Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project, talks about teaching teenagers and young adults respectful intimacy.
Mike Domitrz is the CEO of the Date Safe Project, a global awareness program focused on sexual assault education. Domitrz was in college when he found out his sister was raped. Since that fateful day in 1989 he has made it his mission to make sure no one had to endure the pain his sister did. Domitrz travels close to 100 days a year, engaging in the “Can I Kiss You” program that inspires change in the lives of each audience member.
1. What is your advice on how to teach safer understandings of intimacy to teenagers and young adults?
If I said to you, “How do you normally give someone a choice?”, you would probably say, “You ask the person what they want.” Upon answering, you would probably look at me like I’m an idiot for even asking such an obvious question.
Ask a parent, “When your child is old enough to engage in sexual activity, do you hope your child is given a choice before someone ever touches him/her sexually?” and 95% of parents will say, “They better give my child a choice!”
Yet, most loving parents fail to teach their children this very lesson when addressing intimacy and sexual decision-making.
The importance of “Asking First.” Teach your teen that every person deserves to be given a choice before anyone ever kisses him/her or engages in sexual activity with him/her. You give someone a choice by asking first. Yes, ask for a kiss.
Excuses your teen might bring up:
“Asking will ruin the moment”
If you think asking for a kiss is going “ruin the moment,” then you are not ready and/or comfortable with the kiss. If you both want to kiss each other, neither of you are going to be bummed out when the one person looks the other in the eyes and says, “May I Kiss You?” In fact, you’re going to love it.
“My partner might say, “No.”
If you believe your partner might say, “No,” then shouldn’t she/he have that right before you just do something with her/his body? I know you are NOT someone who would be that mean – to just “Go for it” with another person’s body.
NO is a Reality
Yes, your partner might say, “No” because he/she doesn’t want the kiss or the sexual contact. Your partner DESERVES to have that choice BEFORE you do anything with her/his body.
What do I do if my partner says, “No?”
In our book May I Kiss You? A Candid Look at Dating, Communication, Respect, & Sexual Assault Awareness, we share the following sentence for responding to a partner saying, “No”:
“Then I’m glad I asked because the last thing I would ever want to do is make you feel uncomfortable.” Now, you’ve shown respect, confidence, and maturity. Over 90% of teenagers in the schools we work with say they would LOVE that response when saying “No” to a partner.
RESPECT is at the core of teaching healthy intimacy. The greatest way to insure you are respecting your own boundaries and your partner’s boundaries is to establish that you will always ask each other first before every doing anything. If you can’t ask and talk about, you are not ready.
Remember parents that if you want your teen to always have a choice, first you must teach him/her what it means to have a choice and to give a partner a choice. Ask First.
2. Why is the Date Safe Project a great event for all demographics?
At The DATE SAFE Project (www.DateSafeProject.org), our live programs are focused on asking the audience questions and then steering the conversation based on the answers from the audience. With this interactive approach, we are always able to be in-tune with the precise demographics of the people at the event.
When I’m presenting the “Can I Kiss You?” General Assembly in a middle school, the students are telling me what “dating in middle school” means. By responding to what they share, I can lead them in a fun and engaging conversation. We then provide them helpful tools and insights for making better decisions toward dating both now and throughout the rest of their lives.
When I’m speaking in front of a college audience or to over 1,000 of our Armed Forces overseas, I’m asking them questions about how they know when its the right time to engage in intimacy with a partner. Their answers always lead us a thought-provoking discussion on being able to verbally communicate about intimacy and sex with a partner. Then, I’m able to reveal simple strategies each person can implement for having more fun, being more passionate through verbal communication, and experiencing respectful intimacy throughout.
When talking with parents and educators, I am listening as they share their greatest concerns. Then, I provide how-to skills for helping overcoming those fears and better prepare their teens for dating, relationships, and sexual decision-making. Our DVDs and books are designed with the same approach – to always be conversational.
3. What inspires you to do the things you do for students (and others) every day?
When I hear from a student who shares how in just one hour our program made him/her completely shift his/her paradigms toward dating and respect – in a much healthier and more respectful manner – I am moved. Often students will share how they now realize they DESERVE to have a choice. Those moments of “Aha” for students absolutely inspire me.
When a survivor of sexual assault comes up to me after a presentation and says, “Your presentation helped me realize I AM STRONG and courageous. Thank you!” and then the survivor shares how he/she is going to talk with a counselor for the first time, I am inspired!
When a parent approaches me and shares, “For the first time, I LOOK FORWARD to talking my teenager about dating, sex, decision-making, and respect WITHOUT fearing my teen’s response,” I am inspired.
As the brother of a survivor, I have dedicated my life to working on reducing sexual assault by teaching positive how-to skills for living with respect. Every time I hear examples of how our work helped someone achieve that outcome, I get a natural high.
4. What advice would you give to someone that is trying to create awareness about some of the things you touch on?
Do your research and make sure to be inclusive in your approach. Avoid gender stereotypes. Frequently and sadly, we see writers and bloggers reinforce gender stereotypes that lead to unhealthy and dangerous treatment of partners.
Instead of talking to boys and fathers about “What It Means to Be a Man,” focus on what it means to be a good person.
Live with respect and share respect!
Photo: Corey_Shade / flickr