Nearly 15 years ago, I got the opportunity to see Mike Domitrz speak at George Mason University. His talk with clear about consent, full of relatable humor, and powerfully centered survivors. He also kindly spent a few minutes connecting with me then as I was just getting started speaking about sexual violence prevention on college campuses. Since then Mike has been a great collaborator as a fellow speaker on sexual violence prevention.
About six months ago, Mike offered me the opportunity to read and provide feedback on the newest version of his book Can I Kiss You?: A Thought-provoking Look at Relationships, Intimacy, and Sexual Assault.
Can I Kiss You? is a great primer on consent in dating and intimate relationships. Mike has an ability to explain things in simple and accessible ways that are also powerful and memorable. He not only describes ways of communicating and interacting, but he also points out the absurdity of not doing so. This is a great resource for those wanting to learn about consent and those who want to be able to teach others about consent – including parents and educators of all kinds.
Mike generously agreed to do an interview ahead of today’s book launch. He has also offered for readers here, a free report: The 7 Biggest Mistakes Caring Parents Make when Talking to Their Teens about Sex as well as the first chapter of “Can I Kiss You” which includes the amazing “Body Language Challenge.” You can find that all at this link.
Keith: Your revised edition of Can I Kiss You?, continues the work you have been doing for decades to educate about consent to prevent sexual violence. How has your approach changed over time, both in terms of what you teach (content) and how you teach it (pedagogy)?
Mike: A decade ago, “raising awareness” was the phrase many people were focused on for reducing sexual assault. Today, most of our culture believes they are “aware” of the issues surrounding sexual assault – even thought their “awareness” may not be as comprehensive as they assume.
Example: Ten years ago, you could ask a high school or college audience, “Can a person who is drunk and not of sound mind give consent?” and most audience members would respond with, “Yes!” Today, almost everyone knows that a person who is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs cannot consent.
The challenge is that behavior has not caught up with awareness. Even though people know a person who is incapacitated cannot give consent, people are still engaging in sexual activity with partners who are incapacitated and/or others are not intervening when they see such situations being setup at a party or bar.
From the beginning of our work, we at The Date Safe Project have been focused on providing precise skill sets that are realistic and easy to implement in one’s life. One of the improvements in this book is that this book is as inclusive as we are in all of the programs we present across the globe today. This new book is written so that people of all genders, sexual orientations, identities, and backgrounds can see themselves in each of the scenarios the book discusses.
Keith: You and I have talked about your efforts to make your work more inclusive. What changes have you made to achieve this not only in the new edition of the book but also in your presentations across the country?
Mike: Over a decade ago, I had a discovery. I realized I was focused on “addressing” inclusiveness (by acknowledging the importance of all individuals in my work). The discovery that occurred was that I was doing my best to be inclusive while lacking the in-depth understanding of what inclusiveness means. Being inclusive is actual inclusion through language, approach, understanding, deep personal belief and action.
For much of our society, a transformation is needed to be inclusive. Thankfully, I was able to work with and be inspired by wonderful educators and activists to help that transformation process occur. To this day, I am continually learning and growing.
In my new book, “Can I Kiss You?”, I wanted the lessons inside be able to help as many people as possible. When educators and activists who read the early versions were sharing that the book was one of the most inclusive books they have ever read addressing these topics, I was encouraged and excited by the possibilities of how many more lives “Can I Kiss You?” will have the opportunity to reach, including lives that in the past were not included in these discussions by much of our society.
Scenarios throughout the book naturally enable each person to see themselves or someone they know in the potential situation being described. The reader having that personal ownership to the discussion is critically important to the reader making positive behavior transformations in their own live and/or in the lives of those they care about.
Keith: What do you think is the most common misconception about consent?
Mike: I think there are so many misconceptions that it hard to highlight one as the most common. Here are a few:
“I already know consent. If they say ‘No’, STOP.”
Actually, give them a choice FIRST. Ask and respect the answer.
“I can tell when someone wants me or doesn’t want me. I don’t need to ask.”
Even if you can tell whether they want to engage in sexual activity with you, ask WHAT they want to do with you and how. All partners deserve for sexual activity to be mutually agreed upon – to insure all partners are comfortable and excited for what is about to occur.
