What BDSM Can Teach Us About Consent

Let's Talk: Consent | Her Campus

Consent is a hot button topic today.  The #metoo movement continues to grow and the supreme court nomination brought to light the suffering of many sexual abuse survivors.  The general public is starting to realize that we do not teach consent to our children

Those of us who work in the fields of sexuality (sex therapists, sex offender therapists, sex addiction therapists) have long known that there is a lack of education about consent.  We have moved from no means no to yes means yes but that still leaves a lot of grey area.  For instance, what happens when yes turns into no?

To help learn more about consent, I turn to what some might think is a strange source, the Kink community.  The BDSM community has a lot to teach the rest of us about the concept of consent.

While there are many aspects of the BDSM world, consent lies at the heart of these communities.  Here’s how:

Negotiation:

Critical to the BDSM community is negotiation.  People who are going to play (engage in BDSM) together spend a great deal of time ahead of time negotiating what will happen during the session.  These discussions about the sex practices that will or will not be engaged in during the session are often extensive.  Negotiations include what each participant’s limits are (what they will not engage in), what types of things they enjoy as well as the discussion of the safe word.

When two people engage in extensive negotiations before an interaction it removes the grey areas that can happen when there is not good communication.  There is no room for miscommunication because it has all been talked about ahead of time.

Safe Word:

The safe word is the word that is agreed upon ahead of time which, when invoked, means the behavior that is currently happening ends immediately.  This process of safe word shows that the BDSM community understands that consent is not a broad concept.  Consent is an ongoing process that can be revoked at any time during an interaction. Just because someone says yes to something initially, it does not mean theywant the behavior to continue.  Everyone’s experience of a sexual behavior is dependent on so many things.  What they might have enjoyed engaging in during one session may not feel good in another based on many things, not limited to mood, stress level, partner and environment.

Aftercare:

Aftercare is a concept that is not often talked about in traditional sexual encounters.  The BDSM community understands that these interactions can be emotionally and physically intense.  Aftercare takes this into consideration and involves physical and emotional support for the parties involved.  This can be physical, meaning food, water, etc. or emotional, such as cuddling, holding, stroking etc.  When both parties engage in aftercare it demonstrates a mutuality in the interaction.

Traditional sexual interactions among the non-Kink community normally do not involve any of these processes.  Traditionally, there is very little discussion about what behaviors are ok between two sexual partners.  Safe words are hardly ever employed and frequently, in our hook up culture, the after-sex behavior lacks emotional and physical nurturance.

I will end this post with a quote I heard at this years ATSA conference.  “We spend more time negotiating what we want on a pizza than we do negotiating sex.”

We have a lot to learn from the Kink community and if we employed some of their practices into our own sexual practices we would be having safer and more truly consensual sex.

Reference:  “Unorthodox Rules”:  The Instructive Potential of BDSM for Consent Law.  Bennett, T (2018) Journal of Positive Sexuality, 4(1), 4-11.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She is a clinician and expert witness working with sexual abuse, cybersex offenders and all types of problematic sexual behavior.

What Young Women’s Experiences with Sexting can tell us about Compliance, Coercion and Consent

The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to the experiences of women, of any age, of sexual abuse and harassment.  If you look behind the sensational headlines, the movement has sparked a much-needed conversation about consent.  I have previously written about how we teach consent in our practice in a blog on the topic.  The #METOO movement combined with some recent research published in the Sexuality Research and Social Policy journal can help us shed some light on how young women navigate sexuality and consent in the digital realm.

Dr. Sara Thomas recently published a research study in the journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy that looked at how young women handled pressure to send them a nude or semi-nude photograph from a peer.  Dr. Thomas’ study analyzed stories from teenagers about their experiences of digital drama.  She then identified three main dilemmas that young women experience in relation to sexual photographs.  These were interpersonal negotiations, consequences and self-concept.  She then identified six different categories of behavior for how women were induced to send nude photographs.  These were desire, personal gain, asked, relational scripts, bombardment and coercion.

