Ruby, 15

 

My two lessons of sex ed taught me two things: how to avoid STDs and pregnancy in the ‘normal’ heterosexual relationship. There was little or no information on anything else – strange, considering the emphasis put upon sex and the amount of sexual imagery we see everyday in our society. In a culture- especially within schools- where it is common to blame the victim, information on consent is vital. Personally, I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people knowledgeable and open about these topics should I want or need to know, however other friends would have to actively seek out this information if they needed it, and in doing so also open themselves up to the stigma it can unfortunately bring. By educating students in consent and the issues surrounding it, not only can incidences of non-consensual behaviour hopefully be reduced, but also the stigma victims of rape and harassment are subjected to can be reduced too, results which are desperately needed as consent becomes increasingly assumed, unless it is clearly and verbally denied.

Sophie, 20

 

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.

D.J

 

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.

The importance of this measure, or campaign, should be evident to every thinking human being. Others will have spoken eloquently, added personal anecdote, or cited research and studies, and I add my support of those as well.
I would like to add a view on one area, easily overlooked and even somewhat daunting to figure how to measure, convey, or educate. Nonetheless I feel it is one that crucially underpins this and perhaps other topics to pass on to children as they grow, and needed in our hopefully healthier society of the future.
When we teach consent, it will be tempting (and surely come under well-meaning pressure) to reduce it to a near-checklist. Asking ‘what must this cover?’, or rote answers, can lead that way. Consent is one part of a bigger theme: considering others feelings. While consent impacts sex and intimate space, the awareness that others feelings may need explicit checking, that others may not always feel able to speak or feel safe to do so (and what might be done if aware of the possibility), other people may see the same thing radically differently than we do, use words or body language radically different than we do, have hidden fears that lead them to act outwardly in ways hat are not their inward reality… These apply to consent. They drive consent. They guide us when a checkbox of ‘did they consent’ may not be the right answer. They inform us to look for real, that double checking may be relevant, that surprises may lurk, that sometimes even consent may not be assuring enough and to decide ‘no’ out of caution regardless.
When you teach consent, please add my hope, that we teach it as one outcrop of a far more fundamental perspective that informs consent, empathy, protects against well intentioned disaster, and comprehends difference. Please, please, *please*, teach these things, when consent is taught.

Caty, 15

 

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.

Anon, 15

 

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.  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.  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.  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”?  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.  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.  Consent is important because if we don’t teach it, there are many, many effects.

Jo, 31

 

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.

We never got taught about consent at school – we were never told that no-one else has a right to our bodies. It’s utterly terrifying, in retrospect. No-one ever said, if someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to put up with it. I know it sounds really simple when you put it like that, but we were never sat down by an adult and given this basic information. Instead, in my school as in many others, we girls were viewed by many of the lads in our year as a kind of communal property, to be manhandled as they saw fit – and we let it happen, as that’s just the way things were.
I think a really good session or two (or preferably more!) on consent, on bodily autonomy, and on respecting others could have made a big difference. I’m frankly amazed that schools aren’t obliged to teach all their pupils what consent is – surely, in terms of schools’ duty to safeguard pupils, letting them know their own rights is a must? Imagine how powerful it would be for a group of 13 year old pupils to hear that – for the 13 year old girl whose older boyfriend wants her to do things she doesn’t feel ready to do, or for the 13 year old boy who’s being abused at home but hasn’t told anyone because he thought he’d somehow brought it on himself.
Teaching about consent is a no-lose situation: there is literally no downside for anyone – apart from abusers, that is, and excuse me if I shed no tears for them. If the government really wants to protect children, it should stop wasting time looking into technological “solutions” – as if any 13 year old with a smartphone won’t work out how to bypass age-limited controls in five seconds flat, in any case – and instead put consent on the curriculum. Tell children and young people flat out that they are entitled to full control over their own bodies – it’s a lesson they need to hear. It’s the only right and moral thing to do. Are you listening, Messrs Gove and Cameron?

Louise, 19

 

The campaign for consent is hugely important, not only for children and teenagers, but for adults also.  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.  My first lesson on sex-ed was in science where we were taught how babies were made.  We then had another lesson in PSHE where the school nurse told us about contraception.  The focus was mostly on condoms, and other contraception’s were only briefly mentioned.  It was all very alien to my 14 year old friends and I.  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.  This program was on channel 4 at the time and was called “The Sex Education Show.”  This program was vital to us and actually taught us about all different contraception’s and STDs.  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.  Nothing was said to us about saying no and not crossing the line.  Consent is imperative to sexual education, it is imperative we teach teenagers that it is ok to say no to something they don’t feel comfortable with or something they simply don’t want to do.

They also need to be taught, not just about saying no, but also about hearing an enthusiastic yes.  Many teenagers, and also lots of adults, think that because they didn’t hear a no then that means yes.  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.  She was out with him once when he unexpectedly stuck his hand down her jeans and underwear.  Looking back on it, we didn’t realise exactly how awful that was.  Of course I told her he shouldn’t have done it and it was totally out of order of him to do so, but we didn’t think about it as being sexual assault, though that’s exactly what it was.

If we had all been taught properly about consent, I don’t think that would have happened to my friend and I don’t think situations like that would have happened to many other teenagers out there who also experience that level of violation.

I know I don’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.

Sally, @Arthurstodgyn

 

As a peripatetic music teacher and someone whose secondary school sex education in the second half of the 1990s was woefully inadequate regarding consent, I support Campaign 4 Consent’s campaign for the mandatory teaching of consent in schools and appropriate training for teachers.
My four years’ experience of teaching in primary schools has shown me that primary schools generally get it right when it comes to teaching their students that their bodies are their own and if someone does or says something that makes them feel uncomfortable, or asks then to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they can speak up and expect to be listened to. From talking to current and recent secondary school students, and from my own experience, I have observed that this good work done in primary schools is not being consistently built on by secondary schools–where it is, it is only because pupils at a particular school have won some opaque lottery by happening to attend a school with a head teacher who understands the importance of teaching consent and provides appropriate training for teachers delivering sex education–and this perpetuates generation after generation of people who habitually violate each others’ consent and don’t know what to do when their consent is violated.
Making consent a mandatory part of the secondary National Curriculum alongside compulsory training for teachers delivering sex education needs to be coupled with a shift from a the view of sex as *only* penis-in-vagina (PiV) sex in the National Curriculum, as this PiV-centric model excludes all but a small minority of heterosexual, cisgendered people who never take part in, for example, oral or anal sex, manual sex, or cyber sex. If we don’t label oral sex as sex, then we can’t explain that oral sex without consent is rape. Another problem with teaching a PiV-centric definition of sex is that students who have or want to have sex that doesn’t involve one penis and one vagina will think that consent doesn’t apply to them. That’s queer, transgender, non-binary gender, kinky, polyamorous, gay, intersex, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, swinger, and other groups of students to whom the message of PiV-centric consent may not be relevant. In fact, a sex-centric model of consent is problematic and irrelevant to, for example, asexual students who engage or wish to engage in non-sexual intimate touch with others, and any student who ever wants to touch another human being or enter their personal space.
As it stands, the current National Curriculum is failing students when it comes to teaching consent and contributing to a culture where rape and sexual assault is treated as par for the course of being a (female, black, bisexual, transexual, or any group that isn’t a white, cisgendered, straight, monogamous man) human being. This isn’t good enough and it needs to be fixed urgently.