The idea that adolescent boys can’t be expected to control themselves when it comes to women’s bodies is still shockingly common.
But it’s not true. They absolutely can. As a sex educator, I’ve learned that young men are fully capable of discerning whether their sex partners are consenting. What too many of them are confused about is why they have to care.
But we can change that. We can create a culture that doesn’t permit sexual violence or excuse it as boys will be boys behavior.
To do that, we need to get serious about holding perpetrators accountable — and we need to prevent new ones, by teaching comprehensive sexual health education in all of our schools.
Real sex education could create a new generation of young people who value sex as a mutually satisfying intimacy, and who have no tolerance for anyone who insists on using it as a means to dominate or compete.
Sex education is not about teaching boys that rape is bad. They know that already.
It would do that by teaching communication skills, and helping young people develop the emotional resiliency to handle the rejection that sometimes comes when you express a desire. And it would teach all kids to expect that sex should be safe and enjoyable for everyone involved.
I’m not suggesting a radical approach. The kind of sex education curricula I’m talking about are the norm and start in kindergarten in other countries. They've been taught by Unitarian Universalists in the U.S. for many years. And they work.
In the Netherlands, for example, teens don’t start having sex any earlier than teens here, but they have far lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and births, STIs and rape.
With comprehensive sex ed, young people will know they have the right to say yes or no, and will be very clear about why they have a responsibility to their partners. They’ll be less likely to blame themselves if someone does violate them. And if that happens, they’ll be more likely to trust their peers enough to tell them.
Here’s the thing: Sex education is not about teaching boys that rape is bad. They know that already. It’s about building a new culture with new norms – one that’s a whole lot less tolerant of sexual violence.
This segment aired on September 24, 2018.