One of the first dilemmas faced by a young woman is the decision of whether to send a photograph.  The study found that 2/3 of young women reported that they engaged in this ongoing struggle to decide if they should send a picture, if so to whom and when should they do this.  When a woman decided to send a nude photograph, the motivations ranged from it being consensual to giving in to pressure or threats from the person asking for the picture.

The young women in this study knew that if they chose to send a nude picture there could be consequences.  These consequences ranged from the picture being seen by people they did not want to see (mass distribution) to social ostracism, rumor spreading, legal consequences, emotional distress and getting in trouble with parents.  The study found that the biggest concern was the possibility of the image being spread without consent.

Why do young women send nude or sexual photographs?  In this study, only 8% of the young women sent the photograph because they wanted to.  If they didn’t want to send the image, why did they?

Compliance:  The study found that many young women were sending nude images because they wanted to please the person asking for the image or because they wanted to avoid negative consequences from the young men that were asking for the images.  One of the troubling findings from the study was the tacit nature of the compliance by the young girls.  The young women justified the compliance by saying that they liked the young man who was asking for the image.

“..compliance was frequently accompanied by an assertion they liked the young man who requested them.  These stories did not express coercion by the asker, but they also did not express a desire to send them.  Rather the decision to send was a compliant “so I did” to a male-initiated request for a photograph.”

Coercion:  The majority of the women in the study experienced some form of coercion.  The level of this coercion ranged from milder “If you loved me” statements from the young man requesting the image to more intense forms coercion.  When a woman was unsure of sending an image, they reported feeling guilty that their partner questioned their love by not sending a nude image.

Many of the women had experiences of coercion that were more intense.  The study found that some young men pressured, threatened, got angry or cut off contact with the young woman in order to try to obtain nude images.  The women also experienced threats of blackmail.  Some of these women were blackmailed into sending more images after they sent a first image.  The blackmail threat was often that the images would be mass distributed.  The young women who experienced these situations didn’t feel like they had any options and that they had to send the images.

Can young women refuse?  The answer to this is yes.  In the study about 30% of the women refused to send a sexual image.  Of those 30%, 79% of those women faced consequences for not sending images.  Partners would get angry.  Relationships would end.  Based on the consequences, several of the young women reported they ended up sending images to the young man who requested them.  Only 12 women in this study refused to send nude images and did not experience any negative consequences for holding their boundary.

What does this study show us?  In this study, 25 of 314 young women engaged in sexting with a partner because they truly wanted to, and the experiences were devoid of compliance or coercion.  This means that most of these young women engaged in sexting that was truly without consent.  Their behavior was induced by compliance or coercion.

We, as parents, teachers, educators, need to do a better job at many things.  First, we need to teach all young people the true meaning of consent.  We need to empower young women to say “no” to coercion and to feel strong enough to not feel the need to comply to an unwanted request.  We need to give young women access to resources to help them make decisions about their sexuality.

The young women in this study did not seek adult help but turned to peers for advice.  They often cited fearing an adults’ response as why they didn’t talk to parents or another adult in their life.  As adults, we also need to create an environment where our children feel safe to come to us with their challenging dilemmas and we need to react calmly and lovingly.

Thomas, Sara.  (2017) “What do I do?”:  Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please check out our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

 

Parents – Get Your Kids off Adult Dating Apps

grindr.PNG

I started engaging in prevention and education work as a direct result of my experiences working as a forensic psychologist in the field of sexual addiction and sexual offending. Despite my efforts and the efforts of many others more well-known than myself, we continue to see an increase in cybersex issues with teens.

This month, I have had several new forensic cases involving teens and dating apps. These new cases involved adult men who were found to be having sexual contact with minors that were met via the adult dating app Grindr.

First, let’s talk about dating apps. The most well-known adult dating apps are Tinder and Grindr. Tinder is used more for those who are attracted to the opposite sex and Grindr is targeted at the gay male audience. Other names you need to know: Jack’d, Scruff, Adam 4 Adam, Growlr, Plenty of Fish, Ok Cupid.

