The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21

A list of parenting action items, created in the hope that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.



Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder


For Very Young Children (ages 1-5):

1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use langauge such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.”

If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”

2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.”

Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children*, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help.

Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see.

Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!”

Praise your child for assisting others who need help, but remind them that if a grown-up needs help with anything, that it is a grown-up’s job to help. Praise your child for alerting you to people who are in distress, so that the appropriate help can be provided.

4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.”

Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too.  If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends.

If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others.

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 11.20.00 PM

Allowing kids power in everyday choices helps grow self-esteem  – Flickr/Enid Yu

5. Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.

6. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?”

You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you’re doing and why. But don’t make a big deal out of it in front of your kid. If it’s a problem for Grandma, so be it, your job now is doing what’s best for your child and giving them the tools to be safe and happy, and help others do the same.

7. Encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course parents have to help sometimes, but explaining to little Joe that his penis is important and that he needs to take care of it is a great way to help encourage body pride and a sense of ownership of his or her own body.

Also, model consent by asking for permission to help wash your child’s body. Keep it upbeat and always honor the child’s request to not be touched.

“Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?” If the child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it.”

8. Give children the opportunity to say yes or no in everyday choices, too. Let them choose clothing and have a say in what they wear, what they play, or how they do their hair. Obviously, there are times when you have to step in (dead of winter when your child wants to wear a sundress would be one of those times!), but help them understand that you heard his or her voice and that it mattered to you, but that you want to keep them safe and healthy.

9. Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach them the correct words for their genitals, and make yourself a safe place for talking about bodies and sex.

Say, “I’m so glad you asked me that!” If you don’t know how to answer their questions the right way just then, say, “I’m glad you’re asking me about this, but I want to look into it. Can we talk about it after dinner?” and make sure you follow up with them when you say you will.

If your first instinct is to shush them or act ashamed, then practice it alone or with a partner. The more you practice, the easier it will be.

10. Talk about “gut feelings” or instincts. Sometimes things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain.

Teach them that this “belly voice” is sometimes correct, and that if they ever have a gut feeling that is confusing, they can always come to you for help in sorting through their feelings and making decisions. And remind them that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want it.

11. “Use your words.” Don’t answer and respond to temper tantrums. Ask your child to use words, even just simple words, to tell you what’s going on.


Guidelines For Older Children (Ages 5-12)

kids talk

Teaching kids to respect one another’s space, from even a very young age, helps grow empathy.

1. Teach kids that the way their bodies are changing is great, but can sometimes be confusing. The way you talk about these changes—whether it’s loose teeth or pimples and pubic hair—will show your willingness to talk about other sensitive subjects.

Be scientific, direct, and answer any questions your child may have, without shame or embarrassment. Again, if your first instinct is to shush them because you are embarrassed, practice until you can act like it’s no big deal with your kid.

2. Encourage them to talk about what feels good and what doesn’t. Do you like to be tickled? Do you like to be dizzy? What else? What doesn’t feel good? Being sick, maybe? Or when another kid hurts you? Leave space for your child to talk about anything else that comes to mind.

3Remind your child that everything they’re going through is natural, growing up happens to all of us.

4. Teach kids how to use safewords during play, and help them negotiate a safeword to use with their friends.

This is necessary because many kids like to disappear deep into their pretend worlds together, such as playing war games where someone gets captured, or putting on a stage play where characters may be arguing.

At this age, saying “no” may be part of the play, so they need to have one word that will stop all activity. Maybe it’s a silly one like “Peanut Butter” or a serious one like, “I really mean it!” Whatever works for all of them is good.

5Teach kids to stop their play every once in a while to check in with one another. Teach them to take a T.O. (time out) every so often, to make sure everyone’s feeling okay.

6. Encourage kids to watch each others’ facial expressions during play to be sure everyone’s happy and on the same page.

7. Help kids interpret what they see on the playground and with friends. Ask what they could do or could have done differently to help. Play a “rewind” game, if they come home and tell you about seeing bullying.

“You told me a really hard story about your friend being hit. I know you were scared to step in. If we were to rewind the tape, what do you think you could do to help next time if you see it happen?” Improvise everything from turning into a superhero to getting a teacher.

Give them big props for talking to you about tough subjects.