“Asking ruins the moment!”
If you believe “asking first” ruins the moment, either you haven’t learned how to use your words in a moment of intimacy or you didn’t have much of a “Moment” in the first place. Most people lack the skills for how to ask and that is why we are so passionate about sharing those skills with the world, including in my new book, “Can I Kiss You?”
Consent is about “permission.”
In my new book, we discuss this outdated concept of permission-based consent. You can get someone’s permission to do something they don’t want to do and thus consent should not be correlated with permission. Consent should be taught as: freely given and mutually wanted enthusiastic agreement between partners of sound mind and legal age.
Keith: What have you noticed about how your audiences have shifted over time, especially campus hosts and students? Are they expecting or reacting differently?
Mike: When I started in this work over twenty-five years ago, most people in our country were not discussing these topics and so even getting the conversation going could be a challenge with certain groups. Audiences were more defensive in nature.
Today, almost everyone has heard about the topic and many have been lectured to on various aspects concerning sexual assault. The challenge today is that many people feel, “Yes, this is a problem, but I am not part of the problem.” When you help people see how closely connected to the issue they are AND how much they can make a huge impact, you see start to see light bulbs go off in their minds.
When people of all ages see how much opportunity they have in their own lives to make powerful behavioral transformations that better enable them to experience mutually amazing consensual sexual intimacy, they want to implement the lessons they are learning as soon as possible!
Most people WANT to do the right thing – they are yearning for people and/or resources to give them a simple solution for actions they can take in sexual intimacy that are based on respect AND are romantic, sexy, and passionate. When someone fully understands consent, they realize that consent is all about experiencing mutually amazing sexual intimacy.
For this reason, audiences today are more responsive and express deep levels of gratitude for you sharing a new way to engage in relationships, sexual intimacy, bystander intervention, and supporting survivors. The energy in the crowds at our events is inspiring. The personal commitments students make at the end of the programs are incredible.
Keith: One of the things that I find challenging in doing this work is how to be developmentally appropriate for the audiences. How do you decide when to give the most basic of messages to make sure they can get the foundation and to dig deeper into intersecting forms of oppression, cultural aspects, gender norms, and more complex understandings that are important but can also lose some of your audience?
Mike: I’ve learned over the years that to address a complex issue, you must be certain you have the time to do so with that particular audience in the time you’ve been allotted to share with them. If you try to quickly dive into a complicated issue, you may be cheating people of the opportunity to fully understand what makes it complex in the first place and you could accidentally do more harm than good.
Several years ago, I learned one my main focus points must always be: “To do no harm.”
Rushing a discussion could do harm, especially to those who have been most deeply impacted by the issue you are addressing.
Keith: Your book is being praised by parents, educators, and young adults? Why do you think should a wide-range of people are connecting with the book and endorsing the book as one that is for all ages?
Mike: Many parents and educators are frustrated and fearful of saying “the wrong thing” when discussing consent, sexual intimacy, and sexual assault. They want resources that give them precise words and exercises they can utilize in their own lives. I wrote “Can I Kiss You?” with these precise goals in mind – give specific skill sets, from the exact words to use in a given situation to a simple activity you can engage in for your own self-discovery.
Students want a book that is quick, easy-to-read, and that they can implement in their own lives instantly. When I read books, I am the exact same way. I continually get the most out of books that make me look at my own beliefs and actions AND provide me actions I can take going forward. For this reason, I love writing in this same fashion.
Keith: What do you hope to see in the next 5-10 years in addressing this issue, particularly on campuses?
Mike: A transformation of our culture to one that is built on respect and consent. When that transformation takes place, everyone will believe and live by a standard that the only sexual intimacy that anyone participates in is founded on the understanding that all sexual intimacy should be enthusiastically & mutually wanted, agreed upon, and amazing between partners of legal age and sound mind.
Just a reminder that Mike has offered for readers here, a free report: The 7 Biggest Mistakes Caring Parents Make when Talking to Their Teens about Sex as well as the first chapter of “Can I Kiss You” which includes the amazing “Body Language Challenge.” You can find that all at this link.