When it comes to talking about sex with our sons in a female-positive way, the unfortunate truth is that many parents fail. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one out of six American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. Moreover, nearly half of all victims of sexual assault are young, with 44% under the age of eighteen. Most parents readily talk to their daughters about being safe and minimizing the risk of sexual assault, such as encouraging them not to walk alone when it’s dark outside or monitoring what they wear so as not to give men the wrong idea. The area where it seems easier for parents to stay silent is in talking to their sons about not perpetrating sexual violence, assault, and rape.

Consequences of Silence

There are serious consequences when we don’t talk about sexual assault and rape prevention with our sons. For one, our sons can be victims of rape, too. When we refuse to talk about sexual assault because we believe that it doesn’t happen to boys or men, we jeopardize their safety. Our sons can also be witnesses, trusted confidants, or perpetrators of sexual assault. When we refuse to discuss rape because or “our sons wouldn’t do that” we are doing them a huge disservice. While no parent wants to think of his or her son in that way, the unfortunate reality is that sexual assault is too common an occurrence to wave off by saying your son wouldn’t do that. While having a conversation about healthy sex, sexual assault, and rape may be uncomfortable and challenging, the goal is to view open conversation as a prevention tool. The more your sons are able to find words to describe feelings or ask questions, the less likely they are to be perpetrate injustice or stand by when they see someone being taken advantage of.

Understanding Consent

The first conversation you should have with your adolescent sons is about the meaning of sexual consent. This may be a difficult concept for them to understand, but it’s your job to guide them through it. Make them understand that everyone has the right to say no to sexual acts, including prostitutes, girlfriends and wives, virgins, and LGBTQ individuals. In some cases, “no” is never spoken aloud. Your sons should be perceptive and respectful of body language. A person who is intoxicated is never legally capable of consenting to a sexual act.

Recognizing Sexual Violence in all its Forms

Rape is not an isolated incident, in most cases. Many men who rape are disrespectful of women. Sexual violence can start with calling a girl names such as a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore.’ It can be transmitted through music videos, movies, video games, and TV shows where women are treated as second rate or referred to in derogatory terms. You can’t always limit your son’s exposure to sexism in pop culture. But you can talk about it with him. Don’t limit your conversation to rape and sexual assault. Instead, help him to identify deep-seated, widely-visible misogyny that is present in our society.

Talking about sex, sexual violence, and rape with our sons is something we must do as parents. Staying silent only leads to confusion. Talk to your sons to ensure that they know what healthy sexual consent looks like. Help them to identify and find the words to discuss sexism in the popular media they are exposed to.