8. Don’t tease kids for their boy-girl friendships, or for having crushes. Whatever they feel is okay. If their friendship with someone else seems like a crush, don’t mention it. You can ask them open questions like, “How is your friendship with Sarah going?” and be prepared to talk—or not talk—about it.

9. Teach children that their behaviors affect others. You can do this in simple ways, anywhere. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter. Ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.

10Teach kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone’s reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.


Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults

1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not.

We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated.

When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.

2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78% of girls report hating their bodies.

We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance.

Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start.

Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?”

This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes”. Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent.

Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.

4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people.

If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”

5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings.

Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.

7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:

– How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?

– How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).

– How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?

– How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?

– How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.

– Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.

– Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.

9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent, and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.

Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.


Learn more about Jamie Utt. Book him to speak to your school or organization

Get to know Julie Gillis. Visit Julie’s website.

More of Alyssa Royse’s writing can be found here. Visit her website.

Information about Joanna Schroeder is available here. Follow Joanna on Twitter.


Read this post in Spanish, too! La Platica Saludable de Sexualidad: Enseñando Consentimiento a Nuestros Hijos, Edades 1-21


Read more:

A Letter to My Son About Consent 

What Happens When We Don’t Teach Our Boys About Sex

25 Things I’d Like My Sons to Know


*This point has been slightly amended to reflect the fact that children should not be helping grown-ups with out a trusted adult’s assistance.  

We talk about the intersectionality of social issues in popular culture all the time. Want more stories like this?  Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter here.

Lead photo: Flick

About the Editors

We're all in this together.


  1. What a great post! Everything here is fantastic advice–hope to see more parents teaching this to their kids, and I hope to be able to teach it to mine as well.

  2. I agree with the goal of this topic. Reducing rape and such behaviours are a great idea. What I disagree with is pretty much most suggestions the article puts forward. Despite the similarity, rape is not about sex, its about power. And I think if one were to try and use such a program to raise a boy you’d be well on your way to producing a future rapist (or at least someone more likely to commit such an act).

    Little boys do not grow up to be rapist because nanny wouldn’t take no for an answer when she wanted a hug. They grow up to be rapist only after developing a pathological hatred for women and a desire for power that their life has taught them no healthy way to obtain it.

    The article seems to want to convince every boy that before they ever attempt to kiss a girl or even approach her personal space, they must first consider her feelings and then confirm she is ok with his actions with verbal confirmation. This, if actually followed for his life, would prevent rape but only if it was actually followed for life. But it would also pretty much guarantee the boy to being single for most of his natural life (or if married, a miserable wimp). He will grow up confused as to why, even though he is being what he was taught was what a good man should be and every woman wants to be his friend, not a single one of them have the slightest romantic interest in him. Furthermore, he will surely experience anger when pondering why those same women seem to be all about the bad boys who were not being nearly as respectful as him. This of course will lead to more feelings of confusion and self-loathing since our boy has already been taught the new masculinity in which violence (and lets face it, this article isn’t just talking about fighting here. I’m guessing it includes a rather broad view of the word) is wrong. His anger makes him want to hit the bad boy which is wrong, furthering the lowering of his self-worth.

    So to recap. We have a boy who is filled with feelings of powerlessness while he watching his school crushes tell him how wonderful he is one minute for being a great listener while going off the next minute to make-out with the school jerk. Furthermore, the anger he feels over this. Both from rejection and an inability to understand why he is being rejected cannot even be expressed because our new masculinity has already taught our boy that the feelings he is experiencing (such as a desire to hit the jerk in the nose and tell the girl he feels used by her) are bad and therefore he must be bad for feeling them. So he will suppress them and thus feel even more powerless. Now you have a young man who’s known nothing but rejection and bitterness, and shame over any attempt to express it constructively.

    Not saying this is the only cause of the type of men we need to prevent in our society but I do think its becoming an increasingly common one.

    I think if mothers want their boys to grow up to respect women and others then they need to accept that as women, there is only so much they or the countless other women raising their boys in schools and daycare can do. Those boys need to learn from good men. I agree with the mentors idea. Mind you, I would disagree agree with mentors claiming some sort of new age masculinity. I think those men could use some mentorship themselves. Boys need fathers. And failing that, at least father-figures.

    • Nick I hate to tell you this but you are wrong. I am now sixty years old and have had all the female attention that I ever wanted. Although when I grew up I was told to be a gentleman. Gentlemen don’t rape women.