Why do you need to know about these apps? Because under age teens are on these apps, using them and meeting with adults for sexual encounter. Any and all of these apps are for people over the age of 18. They specifically state in their information that you cannot be under 18 (or 21 in some places) and use the app. The apps are for adults. The problem is that often all you must do is enter a birthdate or check a box that affirms you are at least 18 years of age and there is no age verification. Anyone under the age of 18 can do the math and figure out what birth year they need to enter to comply. If someone mutually swipes and connects with your child, they will text or chat to see if they are compatible and arrange a hook up or meeting. Sometimes, during these chats, the child may disclose that they are under the age of 18. Many times, they do not.

There are two ways your child could end up having sex with an adult via an adult dating app:

  1. They could be targeted by an adult who is specifically seeking a young or young-looking man or woman on the app. However, there is an assumption that all on the app are of legal age. During the chat, the child could disclose that they are underage. Obviously, at this point, the right thing for anyone to do is to discontinue the conversation with the minor and NOT meet them, connect with them and surely not have sex with them. However, some people will ignore what is right and hook up with the minor for sex. In this case, the person meeting the minor has full knowledge that they are underage when they are hooking up with them and knows this is illegal.

  1. A child could go on an adult dating app and create a profile that says they are at least 18 years old. They could engage with men or women on line and meet up with them for sexual encounters. The child could never disclose that they are a minor to the person they are meeting for sex. Therefore, the person who is meeting them for sex is under the assumption that they are at least 18 and they are not knowingly having sex with a minor.

What can you do if you are a parent?

  1. Talk to your child. Talk to them about dating apps, hook up apps and any social networking apps. Ask what they use and how they use it. Ask if they are on the sites. Discuss with them the inappropriateness of being a minor and being on an adult dating site. I have had clients tell me they were on these apps when they were as young as 13 years old.

  1. If necessary, block your child’s access to these sites. I am not usually a fan of blocking sites completely, but in these cases, where there are such serious risks, I say, block your child’s access until they are the legal age to use the apps.

  1. Be open to your child’s curiosity about sex and sexuality. Many of these issues occur on same sex dating sites. This is likely because adolescent men are exploring their sexuality and may not be out, feel safe doing so in their school or social network and/or have no one to talk to about their questions and feelings. Be that safe person for your child to talk to and help them find appropriate resources to answer their questions.

What can you do if you use a dating site?

  1. If you find out someone you are talking to is under 18, stop talking to them IMMEDIATELY. Report their use of the app to the administrators of the app per the app’s instructions. DO NOT MEET THE UNDERAGE USER.

  1. If you think someone is younger than 18, ask for some form of ID to verify their age. Ask for a driver’s license. Yes, someone can get a fake ID If they are underage, but you need to do this to protect yourself and not make a life altering bad decision.

Does the app bear any responsibility when a minor is preyed upon in an adult dating app or ends up having sexual encounters with an adult? The answer to this is, NO. They do not. This has been challenged in court and the apps have won, meaning that the stated age requirements and acknowledgment of the user of the rules removes them from any liability in these cases. I would urge the makers of these apps to do more to try to remove under age users from their platforms.

As always, the key to prevention is awareness and communication. Talk to your child!

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Sex Ed by Porn: Free Webinar Friday

iStock_000044887094_Full.jpgJoin me this Friday for a free one hour webinar hosted by The Center for Healthy Sex at 12:00 pm (PT) to talk about the effects of cybersex and sexting on children.

Click here to see the event details  http://centerforhealthysex.com/sex-therapy-resources/upcoming-events/

 

You can also check out my book on the topic:  The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.  

Do you think your teen talks to you about online risk?

Daughter looking a phone and ignoring her mother

My last post detailed research presented last year by Dr. Wisniewski . Today’s post will highlight research she presented just a week or two ago, the end of February, at the CSCW conference. Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues continue to generate wonderful research that has real time applicability to parenting in the digital age.

