Why I Wish Someone Had Explained Consent to Me As a Kid

When I was four years old, my mother was raped.

I recently realized one of the ways it’s impacted me has been significant, but largely unnoticed.

At four years old, I was very small, too young to understand all the complexities of the event and process what had happened. In retrospect, maybe sometimes, those around me thought I should have been shielded from it and chose not to talk about it very much or to let me ask questions. I do remember watching a ton of Lifetime movies (that were probably full of rape myths) and trying to process it that way. I also remember my sister trying to talk to me about rape in the context of these movies, relating them to what had happened to my mom.

We grew up pretty stifled about most things, and sex was no exception. Common attitudes like, ‘when you marry, you’ll have to give your husband sex, even if you don’t want to, because that’s your duty’ permeated my household growing up. I can’t begin to explain how I have worked to unwind the toxicity of these attitudes, and how much I had to work to trust my partners to respect my wishes even through the fear that had been instilled in me from such a young age.

Although my sister tried to help, she was only four years older, too young herself to really have a grasp on all the angles and explain in a way that a four-year-old could understand.

I have been reading a lot about consent, about how to teach kids about consent, and about boundaries lately (though, honestly, this has been a topic of interest for me since before I even knew about the word “consent”). In my reading and thinking about this, I realized that no one ever told me the difference between rape and sex. It sounds ridiculous that at thirty, I am just now getting around to realizing this, especially after I’ve birthed two children. Obviously, I know about sex.

But, for me, the lines have always been muddled.

“Sex” and “rape” seemed to be pretty much the same, and I never realized this until just recently.

I never realized that my four-year-old brain understood that my mother had been violated through sex. Meaning that sex, itself, was always a violation of the soul. Meaning that any kind of sex was rape. Meaning that every time I had sex, a part of my soul would be stolen.

I wish I had known so much sooner that there is a VAST difference between rape and sex.

I have struggled with this my entire life, and I am only now beginning to see what four-year-old me could not reconcile.

Sex is not bad, evil, or heartbreaking, in and of itself. Rape is.

Sexual acts between two people who are in agreement about what is happening involves consent, constant communication and checking in with one another. It involves trust, concern for the other person, and yes, it can even (and in my opinion, should) involve feelings of joy and satisfaction.

Rape does not involve that. Rape is an abuse of power. Rape is knowingly crossing a line. Rape is violation. Rape happens when somebody doesn’t care about another person, maybe doesn’t even view that person as a real person.

I wish it hadn’t taken me this long to understand the difference. Of course, intellectually, I have understood this for a long time.

But in my little four-year-old heart, I still sought to protect myself against the sex I perceived was always rape.

I feel I have been robbed of the beautiful connection that can happen through sex based in mutual respect and trust.

I wish someone had told me that sex is okay to enjoy. That it can be — and should be — pleasant for both parties. I wish someone had told me about biology and how my body worked. I wish someone had told me more about sex, so that I understood that my soul is always mine to keep.

I wish I could have lived my life without the heartbreak of expecting to be violated everywhere I went, because I didn’t fully understand that there was such a thing as respect for my boundaries and that I had the right to expect that.

I wish I hadn’t lived so much of my life saying “yes” to things I didn’t really want to do, because I didn’t think I had the choice.

Originally published at silverslipperrevolution.wordpress.com on June 6, 2016.