      Also your opinion that teaching boys to not be violent and not hurt people leads to feelings of powerlessness. I was picked on constantly during school and no I never beat anyone up. I couldn’t run that fast. But all of the harrassment meant that I built up a tolerence for fools. I had one of my friends to say that I could out do Job when it came to patience.

      Feelings of powerlessness comes from someone not having power over their own lives. The best example I can think of is a battered woman that wasn’t even allowed to do anything without her husband’s permission or she got a beating! She felt totally impotent. When she started going to group sessions it was a life changer for her. When she left the shelter she felt very empowered and in control. Although she was still having dating issues.

      The big problem that alot of people have is that they think that unless you act. Because of my studing war and weapons since I was about fourteen and some related things I know that I could be extremely dangerous. My chemistry professor did not appreciate my joking about making nitro. Also when I was on the wrestling team I couldn’t be pinned. At the same time I refused to play football because I knew they wanted me for a lineman; my job would be to hurt as many of the other teams players as possible. By that point I wasn’t getting off on hurting people deliberately.

      Instead, years later I was one of those guys that was willing to march into hell to save someone and that is a heavenly cause. Just like the song says.

      The big thing that everyone leaves out of the equation is ethics. In the early part of American history you were not properly tratned and educated unless you took ethics. That is the big thing. What a lot of people don’t understand is that ethics has little to do with ethics. However all of the major religions include ethics. So you can teach ethics without teaching religion.

      So what we need is to teach boys ethics and to be gentlemen!

    • So Nick, you’re basically saying that no woman anywhere wants her feelings respected when it comes to touching or kissing? In your opinion, it’s a big turn off for women if they are asked first before they are kissed or touched? As a woman, allow me to educate you. I have a firm grasp of personal autonomy and consent – I find it respectful if someone asks before doing any of the aforementioned items. Generally, since I have a good concept of consent, I will say something like “Yes, please.” I generally think this covers any following interaction up until the point where I say “No, I’m not comfortable with that.” at which point, I fully expect someone to stop. I find it considerate when my partner stops every once in awhile and inquires if whatever he is doing is alright – “Is this ok?” is all it takes. It’s called *communication* in a sexual situation – and it’s VERY welcome, shows that the guy is very in tune with my feelings, and respects my desires. In turn, I do the same for him by asking if it’s alright if I do something – and stopping if he gives even the slightest signal that he is uncomfortable (verbal or non-verbal). This will usually continue until I’ve built up a trust and intimacy with a partner – at which point they will know my thoughts on the matter with a lot less verbal communication.

      There is NOTHING about asking permission that makes a man a “sissy”, a “doormat”, “powerless” or “less of a man.” All of that is just an excuse for a man to take whatever he wants whenever he wants at the expense of others. That’s not going to work out well for him.

    • My gender theory professor says that teaching young boys healthy homosexual practices will greatly reduce the rape of college girls.

    • This article is about children. Not boys. Any children. It is about teaching children to respect their own bodies, as well as their moods and wants, and understand that they are in control and are the only person who can make decisions about their bodies. It is also about teaching them that just as they’re in control of their own bodies, other people are in control of theirs as well, and each of us is the only person who can make decisions about our own. It’s about doing this slowly, in an age-appropriate way, and teaching children how complex this can be.

      This is not about sex. It is about teaching, and modeling, a foundation of respect and understanding for themselves and for others, so that when they do become sexually active they have good habits that see them actively interested in their partner’s perspective and not just seeking to get their own way.

      How can you agree that preventing rape is a good thing, and then dismiss any talk of fostering respect in our male AND female children as dangerous garbage?

  3. The article is fine. If there is “gender neglect” or bias, its not all that important if the article helps stop SOME abuse. I worry about an early commenting mother of two boys who seems to feel she’s now well-armed for these “events,” and preparing her boys for battle and “events.”

    Trust me, trust me, trust me…there is NO complete education that will completely arm any boy or girl from an adult, teen or child with bad intent.

    One thing that would really help augment the article is:

    10: Read case-studies or discuss cases of rape, abuse, grooming, trickery, betrayal, etc to your kids…especially the very young. Keep the cases in safe and age-appropriate modes…but for God’s sake, give your kids real live examples of how they can be destroyed.! And that CAN be done without scaring or scaring them.