Very little is known from the research community about whether teens actually communicate the risk they experience online with parents. Each parent may have their own thoughts about their own child’s exposure to risk and communication of that exposure but there is no way to really know the truth.

In the research presented last week, Dr. Wisniewski had 68 teen-parent pairs fill out weekly online diaries that cataloged the risks the teen experience online, whether the teen intended the risk to occur and how they felt about the incident. The parents were also asked to log incidents of risk that child came to them to disclose the risk encounter. The researchers then looked to see how many “matched” reports existed. A matched report was a risk diary entry made both by the parent and the teen.

First, let’s talk about risk. What types of risk does a teen face online? For the sake of this research, the risks were broken down into four categories. 1) information breaches – these are situations in which a teens personal information or photo is being used or shared online without their permission. 2) Online Harassment – This is cyberbullying or negative online interactions that make the teen feel unsafe, threatened or embarrassed. 3) Sexual Solicitations – these are sexting or requests for sexual content that can come from friends, acquaintances or strangers. 4) Exposure to Explicit Content is either voluntary or accidental viewing of pornography or violent content online.

So, what did the researchers find? Well, in a nutshell, not much matching. They found that only 15% of risk reports were matched, meaning that most of the time, parents and teens were very out of synch on what they considered risk or what they reported.

Parents reported much less risk than their children did. Many teens did not share exposure to explicit content or information breaches with their parents. These tend to be viewed as low risk by teens and it is hypothesized that therefore the information is not shared with parents. While parents tended to report low risk issues, teens reported more medium level risks.

Another interesting finding from the study involves what the researchers called Risk Agency. Basically, this looked at whether anyone was “at fault.” Was a risk accidental or intentional? Teens more frequently shared that risk exposure was accidental and parents tended to assume that their children were either victims or intended to engage in risk. Parents tended to assume that things that were accidentally viewed by their children were intentional.

In my work with parents, I often stress communication. This study also looked at parent teen communication. In most cases, teens did NOT tell their parents about risk they experienced online. The bigger problem is that the parents THOUGHT that their teens were talking to them when they were not. When teens did talk to parents, it was to ask them for help or when they were shocked by content they had seen. Another main reason why teens did not tell parents about risk exposure was the fear that the parent would react negatively. They didn’t want to be punished for things that were not their fault. Teens also did not want to hear a lecture from their parents that involved reprimand. Teens tended to find the reactions of parents: grounding, taking away phones, disallowing social media, etc. to be too harsh.

What are the practical take aways from this study? First, teens only tell their parents about 28% of the risk they encounter online. Parents under estimate risk and over estimate how much their child tells them. Teens tend to think many online risk situations are “no big deal.” Teens also find parents as lecturing, reactive and judgmental about risk they do share.

The study and clinical practice suggest that parents need to work hard to improve their communication with their teen about online activity, risk and resilience. If a parent can share discussions with their child about how to manage online risk before it happens in a nonjudgmental, non-lecturing manner, they will likely increase the chances of their teen talking to them about their online experiences. If parents want to know what is going on in their teens online world, they need to specifically ask what is going on and not assume that their child will tell them.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Not Your Father’s Porn

Computer Key - Porn

One of the many comments I often hear when talking about pornography and young people is, “What’s the big deal? I saw my dad’s playboy when I was a kid and I’m ok.” This statement is true on many accounts. Yes, many people grew up sneaking a peek at a Playboy or Penthouse magazine and they never developed a pornography addiction. True, many people watched pornography when they were young and never developed a pornography addiction. So why are we worried about this now?

