As I write this, it seems as if the news reports a new story of high-profile sexual misconduct every day. A few days ago, a story of over 180 sexual assaults by therapists employed by the spa chain, Massage Envy. Yesterday, Matt Lauer is fired by NBC. Today, Garrison Keillor is fired by Minnesota Public Radio. Who’s the next accused celebrity, Billy Graham?
As everyone knows by now, these stories come in the larger context of a history of such charges: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Bill Cosby, Former Alabama Judge and Senatorial candidate Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Sen. Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Rep. John Conyers, Former President George H.E.W. Bush, and President Donald Trump. And oh yeah, the military services and thousands of Catholic priests. Of course, this is a partial list. There are hundreds of thousands of rape cases each year in the U.S. and millions of women have been raped at some point in their lives. Most of the accused are men, though I’ve seen a few reports of female school teachers accused of having sex with students.
Millions of previously silent victims have declared #MeToo on social media. One such woman confided in me that when she was a young banker for one of the top banks, she was pressured by several senior executives to have sex. And the reported offenses represent the tiniest tip of the iceberg. The problem is way too pervasive to wrap your mind around.
Consider the male perpetrators: why have they done these shameful, revolting things?
The answer is simple:
- They feel a strong desire to have sex.
- They experience no empathy for their victim.
- They believe their wealth, position, or superior physical strength give them the power to act without consequences.
There’s no cure for the first factor. In fact, a cure is inappropriate. It’s in our nature to feel the desire to have sex with someone. Without this urge and the pleasures that go along with sex, people wouldn’t be motivated to procreate. If sexual desire were eliminated, our species (in fact, any species) would quickly vanish. This natural urge comes from the levels of the hormone testosterone in our bodies. Testosterone levels in men are about ten times the levels in women, which accounts for the fact that it is mostly men who are being accused.
So it’s okay to feel powerful sexual urges. The problem happens when lust isn’t joined with empathy. Everyone knows it’s wrong to assault people, to force sex on people who don’t welcome it; the harm it causes can last a lifetime. The problem is that the perpetrator doesn’t consider this. Perhaps he’s never thought about it. He’s feeling his own sexual desire without thinking about the consequences to the victim. He rationalizes that his own need and power give him the opportunity and the right to take advantage of his victim.
The cure for this needs to happen when men are still boys. They need to understand why they have sexual urges, when sex is appropriate, the potentially harmful consequences (psychological trauma, pregnancy, and infections) and how to avoid them, relationships, intimacy, and the requirement for consent.
In other words, thorough sex education, something that rarely happens. Many educational systems are against sex education, believing that it puts ideas into the minds of kids. And most parents are nervous about having “the talk.” They don’t realize that instead of a talk, there needs to be many conversations about sex. They don’t know what needs to be said, how to say it, or when it’s appropriate to bring up such topics.
My case was typical. When I was 14, my mother appeared in the doorway of my bedroom. She said, “You know about sex, don’t you?” I was surprised and embarrassed by her question, and I was uncomfortable with the idea that we would talk about it. So I quickly replied, “Sure.” And she smiled and walked away. The subject never came up again. In fact, I knew almost nothing about sex, and this ignorance would bother me for many years. I could easily have become someone who acted inappropriately.
Will your son become one of the millions of perpetrators? Are you one of the rare adults who is confident about talking with young people about sex? If not, here are some resources:
Sex: An Uncensored Introduction, by Nikol Hasler
Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex, by Deborah Roffman
By the way, there’s lots of wisdom on Cath Hakanson’s website.
You don’t have to get lucky about this. You can prepare yourself for the kind of talks that will help your son learn how to understand and respect women. He can become one of the self-aware, under-control, considerate ones.
To make the right consent decisions, a young person needs to acquire good judgment, a process described in my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.
Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, such as “A Practical Plan to Moderate Teen Screen Exposure.”