  4. I recently heard testimony of a child who has been properly and tachtfully briefed on all the elements in this article, and more. He was “well-charged” to remain safe. When a slick perpetrator took all of this boy’s protective fiber and wove it into a cloak of secrecy, the boy felt especially like a failure, complicit, and shamed for “allowing it.”

    We need to remind kids that it is NEVER their fault even with all the weapons of tacht with which we arm them. If they find themselves as having been bamboozled, its never their fault — no matter what.

    GREAT Article BTW!!

  5. And most importantly, buy a Bible and teach them what their heavenly Father expects of them. If Children aren’t taught the truth, then they will follow the morals of American society, which is in essence unethical.

  6. I think you make some very good points here. These are really the most difficult things to teach a child. But the way you explained them are very easy to do, and from what i can see, they’ll be effective too. Ill try them out with my 6 year old.

  7. Thank you for writing this piece. I have been trying so hard to get this information through to someone, but he just doesn’t “get it”. Maybe if he read it he will.
    So, thank you.

  8. All this talk about consent can sound and feel cheesy but people really do internalize it. The first time I was taught about consent was in college, at a school that had a serious consent policy and an education and outreach program to “make getting consent fun”. And yeah, we laughed about it, and yeah we thought we were too cool to need it, but a rough script for consent became part of the community vocabulary. So saying “can I take your shirt off now?” or even “is this ok?” before escalating sexual contact was normalized. Now as I reach my late 20s, I still find it very comfortable to engage with partners from my old alma mater who shared this experience and have learned a common language of consent.

  9. While I agree that respect is an extremely important thing to teach all children, there is a difference in the culture of rape and simple respect issues. As previously mentioned, rape is not about sex, it is about power. And I personally do not think that if a man is raping a woman (or vis. Versa) he is not going to care that she said no. Every person in their right mind understands what “no” means. Instead of trying to teach our children not to take any chances, ever, on anything (after all, as a woman I would feel stupid having to verbally express my intent whenever I was in any form of physical situation.) why don’t we pay more attention to treating the mental and emotional issues that rapists and sexual offenders have been proven to have? As a society we focus so much on rehabilitation, but if educators and parents paid more attention to the emotional well being of our youth, rape can be something that is nipped in the bud during the next few generations

    • Mr Supertypo says:

      I know this is a old comment, but I agree 100% but sadly there are more money and political power to gain in rehab than prevention.

    • The advice here is very much about paying attention to the emotional well-being of our youth. It is teaching them respect for their own bodies, moods, feelings and wants, as well as teaching them that others also deserve that same respect, and that each of us is the only one who can make decisions on an interpersonal basis as to what is done to our bodies. That is an important foundation.

      Also, it’s quite likely that our own inability to comfortably talk about our own bodies or about sex without feeling embarrassed, shamed or turned-off is due to being taught as children that these are topics it’s easier and better just not to talk about – to try to navigate our sexual lives, male or female, without putting anything in words. It’s deeply ingrained in us, but that doesn’t mean it’s universal and instinctual. Kids can be comfortable with these ideas. Shame and secrecy are almost never useful.

      You raise some excellent points about mental health. We don’t devote nearly enough resources to the understanding, acceptance, treatment and prevention of mental health issues in this country, just as our entire health care system can’t ever seem to be one thing or the other. But then you said “instead,” referring to the education of children in respect and emotional competence.

      Why would we need to choose between either investing time and personal resources in talking with our children about respecting their bodies and respecting other children, or putting more resources as a society into our treatment of the mentally ill? This is not a conversation about creating a school program where children are taught these things – it’s a resource for parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, anyone who deals with children in a caregiving or guiding capacity. It’s a framework for how you might want to approach talking to your children, and for how to put careful thought into raising them. I think both are very, very important, and not just as means to an end.

  10. This is, surprisingly, a decent article. While there’s still some gender bias, and I stand by my position that this will do nothing to stop intentional rape of any sort, it will help reduce those “grape” situations. (Grey area rape) Communication is vital in sex, but oftentimes men are worried about killing the mood by asking, in no small part because women often decide they want someone who “just knows”, or expect that face and body language should be enough.

    “Teaching men not to rape” is still an absurd notion that isn’t going to fix anything, and rape is currently such an extreme taboo, that any reference to a “rape culture” is a pure politically inspired fantasy, but we do have a society that is phobic about sex, especially when it comes to teaching children. I wish this would be taken up as a gender neutral, “educate about sex” issue instead of being constantly used to demonize men.

