How to Talk to Teens About Consensual Sex

Today, I'm thrilled that former regular contributor Amy Cody (Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts) is generously returning to offer her educational expertise regarding conversations around consensual sex. Be sure to also read Amy's articles on how to educate kids about sex and relationships and how to talk to kids about pornography.

Below is the original reader question, followed by Amy's advice.

QUESTION: With all of the discussion about the talk parents must have with their girls about avoiding rape, how do we teach boys to make sure sex is consensual?

ANSWER: Kids need to know that every healthy relationship is based on consent, equality, respect, trust, and safety. Parents can help teens understand and evaluate these qualities in their relationships by using the CERTS Model of Healthy Relationships (Consent, Equality, Respect, Trust, Safety). This model is a foundation for talking about behaviors, responsibilities, expectations, and values in an effective way. By using concrete examples for each component, parents can help kids understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and possible risks involved. Below is each component + description.

Component       Description
Consent   Both people agree to the same thing; are able to say “yes” or “no”
Equality   Both people communicate assertively, negotiate, respect, trust, support each other equally; neither person dominates the other
Respect   Both people have positive regard for themselves and the other person
Trust   Both people trust the other on a physical and emotional level
Safety   Both people feel secure and safe within the relationship


Understanding the concept of consent is paramount. When talking to your kids about consent, be concrete, using specific guidelines for what it means and what it looks like. Here is what should be included in the conversation (and here are 10 tips for talking to kids about sex and relationships to help you):

Consent for sexual behavior between people is defined by the following:

1. Mutual, enthusiastic, active, verbal, sober and awake

2. Two enthusiastic YES’S

  • Yes means Yes and No means No
  • Silence does not mean consent; use words!
  • Stop or slow down and talk to each other if there are mixed body and verbal messages

3. Both partners are agreeing to the same thing

4. Consent can be withdrawn at any time

  • A person has the right to change her/his mind at any point and the partner should respect the decision

5. No one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol

6. Requires that someone feels totally able to say yes or no without threats or blackmail

7. Consent doesn’t count if a person has to be “talked into it”

8. Legal consequences exist if consent is not given

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise, Amy! Now friends, I have a specific plea. Planned Parenthood does so much important educational work and they need your support! Please take a moment to let politicians know how important Planned Parenthood is by either: 1) sharing a story (and encouraging friends, family, supporters, and readers to share) online at this site; and/or 2) using this online form to contact Congress directly and tell them you stand with Planned Parenthood.

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