consent. Be sure to explain this carefully to your teen. Unless they get a “yes,” they do not have consent. Silence or not physically stopping the other person from continuing is not consent. If your teen is unsure of whether they have consent, encourage them to ask! If they still are not sure, you can suggest that they don’t move forward with that activity.

You cannot accept or give consent if you or the other person is not able.

Some instances where consent cannot be given, even with a “yes” include: if the person is pressured or manipulated into saying yes, if the person is mentally disabled, if the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is unconscious, or if the person is not of a legal age to consent. Also, when asking for or giving consent, it is important to inform the other person of any sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Both parties have a right to understand exactly what they are consenting to.

If someone says “no” or “I’m not sure” – don’t keep asking.

Consent must be given freely with no pressure or manipulation. If someone is not interested or unsure, that is not a signal to continue asking until you get the answer you want. This is an area where many teens struggle – please emphasize this point to your teen.

You can take back your consent at any time.

It does not matter what your teen or the other person has consented to, or when, they have the right to take back their consent and stop the activity at any time. This is important. You can let your teen know that at any time and for any reason, if someone wants an activity to stop, that should be respected.

What is sexual assault?

According to the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, schild molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” If your teen has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 or chat online at:

Here are some good questions to start a discussion about consent with your teen:

  • What do you think it means to have someone’s consent to do something?
  • Is it ever okay to do something without someone’s consent?
  • Why do you think consent is so important when it comes to sex?

The following are some important resources for learning more, and sharing information about, consent with your teen:

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