INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE WHO
care about YOUNG ADULTS
Maybe you felt comfortable having conversations about sex and sexuality with youth in your life when their sex life felt more theoretical. But now that they may be having sex, you’re not sure what (if anything) you should still be talking to them about.
Maybe you’re a foster parent or a grandparent or other family member who finds yourself unexpectedly raising a young adult who might have very little, or inaccurate, information about these topics. Or maybe you want information for yourself.
The key to a sexually healthy culture that supports sexual violence prevention efforts is information. People who feel empowered because they have the information they need make better choices. You can also check our teen page, which provides a good overview of issues that are generally still relevant to young adults.
We separated out topics below - but they are all connected! You may talk about one of these topics and then find yourself also talking about feelings, healthy sexuality, bullying, and more. So much of this kind of prevention work is about establishing these protective skills and supports that help across all facets of life. The bonus is they also happen to be protective factors when it comes to sexual violence!
By the time a youth is a young adult, they may be less inclined to talk with you about their sex life. And that’s okay! It’s important to respect their boundaries. However, if they do want to talk or if you suspect something is amiss, here are some thoughts to help.
Staying safe when online dating or hooking up via apps.
Many dating and hookup apps have some built-in safety measures, but it’s still important to remind them about some basic safety precautions: don’t give out personal information like a home address, let a friend or two know about meet up plans (it’s also possible to share your location with a friend through your phone), and meet up in a public place. You can also remind them to go with their gut - if something feels off, canceling is okay!
Talk with your teen about setting and respecting boundaries. This could be between family members, with their friends, with romantic partners, or with folks at school. Healthy boundary work can be noticed when you may have crossed someone else’s boundary and talking about it, respecting others even if what they need or want is different, and clearly communicating what they want and need.
Encouraging healthy boundary setting and respect in all relationships.
Hooking up & substance use.
Most young adults attend parties where alcohol and drugs are present. It’s important to talk about substance use and how sometimes that can lead to sexual encounters that can range from embarrassing to assault. You might quote Heather Corrina from her site Scarleteen, “If you're feeling the sexy vibes and want to pursue some kind of sex with someone in that situation, the better bet is to just trade numbers then, and connect again later when you're both sober. Not only does that help keep you safe, it also helps you avoid choosing to be sexual with someone who seems awesome and amazing when you're blitzed, but in the light of day, without the beer goggles, is the last person on earth you'd want to get down with.”
Talking about consent.
The easiest way to define consent is a willing, excited yes. It’s important to be super clear that this doesn’t just mean that someone didn't say no. Make it clear that you only have someone’s consent when they have said yes and they really seem good with it. You could use non-sexual scenarios to help clarify:
Say your car is in the shop and you need to borrow our neighbor’s. If you ask them and they don’t respond, do you have their permission? What if they said, “Ummm. Ugh. I mean…I don’t know. I guess maybe…?” How is that different from a response like, “Oh yeah, of course!”
Healthy sexuality is part of what it takes to prevent sexual violence. Healthy sexuality is the ability to freely and responsibly understand, enjoy, and control your sexual and reproductive experiences. It relates to body image and a person’s sense of self.
As young adults enter young adulthood, it’s also about making sure that sex is safe and pleasurable. It’s about young adults having the information necessary to, as Speak About It says, make sexual choices that make them and their partners feel safe, affirmed, and healthy.
A culture that encourages healthy sexuality is a culture that helps reduce risk factors and increase protective factors associated with sexual violence perpetration and victimization.
Talk about sex as reciprocal, responsible, and enjoyable.
Many parents - if they talk about sex at all - stop at the basics of consent and contraceptive use. However, if we are going to have a truly sexually healthy culture, we have to expand our conversations beyond risk and danger. We need to talk about sex as joyful and something people mutually enjoy. A key goal here is that your child gets to adulthood able to have sexual relationships that encourage mutuality, care, and joy.
Porn: what it is
Porn is a complicated topic. Mainstream porn often includes unhealthy, unsafe, and confusing messages about sex. Feminist porn, however, is more likely to both depict realistic sex and lend a gender equality perspective. A couple of questions from Teen Vogue may help: is it being used for sex education? Is it being made legally and ethically? Does watching it have a negative effect on your life?
sexual harassment & work
Most young adults end up with jobs in some capacity. It’s important for them to know that both sexual harassment and harassment about a person’s sex are against federal law. Depending on what state you
are in, there may be added state-level legal protections.
Teaching youth about workplace sexual harassment (and supporting them if they need it) provides a good foundation for them. Here are a few ideas to discuss with a young adult about workplace culture.
Know the workplace sexual harassment policy.
Knowing workplace policies, in general, is a good idea, and knowing an employer’s sexual harassment policy can be helpful both for someone who experiences sexual harassment and for someone who a coworker may confide in. If there is no policy, that may be a red flag.
Encourage youth to be the kind of coworker they want to have.
Part of ending sexual harassment is being an engaged bystander: not taking part in it and being clear that it’s not okay. If a coworker confides that they are being sexually harassed, this Maine-based organization suggests some things to do and say in response.
College Search: What to Look For
Working with a young adult to find a school that respects everyone’s bodies may seem overwhelming. One way to be proactive about preventing sexual violence and ensuring a young adult attends a school where everyone shares responsibility for ending sexual violence is by scheduling a campus visit. Asking about sexual violence awareness and prevention on campus gives you helpful information.
These ideas may be useful even if your teen will
not live at school or when attending a
Check out the school’s sexual violence prevention and awareness work.
Quality prevention and awareness materials talk about the responsibility to not rape or sexually violate others, and do not blame the survivor. Materials addressing sexual violence use gender-inclusive language to ensure relevance for male survivors. Bystanders are given resources and training to intervene when they see a situation that may lead to a sexual assault.
Check out what kind of support survivors have on campus.
Sexual violence survivors are given many options for getting support. Sexual violence survivors are not forced to report their assault to law enforcement in order to access resources for healing.
Ask about how to report an assault, and ask where students should look for that information.
Schools should have easy-to-understand, easy-to-find information about how to report a sexual assault, and what the process can look like after reporting.
In general, the easier it is for students and administrators to answer your questions, the better they are doing at creating a culture where sexual violence is openly talked about and addressed.
Questions to ask current students:
What does sexual assault awareness or prevention look like at this school?
What can you tell me about the process for reporting sexual assault at this school?
Where is the Title IX office on campus? Who would I talk to at that office to get more information?
Questions to ask faculty and administrators:
Who handles reports of sexual assault at this school?
What happens when sexual assault is reported?
Are students required to report their assault to law enforcement to access support services?
Does the school have Title IX policies? How is information about the school's Title IX policies communicated to students?
How are penalties for sexual assault or misconduct determined? Is the process different if the assault is perpetrated by a fellow student? Administrator? Non-student?