Our culture has a rape problem in part because we haven’t taken the time as a society to discuss consent, particularly with impressionable young people. Talking to young people – particularly young men – about not raping includes telling them to seek an enthusiastic and cogent “yes” to sex rather than simply proceed with sex in the absence of a “no.”
But to talk to teenagers about that enthusiastic and cogent “yes” means that we would have to talk to them about desire. We would have to acknowledge that it’s possible for young people – and particularly young women – to want to have sex, to be mentally and emotionally capable of offering an enthusiastic and cogent “yes” to sex, to have agency in their own sexual experiences. Which would run afoul of the Great American Wiggins About Teen Sex.
When you have a culture that insists on telling teens that their desires for touch, sex and romantic companionship are unworthy of fulfillment and refuses to even acknowledge that these desires exist – unless you’re dismissing them as “raging hormones” and nothing more, you end up not having those crucial conversations about consent.
We have to acknowledge that, in addition to rape culture, our great fear of leveling with teens about sex is a huge part of our rape problem, especially when it occurs in high school and college populations.