When I think back to the sex education I received in school, I realize it was seriously lacking in any ‘real-life’ lessons about how to approach sex with a partner. While we might have been given a detailed account of the process of fertilization and beyond, the curriculum failed to address many important aspects of sex. For example, pleasure, consent, masturbation, LGBT+ sex, and healthy relationships are all essential to our understanding of sex, but often get ignored. The subject of consent is vital to sex and relationships education. Yet, it is one that often slips below the radar.
Why should we teach consent?
Most young people these days gather information about sex through friends, the internet, and porn. In porn especially, consent is disregarded a lot of the time. Schools, therefore, have a responsibility to educate students about the fundamentals of consensual sex, so as to empower them to assert autonomy over their own bodies!
It was not until I reached the age of 18 and started university that I had my first formal consent lesson. Unfortunately, it was not mandatory to attend, something which I thought completely undermined the importance of the issue. Upon having this lesson, I realized that consent is not something I had ever really thought about before. I might have been taught about how babies were made in biology class, but I wasn’t taught anything about what should happen before sex. Surely that is is equally as important? It’s almost as if educators got caught up in explaining what sex is that they forgot that there is this whole complex process leading up to it.
I believe that the topic of consent is crucial to sex education, and is one which schools should be paying extra attention to. Here are five reasons why consent lessons in school should be the new normal:
1. A comprehensive understanding of consent could prevent future sexual assaults and harassment
It makes sense that if more people recognized when consent was and wasn’t present, less sexual harassment, and possibly assault, would take place. Action Aid reported that three-quarters of women in the U.K have experienced violence or sexual harassment in their lives. This is a harsh indicator that there is a lack of understanding of consent among the U.K population. Perhaps if perpetrators had been properly educated about consent, they would be in a better position to recognize that: 1) they do not have the right to touch anyone’s body without permission, and 2) that what they are doing is unacceptable. Of course, this is not going to solve the issue altogether. But proper education surrounding consent could help to de-normalize the casual harassment women continue to face.
2. Consent lessons would reinforce the notion of CHOICE
By teaching consent from an early age, we teach children that they have the right to choose what happens to their bodies. We also reinforce the importance of respecting the choices and boundaries of others. We allow children to recognize that their voice matters and has power. This is an attitude that will not only help them to form positive and healthy relationships but will also benefit them in their everyday lives. Consent lessons instill the idea that we are the ones who make decisions about our bodies. This would enable children to set safe boundaries for themselves and realize that it is okay to say no.
3. Consent lessons would allow individuals to more easily identify when they are experiencing or have experienced abuse
With a deeper knowledge of what is and is not consent, individuals would be more equipped to identify when they have had a non-consensual sexual experience. This would thereby place them in a better position to report and get the appropriate support. Talking about consent from an early age helps children understand what defines sexual harassment/assault and promotes an understanding of what is and is not appropriate.
4. A mutual understanding of consent would help young people to form healthy relationships
Consent is absolutely crucial to a happy, respectful, and equal relationship. With most people having their first relationships in high school, it is a perfect time to educate them about what consensual sex actually looks like, as well as the forms non-consensual sex can take. A mutual understanding of consent would encourage open communication between both parties, encouraging them to talk about sex before the event happens and respect one another boundaries.
5. The subject of consent can be applied to different areas of life, beyond sexual relations
One argument against teaching consent in school is that it is not appropriate to discuss sex with children. However, while consent is a notion most commonly brought up in conversations about sex, it actually applies to many different areas of life. For instance, we already teach children ask before they borrow something or to get their parents permission before they invite a friend over. This sentiment could quite easily be extended to things like hugging, high fives or any physical touching. Something as simple as encouraging children to ask before they hug someone is a good starting point. This would prompt them to start thinking about consent and taking control over their own bodies. Moreover, there are plenty of resources available for schools regarding how to approach the subject in an informative but accessible way.
As you can see, there are many reasons why teaching consent in school would be beneficial. Young people growing up without knowledge and understanding of consent could have long term, negative effects. Conversely, a simple one hour lesson has the potential to have really positive, long lasting effects. If you’d like to read more about what consent actually is, this is a really helpful article: