Q.What if I have sex with a girl and she doesn’t like it and later accuses me of rape? I haven’t had sex, but this worries me. I asked my parents, and my mom said not to worry about something like that because very few women lie about rape. My dad said you can’t trust women, which made my mom very mad at him. They both said I should ask you!

– 14-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: Thank your parents for listening to you and sending you to me. I wish your mom and dad luck sorting this out!

Your question is a common one now; it seldom was asked in our classes before a few years ago. One of the results of the #MeToo movement are conversations about sexual assault and harassment. I think talking about these tough subjects is healthy, especially if young people discuss them with parents or trusted adults.

Your mom’s correct – a 2010 study showed only 2 to 10% of rape accusations over the last 20 years were proven false. The FBI says the number of “unfounded rapes” is 8%.

Since I regularly teach the idea of consent in relationships, I’d like to give you food for thought:

  • Respect is important in encounters between people, especially sexual ones. If you prioritize respect for the people you meet, you’ll be careful to enter into an encounter while thinking of a partner’s needs and wants. Respecting others is a major life skill.
  • Consent means both partners want the encounter to take place and both partners agree to what happens. Consent is mandatory. A few important concepts about consent:
  • If a person is drunk, high, sleeping, or unable to communicate, they cannot give consent. This rule is not flexible and it’s legal – no consent, no sex.
  • If you respect each person and yourself, you shouldn’t want to be sexually involved without consent. This is a moral and ethical choice I believe each person must make before getting involved sexually.
  • Consent can be taken away. A person may agree to something and then decide it’s not OK. This is an important responsibility. If someone says stop, stop.
  • No person has the right to touch or use another person’s body. Even hugs and kisses should be given with consent.
  • Rape is never the fault of a victim. It’s not about how a person dresses, or what time they’re out of their home, or where they are, or how they act, or if they drink, or if they flirt with another person. Rape is rape.
  • Rape is about power. Most survivors of sexual assault know their rapists. Some people call that date rape. It means a person trusts another person yet is assaulted. Remember to honor and respect others; set a high standard right now and keep to it all your life.
  • Choose a partner wisely. Be able to communicate easily.
  • I tell my students a conversation about consent, sexual limits (how far two people want to go), responsibility for protection from unwanted pregnancy (if the sex will be penis-vagina sex and could cause conception) or STIs (sexually transmitted infections), needs to happen while two people are clothed, before sex. Talking about limits and consent when naked is late! I even recommend this conversation occur in a public place where there’s no possibility of becoming sexually involved. Here’s an analogy – an example of what I mean. I’m not supposed to eat ice cream, even though I love it. It’s easier for me to abstain from ice cream if I stay away from an ice cream parlor. If you’re not ready for sex, don’t put yourself in a situation with someone you’re attracted to where sex can easily happen. If I do end up at a place where ice cream is sold, it’s smart if I have a plan to set my own limits before I arrive.
  • As a young person reaching for adulthood, you own your own body and mind. Make choices with maturity and respect.

If you conduct yourself as a person of character and worth, respecting and honoring the worth of any partner in your life; if you are careful to talk about sexual limits before you get sexually involved; and if you continue communication with a partner, there should be no reason for anyone to accuse you of something you didn’t do.

Sex is a grown-up activity that involves adult-type decisions and possible consequences. Give yourself time to mature and please continue talking with your parents or with me as you grow.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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