OPINION: As a Black Muslim sex educator, I see how men need better models of consent

by Habeeb Akande | @Habeeb_Akande | Rabaah Publishers
Wednesday, 15 July 2020 10:59 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Muslim men listen during the Friday prayer at Mosque in London, Britain November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

I’ve run workshops on intimacy and consent for men around the world, it’s clear that many young men have unrealistic ideas about sex and lack knowledge about how to talk about consent

Habeeb Akande is a sex educator, author, and founder of Rabaah Publishers.

“A man can’t rape his wife”, “sometimes, ‘no’ means ‘yes’,” and “most women lie about rape” – These are some of the things I have heard young men say in my sexual consent workshops. 

Rape and sexual assault are a pandemic that every young woman must consider, with the World Health Organization estimating that about in three worldwide have experienced sexual violence, or physical abuse from an intimate partner.

But the same is not true for young men. Having run seminars and workshops on intimacy and consent for men around the world, it’s clear that many young men have unrealistic ideas about sex and lack knowledge about how to approach conversations about consent.

I am fortunate that I grew up in a traditional Nigerian Muslim household with strong male role models who gave me a positive, ethical understanding of masculinity and intimacy.

But too many men and boys have never had a constructive conversation with other men about relationships. This cuts across all communities, but can be an issue in some Black and Muslim households due to cultural taboos against discussing sex and relationships.

These silences create a moral vacuum which is filled by culture - whether that is sexual objectification in music videos, old tropes of sexual encounters expected after buying a woman dinner or drinks, or most concerningly, porn.

The main source of sex education (or miseducation) for many young men and boys is PornHub. It is therefore not surprising that some end up with warped ideas of consent, increasing the risk that they may go on to commit sex crimes.

Just as safe spaces have been created for women to discuss issues around consent, the same is needed for men. Women need to participate in these spaces too, allowing men to understand things from a female perspective in an open, collaborative way.

Many young men are afraid to even broach this subject publicly, fearful they will say the ‘wrong thing’ and be viewed as a predator.

This creates the dangerous situation where many men feel pressured to say the ‘right thing’ in public, which might not reflect their thoughts and actions in private.

It should not be taboo to discuss the ambiguities that sometimes arise during dating, seduction and intimacy and how emotional literacy and communication can and must remove this ambiguity. At the same time, it should not be controversial to show that in many cases, things are black and white, and no conceivable ambiguity could justify misbehaviour.

Many of the men I have worked with are as disgusted by sex crimes as the most vocal women’s rights campaigner, and want to do all they can to stop these offences.

In my experience, men are less interested in reading books about these issues, but what they are hungry for are frank conversations. They want to speak to women and listen to their experiences in a safe space, without being on the receiving end of sweeping generalisations about men or being held implicitly responsible for what other men have done.

To end sexual violence against women, I advise men that they will need to speak out more against abuse, hold male perpetrators accountable and treat every accuser as if she were a close relative of theirs. How would they feel? And how would they react?

Ultimately, we need to change the culture of male sexual entitlement. Men and boys need to see consent accurately portrayed in films, music, social media and everything else. ‘Consent education’ can’t be done in isolation.

Consent is part of a healthy, fulfilling sex life. It makes relationships and physical closeness more ethical, but also more satisfying, for everyone. That is something that all men can get excited about.

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