What do I do to make a guy in his early twenties understand consent?

Answered Jan 8, 2019

Here is one of the most important life lessons I’ve had.

If an adult, of any age, male or female, doesn’t understand or respect consent by the time I meet them, they are never going to do so. And there is absolutely nothing that I can say or do to teach them.

If an adult, of any age, male or female, doesn’t understand that, bad behaviour leads to bad consequences, by the time I meet them, they are never going to do so. And I cannot teach them, even by imposing those consequences.

I’ve also learned that, it doesn’t really matter whether the person can or cannot “understand” consent. What matters is that they don’t care.

In looking back on certain interactions, I would find myself saying things like:

  • Sometimes, you are going to want something, and my answer will be “no”, and you will just have to accept that.
  • I have the right to say “no”, and other people have the right to say “no” to you. I, and they, aren’t victimising you, just because you feel disappointed, hurt, or angry.
  • Sometimes, you are going to want something, and you will have to wait for it, rather than expecting immediate compliance.
  • Complying with a demand in the past is not a promise to comply with that same (or any other) demand in the future. Each time you want something, you will need to separately ask (not demand). With the understanding that, this particular request might be denied.
  • Different behaviours will lead to different consequences. Coercive and abusive behaviour will lead to consequences that you don’t like.
  • I have repeatedly, consistently, clearly, and firmly said “no” to this demand. Why are are treating me exactly as if I said “yes”?
  • I don’t see the situation the same as you see it. And I don’t view the “rules” of relationships/friendships the same as you view them.
  • Your belief that you “need” something, or the fact that you fantasized about me giving/doing/tolerating doesn’t create any kind of promise by me, or obligation.
  • My money, physical possessions, physical body, and time belong to me, not you.
  • The fact that you “can’t” control your behaviour, doesn’t require me to stick around and tolerate it. My rules, limits, and boundaries don’t magically disappear just because you “can’t” respect them.
  • Telling me that my boundaries are dysfunctional doesn’t constitute an entitlement to violate them.
  • My primary responsibility doesn’t revolve around complying with your demands. My primary responsibility is take care of my own needs, including my own financial self-support, and my own physical safety. That includes the responsibility to stay away from parasites and abusers. Because allowing some people into my life is like deliberately getting into a cage with a large, rabid animal.
  • The subject of this conversation is consent. And how you behave when I say “no” to you. This conversation is not about pestering or gaslighting me into saying “yes”.
  • You need to accept the limits and boundaries I set for what I will give/do/tolerate. And if you can’t or won’t, then the limits and boundaries will become even more restrictive, up to ceasing all contact. Accept what is offered, or you will get nothing at all from me.
  • I don’t have to be in this relationship/friendship. I have the right and the ability to abandon you at any time, for any reason. Such as if you don’t start respecting my boundaries. Or even just because I don’t feel like interacting with you anymore. This is a unilateral decision to be made by me, and doesn’t require your permission.

The fact that I was in a position to even say those things to a series of adults was a huge red flag. And none of it ever worked, or led to any of them understanding anything.

Sexual consent is a very high-stakes situation. Many, many people have been guilt-tripped, gaslighted, and coerced into sex acts that they didn’t want, in the context of a relationship. Many, many people have been violently raped in the context of a relationship. This guy is waving a huge red flag of an impending assault.

A related category of red flags is the general disrespect of you making your own decisions. Including things like micromanaging your appearance. That is an early sign of serious control issues that can gradually escalate to sexual coercion and violence. I want to emphasise that, you need to take all of his red flags, and all of his arrogance and entitlement and imaginary “rules” very, very seriously.

After he rapes you, there will be nothing that you can say or do to teach him that he did something wrong. And for you, it will already be too late, because it will already have happened. And no amount of arguing will erase the permanent impact upon you.

There are people sitting in prison for rape and other violence, who still refuse to comprehend, and who see themselves as innocent victims of the situation. They still believe that they were just exercising their “right” to do whatever they want, and have zero consideration for their victims.