  11. We’ve also used our kid’s interactions with pets to model issues of consent and sensitivity. Like if we encounter a dog while out at the park, we insist that before petting the dog that our kid seek permission from the owner. We have also taught him that rather than directly petting an animal, that one should offer their hand for the animal to sniff and watch the animal’s body language, and only pet the animal if the body language was positive. Similarly with our cat, when our kid tries to manhandle him, we tell him to stop, and prompt him to think about whether the cat is likely to want that. We also make a point of respecting our child’s “nos” around things like tickling.

  12. As a parent and a youth worker, this is EXCELLENT.
    Thank you so much for putting this together! It’s going on my list of must-reads for the parents and volunteers I work with.

  13. I really appreciate this article on several levels. I am a parent of 2 toddlers and I am also a church pastor who cares for families and individuals in a myriad of situations. Unfortunately, many of the stories I hear on a week-to-week basis, include how individuals have used or have been used by others in a sexually exploitative way. I really believe that the more we can have these conversations with our kids and might I add, with our adult peers, the better. Very good practical advice for those seeking ideas on how to begin these conversations. My only critique (which is minor) is that I respectfully disagree with this statement by the authors.

    “We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent.”

    I agree that we REALLY need to talk about consent and we need to do all we can to reduce rape and sexual assault in our world, but I do not know very many adults who are good at talking with their teens about marriage, sex, STD’s or Safe Sex in general. Even among parents who believe, as I do, that sex should ideally be reserved for the life-long commitment of marriage; there is little confidence in how to talk about it or ask questions or leave room for honest dialogue. Basically, I just believe that we are generally not good about talking about sex in a redemptive way as a society. This compounded with the individualistic and disrespectful ways that sex is discussed openly, combines for a double loss in our recovery of dignity as human beings.

    With all that said, I am very grateful for this article and encouraged to join the voice of many others on behalf of our young men and women towards their respect, dignity and humanity. Thank you for writing this!

    • It’s been my experience that “Church Pastors” are generally the reincarnation of Pharisees that often cause more harm, abuse & concealment than the general public (& they ALWAYS claim to be “pro-family”). This is because they live in fantasy-land about human sexuality & in practice, don’t believe the very “gospel” they claim to promote. Hypocrites! To help men in general plus the damaged souls damaged by “Pastor Pharaisee” & his minions, was our organization started.

  14. “A list of parenting action items, created in the hope that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.” How can we seriously go about this if we keep sexually assaulting half of them a few hours after birth?
    “4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored.” The infant that’s strapped down in a circumstraint, screaming his little head off and thrashing about comes to mind… how about we start taking his “NO” seriously before we hypocritically tell them a year later that saying “no” is important? Just saying…

    • There’s no need to take a hostile stance against the article and mock it, in order to make what is a valid point. These are all good points of advice. And maybe if this kind of thinking becomes common enough, we will see a generation of children grow up to think carefully about the other ways we have traditionally shot ourselves in the foot as a society and made hypocrites of ourselves. And maybe we won’t have so many practices that we cling to solely for the sake of tradition without having a good reason for doing them.

      In addition to teaching kids respect about their bodies, this advice really gets to the heart of teaching kids how to THINK about their actions – and it teaches them that they can make these decisions while calm and positive. That’s a fantastic thing.

  15. Wyatt whystinger says:

    What an excellent article!

  16. I hope this discussion of consent includes bodily autonomy on genital cutting. How can we teach our sons consent if we stole their consent at birth and had their genitals ripped apart?! Yeah, protection and consent start at birth, teach them that THEIR consent is important by not stealing it. This article is great, just keep that in mind.

  17. American doctors betrayed generations of moms & dads, and kept them in the dark about the cruelty of Genital Surgery on baby boys. Circumcision is a social disease that infects the human conscience, destroying our ability to recognize our own malice and cruelty. It is not a poetic metaphor to describe the surgery in America as the Circumcision Experiment. In the broad scope of human history, no other people have practiced genital disfigurement in secret, upon an infant in the cradle, and then gone on with life as though nothing had been done to the child. All other peoples who perform genital disfigurement on their boys and girls incorporate the experience into the child’s upbringing by public, ceremonial repetitions of the surgery on others, making it a conscious reality that the society acknowledges among themselves, and teaches to their children.

