Edited by Anna, 17
Edited by Anna, 17
My sex education at school was a nightmare, and the worst thing is that at the time, I thought it was great.Â With the benefit of hindsight, I realised that all they did was the routine â€œDonâ€™t get pregnant,â€ spiel (thereâ€™s a reason the Mean Girls quote struck such a chord) and showed us some nasty pictures of herpes.Â 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.Â Oh, and a video of a man ejaculating.Â That was it.Â That was the lot.
A lot was missing.Â Â Gay relationships, and gay and lesbian intercourse.Â The gender spectrum.Â Relationships, both safe ones and abusive ones.Â 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, thatâ€™s not just â€œa bit of funâ€, itâ€™s rape?
It sounds obvious now, doesnâ€™t it?Â But there were so many buts at the time.Â But Iâ€™m in his bedroom.Â But heâ€™s my friend.Â But I was flirting with him. But, but, but this is what girls do for boys, isnâ€™t it?Â This is fun, right?
This story gets better, though.Â Once he was done, I was granted a brief reprieve before he asked me for sex.Â Thatâ€™s nice, isnâ€™t it?Â He asked.Â I said no.
He had sex with me anyway.Â And that is the story of how I lost my virginity, at the age of fifteen. To a rapist, who didnâ€™t even seem to know he was one.Â He didnâ€™t look, or act, like a rapist beforehand.Â He wasnâ€™t some creepy, lecherous stranger in a back alley on my walk home.Â He was a friend.Â I knew his parents. We sent each other funny texts during class.Â How could he be a rapist?
But he was, and I know that now.Â I just didnâ€™t know it then.
Schools have a duty to children. They have a duty to protect them.Â 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.Â 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.
I had the pure luck, as an male adult educated in a different era (1970s and 80s) to end up aware of and sensitive to others feelings, stresses, conflicts and things people couldn’t or wouldn’t easy talk about, and to care for good quality open dialog. That was simple pure fortune (‘there but for the grace of god go I’), and like many traits, requires life experience, peers, educators or caregivers to open ones eyes to its crucial importance.
My sex education so far in school has been fairly informative, although mainly focused on contraception and straight relationships, but we are used to hearing horror stories from other schools and other teenagers in general that theirs has been lacking in a lot of things- including real information on consent. I believe that teaching on consent needs to be more than just a government anti-rape advert being played off YouTube, like most of my lessons, and should be the focus for much of the sex ed as it is so vital. Even though my school has been really quite good for sex education there are still students, in my class at least, who have next to no understanding of what consent is, what it means in a relationship, what it means when someone is under the influence etc. The Campaign4Consent is an important step in a hopefully longer campaign for better sex education in our schools because I know there is many more issues that must be tackled.
When it comes to sex education, I wholeheartedly believe that each generation should be taught not only to understand the importance of contraception – as we are already being taught excellently – but the emotions behind sexual and romantic relationships.Â The problem with failing to inform young people about consent isn’t just the dangerous correlation between that and rising sexual assault cases, it’s also that we are growing up in a society where sexual intercourse is heavily effected by pressure.Â Consent is no longer readily expected, and so people additionally no longer respect it: the general attitude is that someone’s behaviour is consent enough as it is, rather than express agreement.Â It’s terrifying that this kind of attitude is being perpetuated in massive, hit songs like Blurred Lines – after all, who needs consent when everyone knows “you want it”?Â It seems that if you don’t want to have sex, you must be weird, and yet the Campaign4Consent team is sure that that is not only wrong, it’s also unsafe.Â By saying that anyone and everyone’s default feeling is to always want to have sex, it illegitamizes claims of sexual assault and rape, leading to victim blaming.Â Consent is important because if we don’t teach it, there are many, many effects.
I was chatting to a feminist friend recently and she said something that really stuck with me: that having comprehensive and inclusive sex education would help so many feminist causes, from anti-domestic violence campaigns, to anti-homophobic/biphobic/transphobic efforts, to tackling rape myths, to improving young people’s body image… That really chimed with me. I and most of my feminist-inclined friends learned about feminist issues through reading blogs, social media and books, or – if we were lucky – hearing about it from feminist family members or friends. Imagine how much more of a head start we’d all have had if someone had sat us down in school and, for example, taught us about the signs that indicate a relationship is abusive, or that shock makes people react in unpredictable ways, so there’s no one “right way” for a rape survivor to behave during or immediately after the attack.
The campaign for consent is hugely important, not only for children and teenagers, but for adults also.Â What teenagers get taught in sex-ed at school follows with them into their adult lives.
Overall the sexual education I got taught at school was pretty poor.Â My first lesson on sex-ed was in science where we were taught how babies were made.Â We then had another lesson in PSHE where the school nurse told us about contraception.Â The focus was mostly on condoms, and other contraceptionâ€™s were only briefly mentioned.Â It was all very alien to my 14 year old friends and I.Â The nurse blew up a condom and then proceeded to rub Vaseline on it until it popped, very odd.
Luckily my form tutor saved the day slightly when she started playing a program to us during our PSHE lessons.Â This program was on channel 4 at the time and was called “The Sex Education Show.”Â This program was vital to us and actually taught us about all different contraceptionâ€™s and STDs.Â Though one essential thing was missing, and that was the idea of consent.
In our sex-ed lessons nothing at all was said to us about consent.Â Nothing was said to us about saying no and not crossing the line.Â Consent is imperative to sexual education, it is imperative we teach teenagers that it is ok to say no to something they donâ€™t feel comfortable with or something they simply donâ€™t want to do.
They also need to be taught, not just about saying no, but also about hearing an enthusiastic yes.Â Many teenagers, and also lots of adults, think that because they didnâ€™t hear a no then that means yes.Â Everyone has to know that is not the case, an absence of a no is definitely not yes.
I think if me, my friends and the other teenagers I went to school with were taught about consent, then that would have definitely had an effect on some things that went on when I was at school.
When I was 15 one of my friends was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend.Â She was out with him once when he unexpectedly stuck his hand down her jeans and underwear.Â Looking back on it, we didnâ€™t realise exactly how awful that was.Â Of course I told her he shouldnâ€™t have done it and it was totally out of order of him to do so, but we didnâ€™t think about it as being sexual assault, though thatâ€™s exactly what it was.
If we had all been taught properly about consent, I donâ€™t think that would have happened to my friend and I donâ€™t think situations like that would have happened to many other teenagers out there who also experience that level of violation.
I know I donâ€™t want something like that to happen to my nieces, nephews and all the other teenagers out there, and this is why I strongly support the campaign for consent.
Educated young people are safer, happier young people.