My sex education at school was a nightmare, and the worst thing is that at the time, I thought it was great. With the benefit of hindsight, I realised that all they did was the routine “Don’t get pregnant,” spiel (there’s a reason the Mean Girls quote struck such a chord) and showed us some nasty pictures of herpes. They also talked us through a few different types of contraception (though they neglected the implant and the IUD because pffft who needs options, right?) and showed us a video of a woman giving birth. Oh, and a video of a man ejaculating. That was it. That was the lot.
A lot was missing. Gay relationships, and gay and lesbian intercourse. The gender spectrum. Relationships, both safe ones and abusive ones. And where oh where was the great big, flashing billboard that I really, desperately needed to tell me that if a man grabs me by the head and forces me to perform oral sex on him, that’s not just “a bit of fun”, it’s rape?
It sounds obvious now, doesn’t it? But there were so many buts at the time. But I’m in his bedroom. But he’s my friend. But I was flirting with him. But, but, but this is what girls do for boys, isn’t it? This is fun, right?
This story gets better, though. Once he was done, I was granted a brief reprieve before he asked me for sex. That’s nice, isn’t it? He asked. I said no.
He had sex with me anyway. And that is the story of how I lost my virginity, at the age of fifteen. To a rapist, who didn’t even seem to know he was one. He didn’t look, or act, like a rapist beforehand. He wasn’t some creepy, lecherous stranger in a back alley on my walk home. He was a friend. I knew his parents. We sent each other funny texts during class. How could he be a rapist?
But he was, and I know that now. I just didn’t know it then.
Schools have a duty to children. They have a duty to protect them. They can do this in so many ways, but teaching consent as a fundamental principle of sex education could be a cornerstone of turning the tide of sexual abuse against women. If young girls are told that there is no situation in which they cannot say no, if young boys are told that consent must be enthusiastic and fully informed, not coerced, we can help change centuries of reinforced attitudes about what it means to engage in sexual relationships.