    In America, however, it has been performed in secret for over a hundred years. Our men grow up without awareness that their penises are abnormal, unlike those of European, South American, and Asian men, in fact, unlike men throughout world history. Our women grow up thinking that a disfigured penis is normal, the equivalent of ten fingers and toes on our limbs. So the Circumcision Experiment goes on behind closed doors, never revealed to its subjects, who grow up believing in their personal freedom, never knowing that the most intimate aspect of their lives has been irretrievably altered and disfigured, with unknown results, for the most important aspect of the Circumcision Experiment is that no records may be kept, no statistics may be compiled, no conclusions may ever be reached. The Circumcision Experiment is meant to be a permanent experiment on American men, an experiment that seeks no other result except that it must continue forever.

    If our nation was strapping down baby girls, penetrating & ripping open their vaginas with metal tools, crushing & slashing their vaginas with other shiny tools, would we use a polite euphemism for the horror?… I admire men and women who stand up for our nation’s sons… the others who turn away from the horror, or minimize it, or even deny it… one question, how do YOU live with yourselves?

    All human beings have an inalienable right to refuse genital surgery. Most Americans don’t even know what a normal penis is, or how it functions. Here’s a brief video, less than two minutes, that will open your eyes to the loss & destruction … close the space to make the link work… http://ww

  18. Craig Adams says:

    Good article. But what to tell your son who had his genitals cut at birth (circumcision)? We now know how important the foreskin is to sexual pleasure and to protection of the glans, an internal organ. Circumcision diminishes pleasure for a male and his partners.

  19. Hey guys, I’m part of the volunteer committee for SlutWalk Salt Lake City, Utah. This year, we’re really making an effort to make the event more family-friendly and help parents learn how to talk to their children about assault and consent. This article is PERFECT. I’d love to print it (with your names and the website) and distribute it with some of our other printed materials at the walk. I can’t find any other way to contact you, so I hope I can hear from someone soon giving permission for me to do this. Thank you for the important work you’re doing. -Valerie

  20. You don’t have to wait until age 1 to teach consent! With RIE (, we learn to ask for consent, or at least to warn a child of our intentions with them from BIRTH! As soon as we begin interacting with them in caregiving activities (feeding, diaper changes, bathing, etc), we always let them know what we will be doing to their body and we invite them to participate as much as they are able. Many of us see as early as two weeks old, that our babies are always finding ways of demonstrating consent or refusal to us, an we respect and encourage their responses. I have never had to teach my son not to touch without consent, because it is all he knows from his dad and me — to never receive affection without his consent. Now, at 2.5yo, he still has no problem confidently telling me no if I ask if I may give him a kiss, and expresses extreme displeasure at affection given to him by others without his consent. It shocks me the number of parents I have seen tell their little ones to apologize to mine by giving him a hug or a kiss. I keep reminding him to say no and that he can stop them if he doesn’t like it. It’s so important to model, from birth, the type of interactions you want your kids to learn.

  21. Aswin Menon says:

    I agree with all the concepts mentioned.But the ages mentioned will only solve the problems that occur later in the lives of these young boys and girls like rape,consensual sex etc.It does not cater to safety of younger children-there is no point the children knowing “Good touch and bad touch” after 5th grade ,as majority of the cases, the abuse would already have happened by then-and then it’s just fire fighting that we can do to make sure that the children snap out of it. I think alot of steps mentioned need to be reworked and told to the children earlier to ensure their safety.

  22. Great article – I am actually doing a “Healthy Sexuality” group for parents & caregivers this evening, and I look forward to incorporating many of these tips! One slight amendment I would add to the last section is that teaching “good touch/bad touch” can sometimes be problematic since sometimes “bad” touches feel good. Talking through “safe touches/unsafe touches” can sometimes cover more ground or add clarity for kids/youth. Keep up the fantastic work!

