Jenni Weston

 

I have been a secondary school teacher for 13 years. It never ceases to amaze me that there is no compulsory sex and relationships education in our schools. With such high teenage pregnancy rates and an increase in STIs this is surely a public health issue. Furthermore the prevalence of rape and sexual assault illustrate the urgent need for education on consent in sexual relationships and respect for women.

As a teacher I frequently witness the lack of guidance young people are getting when it comes to sexual relationships and health. What I see supports the claim that many young people receive much of their sexual education from pornography rather than in a safe, sensible and guided fashion. I see worrying amounts of sexism and sexual harassment and a culture in which girls are objectified and commodified. Recently we had an incident in which a Year 9 boy was making obscene comments to girls in his class, telling them they should give him oral sex. This, sadly, is not uncommon. The proliferation of internet pornography means that young people have access to increasingly hardcore sexual scenes and yet this ‘education’ is not supported by information about sexual health, consent and relationships. I find this extremely worrying. Boys frequently make sexist comments about and to girls as well as often feeling entitled to touch them without their consent. There was a recent trend in my school of year 10 boys grabbing girls’ breasts. We have had many incidents of ‘sexting’ and I feel this reflects the pressure that girls are under to conform to hyper-sexualised stereotypes. Those incidents that have come to our attention have done so because they have been followed by boys sharing naked images of the girl and by bullying of the girl in question. That education on contraception is lacking is borne up by high teen pregnancy rates. A colleague recently had a conversation with some sixth form girls about career paths in which she talked about the role of a pharmacist and the morning after pill was mentioned; the girls had no idea what the morning after pill was. Alongside the sexualisation of childhood in which young people are under immense pressure to be sexual beings there is also enormous ignorance about the aspects of sex that will protect young people and keep them safe; consent, respect and sexual health. I believe that this needs to be addressed urgently.

Laura

In school we are educated on the physical implications and effects (pregnancy, STI’s etc) but not so much on the mental and emotional effects sex can cause and I think this is something that needs to change drastically. One of the biggest and saddening facts for me is that many girls / women grow up thinking that having sex with a man is going to make them like them or seem more desirable when the reality is quite the opposite. I’ve been there and had to learn the hard way that sex shouldn’t be used as a tool or a power trip, it should be a healthy and pleasurable experience relished by both parties, whether that be in a serious or casual relationship.  We should only have to learn the easy-way, and by teaching girls and boys from a young age about body autonomy and that no means no, no matter what the circumstance, I believe we will be striving towards a future where instances of rape and sexual abuse are no longer the commonplace.

Izzy

 

I recently went back to my old secondary school to speak to my former politics teacher, who also happens to be the head of PSHCE. Campaign4Consent really caught my attention, as I feel the lack of proper sex education in schools has been a persistent issue for many years that has been overshadowed. In fact, I feel that voices of under-18s are often overshadowed, and it is only now that we’re seeing a real rise in youth-led activism. Having looked beforehand at some of the stories on the C4C website, as well as having my own experiences, I was really saddened to see the state of sex education in schools around the country. The general consensus was that schools were teaching about how to use a condom, how not to get STDs and generally just how to be safe during sex. While this is good, it’s certainly nowhere near good enough. As well as getting consent put in the National Curriculum, the campaign suggests that teachers explain what consent isn’t, as well as introducing a sex education syllabus that includes LGBT relationships. As a gay woman, I know that this kind of information would have been invaluable when I was 12 or 13. My teacher pointed out that something like 72% of 11 year olds watch pornography. To think that it is 2013 and this is what the children of our future are being taught shows that the attitudes that result in sexual assault later on in life are instilled from an early age. Which is why this campaign is so important.

But all hope is not lost! Things are looking up for the children of today. Firstly, the government have finally acknowledged that something needs to be done. Secondly, my teacher seemed to be really passionate about making sure that these things were filtered into the curriculum too, and after attending the UK Feminista Summer School I know that lots of teachers are too. My old politics teacher is introducing consent and LGBT relationships to kids between 12-14 as the school have given her permission to adapt the curriculum to suit the ever-changing needs of children today. I think this is really positive step for my school and I hope that others can take example in following it. It’s very difficult for some teachers to do this because however passionately they feel about changing the curriculum, and I know that lots do, it’s not always an option. But after seeing the changes that are happening in my school, I’m hopeful that we’re about to witness an even bigger change that will positively affect young boys and girls all over Britain.

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.

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.