When getting into a new relationship, or a new platonic friendship, it is vitally important to see how the person responds to being told “no”. You cannot confidently predict this until it happens. Things might seem to be proceeding OK for weeks, as long as you have been consistently saying “yes”. And then, you come to your first refusal (e.g. “No sex tonight, because it’s late and I’m physically too tired to do it”). Or they demand a new sex act that you don’t want. And that may be the turning point when you suddenly find out their attitude about consent.

But also look for a “no” situation that doesn’t involve sex. And do so before getting sexually involved.

People of all ages, and both men and women, can totally disrespect consent. I once knew a middle-aged female who believed that she was entitled to sex on demand from female partners. She sexually assaulted at least one, and probably more, and was completely unaware that she had done anything wrong. And couldn’t even imagine anyone dumping her to prevent a repeat.

She had two views about people saying “no” to her. One was that, the person had a “hangup”, and just wouldn’t admit to secretly wanting it. The other was that, people refused because they were too stupid to understand how much fun sex in general (or particular sex acts) would be. And that, pestering, gaslighting, arguing, and eventually using physical force was either giving them what they “really” wanted, or would be justified because they would learn that they enjoy the experience.

Nothing that anyone said or did ever got through to her. She burned through relationship after relationship after relationship (or really, more like a series of “booty-call” situations). With zero ability to learn from consequences, zero inclination to honestly examine her attitudes, and zero interest in changing her behaviour. She was convinced that, everyone who said “no”, or who set boundaries, or who dumped her, was dysfunctional. And that they refused to appreciate what a great partner she was.

Like your boyfriend, she believed that, anyone saying “no” to her was an act of abuse. And a violation of the rules and promises that supposedly come with entering a relationship. She believed that, if you don’t want to be assaulted, the burden is on you to say “yes” to literally any demand.

I disagree with the suggestions of game-playing (forcing him to eat, proposing the strap-on, etc). That makes it seem like some kind of negotiation, or mutual disrespect, or fight over the subject. He very likely is completely clear about his own right to say “no” and to enforce it. Because his wants and entitlements are central to his experience of the relationship, while viewing you as existing to serve him, and give him anything and everything he demands, without limits.

I also disagree with the comment about violence (i.e. stating the intent to kill them if they try to assault you). I’ve encountered people who will completely tune out that statement, and act like they didn’t even hear it.

Many, many people view sexual relationships, or platonic friendships as a one-way deal. They are here to take, and you are here to give.

Like your boyfriend, they are adamant that, relationships and friendships have universal, obvious “rules” that you have agreed to obey, simply by getting involved. Common relationship/friendship “rules” are that:

  • You never have the right to say “no” to them. About anything.
  • You don’t have the right to set any requirements, demands, or standards of your own.
  • You don’t have the right to impose any negative consequences for their abusive behaviour.
  • You don’t have the right to ever abandon them. Or even to have any restricted availability when they demand attention.

Naturally, those rules only apply to you, and not them.

Disrespect of consent applies to many things besides sex. That’s the problem with the “cup of tea” video, which I’ve seen before. I don’t believe for one second that that video (or similar approaches) will teach these people anything.

I have received severe disrespect of my right to say “no” to all of the following:

  • Being platonic “friends” with openly abusive individuals who contribute nothing but aggravation.
  • Buying into someone’s mindless grudge against a third party.
  • Handing over cash money, any time, any amount, for any purpose.
  • Allowing someone to live rent-free in my home.
  • Being people’s free, on-demand, personal limousine.
  • Alternately, being expected to accept “offers” of being given a ride home from a social situation, getting into a car with some creepy guy I don’t know.
  • Enabling and paying for other people’s drug habits. Including committing serious crimes.
  • Being guaranteed available any time they call and want attention or a favour.
  • Living in a geographic area that I don’t want to live in. Including being told that I was obligated to spent the rest of my life in an impoverished, small-minded small town in the middle of nowhere.
  • Moving to a “nice” low-crime neighbourhood that I couldn’t afford.
  • Having ongoing contact with my abusive mother. Including being told that I “have to” live in the same town as her, or even under the same roof. While also being bullied to go around lying about what a wonderful parent she was.
  • Quitting a job, merely because the other person wouldn’t be capable/willing to do it. Or otherwise behaving badly at a job (e.g. refusing to get work done), merely because the other person would do so.
  • Remaining stuck in a minimum wage, bottom-of-the-barrel job for the rest of my working life.
  • Being told how I can and cannot spend my money.
  • Disclosing private information, such as exact income and other financial details.
  • Disclosing my physical home address to people I just met.
  • Being treated like I should have dropped out of university, without finishing a degree, merely because the other person didn’t feel capable, and wouldn’t even attempt it.
  • Being told “you will continue to attend a low-quality, unprofessional, abusive institution that I call Low Rent Polytechnic, at which I had already had a very negative experience (described in another of my answers). Including signing up for remedial courses that I didn’t need, wouldn’t benefit from, surrounded by morons, while running up a huge loan. Just because said polytechnic was desperate for students who were actually capable of passing academically. (I headed straight to a far better institution).
  • Being told that I didn’t have the right to resist (or even complain about) open, physically threatening sexual harassment, which occurred at the aforementioned polytechnic.
  • Being told that I “have to” own and watch a television, merely because somebody else can’t think of any other leisure activities.
  • Having an acquaintance dictate what kind of clothing I am allowed to wear.
  • Personal space invasions, including physical touching without my consent, by people I barely know.
  • Generally being married or partnered, including claims that I “have to”do so, even if it isn’t with the person disrespecting my consent.
  • Having children that I don’t want, and cannot afford to support.
  • Being told to completely remove myself from society, merely because some acquaintance has a massive envy problem.
  • Being told to kill myself, merely because some acquaintance has a massive envy problem. And that wasn’t just one person who did that.
  • Having an acquaintance dictate what kind of medical care I may access, involving my body and my money.

Numerous people seriously expected me to slavishly comply with those bizarre, abusive demands. I’ve had people make demands that would have obviously had disastrous consequences if I had obeyed, with zero chance of benefit to anyone. Things that weren’t at all compatible with real-world adult functioning. All the way to things that were physically impossible. I’ve had people make some of those demands in the first conversation upon meeting.

Some people lock onto a demand, and just keep repeating it over and over and over. With escalating condescension, indignation, and agitation. Thinking that, they will wear you down, and exhaust your supply of “no”, until just cave in to get the argument to stop. Some will directly tell you that they intend to relentlessly pester you on and on until you comply.

Disrespect of consent can extend to every area of life, where you are making your own choices. Many, many people have absolutely no limit to their senses of entitlement to make demands and coerce others.

It isn’t just one type of person, or one type of demand, or one type of context. It’s absolutely pervasive. And they will never, ever learn to respect your boundaries or consent, regardless of what you say or do. Which is the problem with the “cup of tea” video, and similar approaches.

Have you ever heard the two big rules for training a dog not to do some bad behaviour? You need to impose the punishment the first time, and every time. The same principle applies to most humans. If you ever cave into a coercive event (e.g. continuing to demand sex after you have said “no”), he will learn that coercion works. And he will continue, and will escalate.

By remaining in the relationship, and arguing, and fantasising about helping him to “understand consent”, you are failing to impose any real consequences, or enforce any real boundaries. The more crap you tolerate, the more crap you will receive. He interprets you staying and engaging his crap as confirming that you can’t ever leave. He interprets each argument as making progress towards his goal. Or as you failing to face the inevitability of doing what he demands. And he thinks that, it is just a matter of time before you cave in, and lose the will, or even the ability, to ever say “no” to him again.

Black-and-white thinkers require black-and-white solutions. The only workable solution is to just physically get away from the person. Refuse all further contact. Any communication will revolve around trying to get you involved again, so he can abuse you some more, and repeat his demands.

The best case scenario with dumping him is a sense of great relief, and the perspective to see how bad he is, and the empowerment of asserting your right to boundaries and consent. The worst case scenario with dumping him is that you will be single while looking for a replacement who respects you, and who is already a decent adult without needing to be taught.

The best case scenario with staying is more conflict, arguments, and disrespect, until you get so sick and tired that you then dump him. The worst case scenario with staying is a devastating act of violence which will seriously harm you for the rest of your life. Many, many women have been raped, beaten, and/or killed by guys with this attitude. And neither you nor he are special or exempt from that possibility.

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