  23. This article is nothing more than idealist claptrap, despite its good intentions in my humblest of opinions. The idea of teaching future generations that they have to ask permission to physically interact with another human being on just about every level is just ridiculous. I would argue that the overwhelming majority of rape cases are NOT predicated on a man’s lack of understanding of consent, but rather on the rapist already being predisposed to violence, and being devoid of empathy. The idea of asking a woman pretty please with cherries on top can I have a kiss, is just utterly ludicrous to me. Am I suggesting you should force yourself on someone? Of course not! But in my experience, this kind of nonsense ^ does not spark female attraction, so is nothing applicable to real life. Why can’t we discuss a sensible middle ground here? For example: lean in for a kiss, gauge the person’s (male or female) reaction, and then follow through / pull back depending on said reaction. Could this lead to a bit of awkwardness? Sure, possibly. But you know what? Tough sh*t! Welcome to reality. We are never going to arrive at a point in society where everybody is 100% happy, and never has to feel uncomfortable for a single second in their entire lives. To pursue such an ideal is idiocy. We can try to teach future generations to respect one another, and try to teach them right from wrong, but many of the suggestions in this article are misguided.

    • It says a great deal that you read the article and believe that the entire process of teaching our children about awareness and respect for their bodies, moods and wants, as well as other people’s bodies, moods and wants, is only about asking permission for sex.

      You have not actually said anything that specifically cites how any of the steps followed in this article would be harmful.

  24. Such a great read! Teaching consent at a young age is a great start towards combating the issue of sexual assault in society. I am running a blog dedicated to raising awareness towards sexual assault and debunking the myths commonly associated with it. Please come and join the conversation at


  1. says:

    Importance of teaching kids about sexual consent

    steps to teach children sexual consent at an early age to raise a generation of sensitive men.

  2. […] You may also like: The Healthy Sex Talk, Ages 1-21 […]

  3. […] Consent. Your son needs to be able to tell his partner that he gives consent and he needs to be able to hear consent from his partner. Make sure he understands that consent is reasonably specific and that he should use terms like […]

  4. […] The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 […]

  5. […] Below are some guidelines to help understand and navigate the grey areas so they become black and white. We’re big on consent here at GMP, whether those are lessons for teens or kids age 1-21. […]

  6. […] harassment” is a very useful term for 6-year-olds, but it is for their parents. The most comprehensive list of ways in which to teach children ages 5-18 about consent that I’ve read is one written by Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder. […]

  7. […] idea of building verbal consent as a normal part of life and relationships is explored here:…ent-ages-1-21/ It's about teaching children from a very, very young age about boundaries and building in asking […]

  8. […] I want to give my wonderful nieces or nephew a kiss or tickle them, I need to […]

  9. […] harassment” is a very useful term for 6-year-olds, but it is for their parents. The most comprehensive list of ways in which to teach children ages 5-18 about consent that I’ve read is one written by Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder. […]

  10. […] “The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21“, a piece I co-wrote with Alyssa Royse, Julie Gillis, and Joanna Schroeder, was by far my most-read contribution of 2013 with more than 1 million hits on numerous platforms. […]

  11. […] The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 […]

  12. […] I will leave you with one of my favorite age appropriate sex education resources for working with young children: […]

  13. […] 3. Teaching consent can start at a very young age by modeling consent. Say to your toddler, “Can I pick you up?” Wait for their acknowledgement whether it is with body language or words. Before helping your child get dressed, ask, “Can I take off your pajamas?” And wait for consent. If they say no, but you have to get them dressed, explain to them what you are going to do and why – For example, “We have to go to the store and you have to wear clothes, so if you cannot do it by yourself, I have to help you.” Put the focus on helping them or keeping them safe. When playing games like tickling or wrestling, stop frequently and ask for consent. If your child says no, listen. When children are playing together, teach them that if the other person says no or stop, that you must listen. Enforce consequences for not listening. […]

  14. […] The Healthy Sex Talk: teaching kids consent, ages 1-21 […]

  15. […] children as early ages 1- 21 The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 – The Good Men Project I learned from this article about the kids' ages 1-21. I thought; share it for parents to learn […]

  16. […] If you want to read more about the topic visit: […]

  17. […] The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project) Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters On Teachable Moments and Consent On Teachable Moments and Consent, Part 2 Bleed Like Me and Emotional Coercion When Yes Isn’t Really Yes: Coercion is NOT Consent (Bleed Like Me by Christa Desir) Sexual Violence, Drinking and Date Rape Drugs Consent and Teenage Vulnerability, discussing age of consent and POINTE by Brandy Colbert (by Christa Desir) […]

  18. […] The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 by the editors of The Good Men Project […]

  19. […] the same time, I can’t ever escape the feeling that no matter how many articles are published about the importance of teaching boys consent, no matter how many clever cartoons or […]

Speak Your Mind