We have a tendency to look at teenagers as young adults due to their bodies. Most adolescent boys bodies and girls bodies tend to look like and function like adults. However, their brains do not function like a grown adult brain. The frontal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for reasoning, making decisions, are not fully developed until teenagers are 25 years old. Therefore, a 16 year old may look like an adult but the frontal lobe of the brain is functioning like a fifth grader’s brain. This has a major impact on how teenagers act and what they understand.
One concept they do not fully understand is the concept of consent. It is very important that teenagers understand the meaning of and how consent works in the world. For example, a physician typically needs parental consent before examining a teenager. Furthermore, a medical doctor cannot treat anyone without their consent or parental consent. Teenagers may not be aware of how important consent is in life because they rely on their parents to provide consent for them. Since they are under 18 in most situations they need parental consent. Therefore, it is not an issue they deal with and it is not something that they think about on a daily basis.
There are some situations where teenagers need to be aware of consent and think about consent. One major area of life where they need to be aware of consent is dating. Consent starts with both the boy and girl agreeing that they want to go on a date with each other. If a relationship begins to develop and one or both of them want to make the relationship a sexual relationship then both the girl and the boy must agree and consent to a sexual relationship. They both need to consent to the sexual activity they are going to engage in. This may seem fairly basic but many boys are not aware of consent in all these situations.
Another major issue related to sexual relationships that teenagers are not usually aware of is that no means stop. If a girl says no at anytime while they are having sex, the boy must stop immediately. If the boy doesn’t stop as soon as the girl says no, he has committed rape. This is a fact that many teenage boys are not aware of regarding sex and consent. It is something we need to educate teenage boys about when they receive sexual education.
There is a new consent issue that teenage boys need to be educated about when they receive sex education. California has a new consent law referred to as “stealthing.” Governor Newsom just signed a new law making stealthing illegal without proper consent. You may be wondering what is stealthing? Stealthing is when a male opens a condom wrapper before the other person has consented to sex. Therefore, if a teenage boy opens a condom anticipating that he is going to have sex, he can be charged with sexual assault if the girl has not consented to having sex yet.
Currently the law doesn’t state that the boy would go to juvenile hall, but the law states they can be sued in civil court. I would advise patients who have teenagers to look up this new law and review all of the details. How do we know if someone consented to having sex before or after the condom is opened. There are not going to be a lot of witnesses when the condom is opened (hopefully, not). Do teenage boys need to record their sexual experiences to prove they had consent?
I understand that the intent of the law is so no one is pressured into doing anything sexually that they don’t want to do, but I think this law goes to far. In my professional opinion, we need to provide teenagers more education about sex and consent. They also need education about responsibility and sex too. Besides focusing on the fact that sex is physically enjoyable, we need to discuss when you have sex are you prepared to be parent? No contraception device is 100% effective. Therefore, every time you have sex you could become a parent. Also are you prepared to handle your emotions and the other person’s emotions associated with sex? Finally, are you mature enough to tell your physician so if you contract a sexually transmitted disease, you and your partner can receive the appropriate treatment.
Consent is important. However, there is much more involved with sex than the physical act and getting proper consent. If this is all we focus on, we are not doing our teenagers any favors. There is much more involved regarding being sexually intimate with a person. We need to focus on these issues and educate teenagers about these issues too.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers and trauma victims. For more information about his work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.