Today’s pornography is not your father’s porn. Not only has the internet made access to pornography nearly unlimited, it has also shaped the types of pornography available. Today’s internet pornography is much more aggressive than the pornography produced in the pre-internet age and when it was in its early days. Studies show that 88% of scenes in the most popular pornography show physical aggression and 94% of that aggression is aimed at women. Common sexually aggressive acts include slapping, choking, gagging and verbal aggression. Young people who are being exposed to pornography without any education about it are viewing pornography that is frequently aggressive. This often becomes their idea of what sex is supposed to look like. Therefore, young people can come away with the belief that sex is supposed to be rough and aggressive all the time.

Not only does today’s pornography frequently show acts of sexual aggression directed toward women, but it also overwhelmingly shows that women enjoy these acts of aggression. So not only does current pornography tell its viewers that it is ok to be aggressive in sex, it also tells them that women like it. What teens see on pornography videos, they frequently act out in real life. This means that they will possibly try these aggressive acts out with a partner as a matter of course. They won’t talk to their partner about them or negotiate consent.

What we are talking about is the mainstreaming of aggressive sex. I do want to take a minute to differentiate that from BDSM practices. Some people are aroused by acts of physical aggression, humiliation, etc. There is one key difference between acts practiced by those who embrace BDSM and what is seen in pornography. A key concept in the practice of BDSM is consent and care. People who are engaging together have talked about behaviors, consent and safe words. They have communicated about the sexual aggression ahead of time. This is not a practice that mainstream pornography is depicting. Mainstream pornography is often depicting rough sex as something that every woman wants.

Yes, many people who grew up before internet pornography often did view magazines or movies on that old VHS or even DVD player. The pornography that was readily available pre-internet is fundamentally different than what is frequently produced in the fast paced internet pornography age. When you think about your child’s exposure to online pornography, please do not think of it in terms of a rather innocuous Playboy centerfold. Parents need to be aware of the nature of internet pornography and what their children may be seeing. It becomes the parent’s responsibility to teach them that what they see in pornography is not what real life sex looks like. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach about consent and treating partners with dignity and respect.

For more on this topic, please watch The Porn Factor available on www.itstimewetalked.com.au. Also, please read The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age for more detailed information on the effect of pornography on children and how to talk about it.

Compliance, Coercion and Consent: Everyone Needs to Know This

coercion

American news and social media feeds have been consumed lately with the comments of a presidential candidate regarding the sexual exploitation of women. As someone who works with both sexual abuse survivors and sexual offenders, the responses of many people truly bother me. Therefore, I feel compelled to share on my blog one of the basic teachings that all of my sexual offender clients both know and understand.

We can all seem to wrap our head around the idea of non-consent when it involves sexual behavior with a pre-pubescent minor. Outside of this instance, there appears to be some confusion. Why do we talk about this in sex offender treatment? Because it is imperative that the person who committed a crime come to an understanding of how they hurt their victim as well as how they allowed themselves to engage in the behavior. Though I mostly work with non-contact offenders, everyone I work with has engaged in a non-consensual sexual act. Someone who exposes him or herself forces a victim to view something sexual that they did not consent to view. Someone who takes a video of a person that was unaware they were being filmed has done so without that victim’s consent. Even child pornography offenders who did not produce images and have not had a contact offense are engaging in a non-consensual act. The children in the pornography did not consent to being abused, to being videoed or to being viewed by others. Because the human brain is brilliant at justification and rationalization, we need to talk a lot about consent.

What is the difference between compliance, coercion and consent?

Coercion – This might seem obvious to most people. The most obvious form of coercion is actual violence and force. While this is what most people think of when they think of non-consensual sex, coercion can come in a more subtle or non-obvious form. If one party uses drugs or alcohol to influence a sexual outcome, this is coercion. A person cannot truly give consent if they are impaired. Another form of coercion is unreasonable pressure from one party to engage in a sexual act. This can be both personal or social pressure. If one party has to pressure or really talk the other party into a sexual act, this is not truly consent, but coercion. If one party has to get the other party drunk in order to get them to engage in a sexual act, this is not consent but coercion.

