14 Men Tell Us How They Learned The Value Of Consent

Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
Update: In the days since a video surfaced of Donald Trump making lewd and offensive comments about sexual assault, thousands of women have come forward to share their own stories about assault. It's past time to acknowledge that sexual assault happens to women too often, and to put the onus on men to put a stop to it. With that in mind, we're re-publishing our interviews with 14 men about how they learned the importance of consent. This story was originally published on September 7, 2016.
It's a pretty straightforward concept: You don't put your hands on anyone without their permission. And the lack of a "no" does not automatically mean a "yes."

Yet, debates over consent seem to permeate our society. With the worrying statistics of campus sexual assault (most recently exemplified in the headlines regarding a sexual assault at Stanford and the controversy surrounding The Birth Of A Nation star and director, Nate Parker), it seems that we unfortunately still live in a world that, far too often, places the blame on victims instead of emphasizing the importance of teaching people (mostly men) not to rape.

It's a world in which we jump to blaming women for "asking for it" instead of examining what men can do to avoid being a part of the problem. It's also a world in which someone is sexually assaulted in America every two minutes.

It's time we started making consent a vital part of sex education — and emphasizing how crucial it is to get an enthusiastic "yes" from a sexual partner before continuing. With something this important, it's better to be safe than sorry.

So we talked to 14 men (Refinery29 employees and readers) about how they learned the value of consent. Their answers are powerful, enlightening, and, hopefully, indicative of why sexual consent is so essential. Read ahead for their stories.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more
1 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I learned it from my mama. Growing up, my mom kept tabs on how I treated girlfriends and lady friends, asking if I treated them with respect and made them smile.

"When it came to talking about sex and consent, it wasn't any different. She emphasized that as a male, I have a duty to treat women accordingly — (strictly biologically) more times than not, they aren't afforded the same physical strengths and freedom that men have growing up. [She taught me] that doing something as serious as sex can have a deep impact, and requires both parties to be willing.

"She would tell me that at any time someone doesn't feel comfortable, you have to respect their decision and 'back off.'

"With that in mind, I make sure to crack a small joke before sex, one that distinctively mentions that it's going down, and if it's all yes and nods, then it must be my lucky night." — Huda
2 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"Honestly? [I learned the value of consent] later than I'd like to admit. I'm 25 now, and I'd say I was only really presented with a detailed understanding of enthusiastic consent (i.e. something beyond 'stop when she says no') when I was about 21." — Rex
3 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I learned the importance of consent as it relates to any kind of physical contact around a year or two ago, when I was about 17 years old.

"This was when I realized how gross and entitled men can be when it comes to women's bodies. The combination of my friends who have experienced this firsthand and the internet opened my eyes to the concept of consent.

"Now, when I'm with a sexual partner, I verbally ask if she wants to have sex." — Matt
4 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"My mom, honestly. She was very open about sexual education and emphasized the importance of consent." — Shane
5 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I actually learned it the hard way. I was meeting up with one of my exes to catch up. My relationships usually end on good terms, so this was pretty normal.

"We got to the topic of discussing her new partners, and she reflexively starts comparing me to them. I never did like that quality of hers.

"Anyway, I was too nice to stop her, and she kept going. At one point, she said that one of her new partners always asks for permission before initiating sex. 'Which is a big deal for me,' she added.

"It was such a small part of the conversation, and it could have been easily missed, but her facial expression is still imprinted in my mind to this day. It told me so much more than she was telling me. Of all the times where she kept quiet and didn't speak up.

"It was a painful expression — not overly so, but any kind of pain is too much pain when it comes to someone you care about. I didn't say anything about it, I just kind of shook my head and let her continue.

"Maybe one day I'll tell her that I heard what she was saying, and that now I understand." — Jay
6 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"Truthfully, I can't remember a time that I didn't understand consent. Ever since I'd been interested in dating and sex, I understood that I wasn't entitled to another person's body." — Dado
7 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"When I was in the sixth grade, and definitely not from sex ed.

"It was just from kids messing around. Someone would jokingly tap someone in the locker room, and the person that was being tapped would respond with something along the lines of, 'hey, faggot, no means no!'

"This kind of joking was definitely not okay, and is the reason why a lot of men don't take consent seriously." — C.K.
8 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I didn't really learn consent and how to make sure I had it until I was 32, when the partner I have now explained to me very patiently and kindly that I had to ask before touching her genitals.

"Before that, I relied on the women I was with to initiate sexual contact, or on non-verbal cues like body language and response to non-sexual touching.

"Obviously, reading into the latter can result in unwanted advances. I ALWAYS responded immediately and deferentially to anyone telling me to stop, but my current partner was the first to tell me that verbal consent is the only respectful way to initiate sex.

"Consent needs to be taught to boys as early as possible, because nothing I experienced in my youth prepared me to treat my partners with the respect they very much deserve." — Victor
9 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I suppose I learned it in sex ed in elementary and junior high school during the late '90s/early 2000s. But, rather than phrasing consent as 'an enthusiastic yes,' I remember it being taught to us as 'no means no.'" — James
10 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"From my parents, society, friends, common sense. How do I make sure to get consent? Ask. Sober." — Michael
11 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I only remember that I was once tricked into giving consent to sexual acts by a man four years my senior. I promised myself that I would not let that happen again and that I would not be the predator ever. My parents taught me a few basics, but I never really understood how to communicate about sex until that happened." — Chris
12 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I found out after college that I'd been molested by a babysitter as a young child.

"The impact of this event has been profound my entire life (finding out about it made so many things suddenly make sense). So, I suppose the idea of consent was baked in from that point.

"Granted, forcing anyone into anything is so totally against my nature, it's difficult to separate the nuisance between who I am and events in the past. I guess the answer after all that is — I'm not sure when I learned it, but I've always been cognizant of consent.

"As to how I ask for consent? I rarely advance any sexual encounter; I've always waited for the person I'm with to make the next move. Even in a dedicated relationship, on the rare occasions I'd initiate sexual contact, it would always start very light, and if my partner didn't react, I'd simply stop." — J.C.
13 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I don't think I was ever formally taught about consent in any health class or from my parents.

"I think my parents just instilled the value of respect for other people's boundaries in regards to anything, and to expect the same from others.

"Consent just seems like it should be common sense. You don't do something if the other person is uncomfortable with it, and vice versa." — Troy
14 of 14
Illustrated by: Amrita Marino.
"I honestly can't remember. I know this sounds unlikely, but I think I've always known.

"I've lived as female for 14 years of my life, so I experienced being on the receiving end of circumstances where consent was important. I've known the feeling of other human beings making advances on me, where I didn't have the privilege or physical strength to do anything if something were to happen.

"Now, as a male, I can take this past experience and make sure my future partners feel safe and comfortable in whatever we may do in the future." — Felix