Parents: If you don't talk to your kids about sex and consent, these encounters will never end.
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An image of a dad hugging a daughter.
Credit: Getty Images.

Most parents have "The Talk" with their kids about sex at some point. But it needs to be "The Talks"—plural—and they need to occur early and often in order to avoid incidents like the one described by Reddit user u/kg81183 involving his teenage daughter being the subject of sexual harassment.

The dad's 13-year-old daughter was accused of being gay by her 14-year-old male classmate. When she told him she was straight, he responded by saying, "Prove it by letting me f**ck you." When she told him not to speak to her that way, he doubled down saying "you know you want this d**k."

Thankfully the daughter felt confident enough to stand up for herself and notify her parents, but the ordeal left the dad even more worried about his daughters and stunned by how soon this behavior begins.

"Even though it was longer ago than I'd like to admit, I remember being a 14-year-old idiot boy. But there's no way in hell I would have ever thought to speak like that to a girl," he wrote. "I'm just so p*ssed and upset for my daughter. I know that guys are jerks and do stupid sh*t like this to women all the time, but I didn't expect it to happen so early on."

He ended his post by asking parents of girls if this has happened to them and how they've dealt with it.

But with all due respect, that's the wrong question posed to the wrong people. This dad should be asking parents of boys what they're doing about it and how they're working to prevent this type of harassment and harm from happening.

I'm the father of three boys (13, 8, and 6) and while the biggest fear of dads with daughters may be when they start to date, my biggest fear is that my boys will perpetuate the cycle of toxic masculinity that's so deeply engrained in our society.

Most parents are uncomfortable having talks with their kids about sex and consent and get even more uncomfortable when thinking about starting them early—like before they're in kindergarten and when they should start.

Make these conversations age appropriate and start by driving home the point that we all have autonomy over our bodies. If someone doesn't want a hug then that's OK. And don't force your kids to hug people against their will because that sends a terrible message that their bodies aren't their own. If they're wrestling with each other or tickling one another and one person asks to stop, make sure they understand how important it is to respect that.

I used our family cat in a conversation about consent; when we got a kitten, the kids wanted to hold her all of the time and to the point that the poor cat was uncomfortable and tried to get away. I had the kids pay attention to her strained body language and listen to the frantic meowing and asked them if she seemed like a creature that wanted to be touched.

It takes lots of attempts and not all of them will be successful, but the important thing is those conversations about consent happen early and with regularity. Parents know—or will soon learn—that kids need to hear something approximately 186,493 times before it starts to sink in (how many times have you told them not to leave their clothes on the floor?), which is why one talk just doesn't cut it.

Some will say talking to young kids about sex and consent is inappropriate and end up waiting until they're teenagers. That's a mistake.

If you don't step up and have these awkward but crucial conversations with your boys (and all genders) starting from an early age, then I guarantee you the Internet and porn sites will be their teachers in your absence. According to Bark, a service that provides online safety for kids, 70.7 percent of tweens and 84 percent of teens encountered "nudity or content of a sexual nature" online. That's how you get 14-year-olds who operate under the default assumption that every girl wants their genitalia and girls are simply there for the taking.

Don't get me wrong, it's important for parents of daughters to raise them to be strong, smart, and confident in the face of this ongoing toxicity. But the real victory will come when that's no longer necessary because parents of boys will have taught their sons healthy lessons about sex, sexuality, and consent.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of three, and author of the books Raising Boys to Be Good Men and Men and Miscarriage.