Compliance – Compliance is often seen in the context of relationships as well as other encounters. A person may comply to a sexual encounter if they feel that there is a negative consequence for saying no. One partner may comply to a sexual request from their partner out of fear that the partner may break up with them, not because they want to do it. A subordinate in a work environment may comply to a sexual encounter with a boss out of fear for their job if they say no. Some people will say that compliance is consensual, such as engaging in a sexual act with your partner that you are not really into because they are. To me this is different, as in this situation, there is no fear of consequences for not engaging in the act. I have seen this in my work with sex addicts where, for example, a partner goes to a sex club with their significant other, not because they want to engage in the behavior but because they fear that their partner will leave them if they don’t.

Consent – Consent is rather a clear cut concept in reality. It means saying “yes, I agree to engage in this act with you.” People who consent do so clearly and knowingly without fear of repercussion or being hurt. Consent can be revoked at any time by any party in an interaction.

The concept of consent is discussed frequently in the media and taught to children and adults alike. The concepts of coercion and compliance are not as frequently talked about. Hopefully, the media’s presentation of comments made by the presidential candidate can help us initiate conversations about compliance, coercion and consent.

Using one’s celebrity or status as a business person as a means to engage sexually with another person (who does not desire the contact) can and should be considered coercion or compliance. This thinking implies that the person who is receiving the unwanted sexual contact won’t say no or say anything at all out of fear of repercussions based on the power and status of the person who is engaging in the unwanted sexual conduct.

It deeply disturbs me that the sex offenders I work with have a MUCH better understanding of the difference between compliance, coercion and consent than does the general public.

 

Image from www.consented.ca

Dr. Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services and the author of The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Tali to Your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.  She is also an expert in the field of Cybersex Offenders

 

Not All Teen Sexting is Consensual

Last evening I was in the office with some free time as I had confused the time a client was coming in for an appointment. It was a “meant to be” moment as during that time, I had the opportunity to assist a fellow clinician with his concerns regarding an adolescent client. To keep things confidential, let’s just say the client was a young teenage man who had received sext messages from a young woman. The consultation started as a concern about mandatory reporting. In the state of Pennsylvania, this did not meet mandatory reporting criteria. However, it was a great teaching moment for both the young man and the clinicians.

It is rather common knowledge now that many teens sext. This behavior has become a part of their culture, courtship and relationships. We still are frequently seeing news articles about teens getting in trouble for sexting either in school or legally. Though we understand that this is part of the new “normal” of teenage communication, we need to be cognizant of the difference between consensual and non-consensual sexting.

This young man was getting these sexts from a girl and he told his therapist they made him uncomfortable. He didn’t really want to receive them. He didn’t send anything back but was confused as to how to respond. Bravo for this young man’s courage to bring this to his therapist. It brings to mind psychoeducation that we do for sex offenders. What is the difference between consent, compliance and coercion?. What do they mean? (I cannot attribute the source of these appropriate descriptions.)

Consent: When a partner agrees with an action. The partner must understand the proposed action, know what society’s standards are for this action, be aware of the consequences and alternatives, be assured that a decision to disagree will be respected as much as a decision to agree, voluntarily agree and be mentally competent

Compliance: When a person goes along without actively resisting even though they may think it is wrong and doesn’t want to participate.

Coercion: Using tricks, bribes, force, or intimidation to get someone to go along with what you want to do. Coercion is a tool a person uses to get a victim to comply or cooperate.

As you can see by the definition, these concepts are clearly different. In this case, the young man was complying, as he did not want to participate. Compliance is NOT consent. For adolescents, there may be social consequences for standing up to someone in these situations which makes room for the possibility of coercion or compliance in sexting.

This young man was advised to clearly state a boundary with the girl sexting him. Please do not send any more sext messages. If she does not comply with his boundary, he then has the option to take the issue to the authorities.

Though a behavior may be “normal” among teens, we must take the time to educate them the true meaning of consent. Consent does not just apply to in-person sexual behavior, it also applies to sexting.

For more articles on sexting please go to www.thenewageofsexeducation.com