I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read what U.S. Representative Todd Akin said about rape a few days ago. There are many confusing parts of his statement, and one of them was the term “legitimate rape.” This implies that some rape is “not legitimate” and yet still falls under the umbrella of rape. It made me remember Whoopi Goldberg’s “rape-rape” comment from 2009, which I also found confusing as seems to imply that statutory rape is not really rape, as well as the comment last year wherein Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti explained that women can help prevent sexual assault by “not dressing like sluts.”

I feel like we, as a society, are still exploring what defines sexual assault and what doesn’t and what it actually means. The examples above may seem like random comments from random people looking to redefine rape, or at least categorize it. But a political figure no less than Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s partner in the presidential race, recently co-sponsored a bill that sought to define rape as “forcible” and “other” (my term, because I don’t know what else you’d call it.) To me, this means that the issue has become mainstream.

So when the country seems to be uncertain as to what constitutes sexual assault, how do we teach our teens about it?

It’s vital that parents talk with their teens what sexual assault means, how to prevent it, and what to do about it if it happens. It’s vital that you let your teen know that sexual assault of any kind is unacceptable and criminal. If we are living in a society that is examining what sexual assault means, your message needs to be loud and clear.

Teens of any gender can commit sexual assault. Parents should talk with their teens about what constitutes sexual consent and what does not. Someone who is chemically impaired cannot consent. Someone who says nothing may not feel good about what is happening. Instead of waiting for a “no,” encourage them to ask their partners if they are okay with what’s going on. A simple “Is this okay?” or “Is it okay if I do ___?” prevents someone from going too far with a partner who is frightened, unsure, confused, or simply doesn’t know how to say no.

It’s also important to be very clear with your teen about statutory rape laws. Having sexual contact with someone much younger not only shows questionable judgment, but can be illegal. If these laws are broken, your teen could end up in court or even detention.

In the wake of all this media flurry, let your teen know on no uncertain terms that nobody, ever, is “asking for it.” It doesn’t matter how someone is dressed, how intoxicated they are, or what environment they’re in. “Dressing like a slut” (whatever that means) does not equal consent. There is no “other” category for rape. All rape is “rape-rape.” Make it clear that sexual assault is absolutely, no-holds-barred, unacceptable and you expect them to have values and concern for others that precludes it.

Teens of any gender can be victims of sexual assault. All teens should be taught to say “No” or “Stop it” if somebody is infringing on their boundaries, even if they’ve been flirting with someone, even if they’ve known them forever, even if they’ve been making out, even if they stood on top of their bed and removed their clothes and jumped up and down. In short, there is no point where “No” is no longer an option. If their partner won’t take no for an answer, they should try to get out of the situation however possible (if they feel safe trying to get away.) They can run, scream, throw things out the window, whatever works. If they are assaulted, it is not their fault no matter what the circumstances. They need to call you (or someone they trust in their area, if they’re not living with you) and go to the hospital right away.

Have them practice saying “No!” really loudly. It seems silly, but having said it a few times can make it easier to say it again. There are also really helpful self-defense courses out there for women (unfortunately, there are fewer for men) that can help your teen feel empowered. Make sure the course stresses escaping over fighting back, when it is an option.

Being intoxicated can make someone more vulnerable to sexual assault. Talk to them about drinking and drugs, and the risk of being too impaired to fully understand what is happening.

Keep the lines of conversation open as our media parses the issue, and even when it is no longer a headline. Ask your teen what is happening to people in their peer group or their college. Encourage them to be advocates against sexual assault wherever it occurs. This is an issue that touches most young lives, either directly or indirectly,  and your teen needs to be as informed as possible.