Let's Talk About: Consent
Consent is something that is being talked about more and more these days, and rightly so. It’s a topic that should be discussed within a multitude of contexts, and particularly during sex and relationships education.
In recent years, movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have brought into the spotlight the horrifying experiences many people around the world have been subject to, some of which could have been prevented with the application of consent based education. Whilst many people argue that consent is a ‘grey area’ when it comes to sex and relationships, this is a misconception that must be challenged. There is no such thing as a grey area when it comes to consent, if someone says no to something, or you don’t ask their permission first, you simply do not proceed. The only thing that we must question when it comes to consent, is why we do not take the opportunity to teach children from as early an age as possible the ins and outs of consent, as it is in fact a very simple concept to grasp.
One of the best ways to understand consent, is outlined in the video ‘Consent Is Simple As Tea’ by Blue Seat Studios below.
Rather than looking at consent from the perspective of initiating sexual activity, it is looked at from the perspective where sex is replaced with a cup of tea. For example, if you offer a person a cup of tea and they decline, you wouldn’t then force that person to drink a cup of tea. It’s as simple as that. The video goes through nearly every scenario imaginable in which a person may not want a cup of tea (or sex), such as agreeing to a cup of tea when offered, and then changing their mind after it is prepared for them. Whilst this may be frustrating, you wouldn’t force a person to drink the tea when they’ve changed their mind, just like you wouldn’t force a person to have sex if they initially agreed whilst you were out on a date, but then changed their mind when you got home.
Consent education is a vital topic to be covered during SRE, as it can help people to identify when something is wrong during a relationship. Research has shown that many adults wished they had received consent based SRE when they were at school, as it would have helped them to sooner identify when they were in an abusive or coercive relationship themselves. Instead, the lack of discussion and education regarding consent meant that many felt they did not know if they should be seeking help, and at the time were even unaware that they were in an abusive or coercive relationship.
Additionally, consent should be discussed with children outside of the topic of sex and relationships, as it’s important to teach children that any interaction with other people should be done with consent in mind, in order to teach children about the importance of personal boundaries. Lucy Adams, a trustee and volunteer at Gateshead Youth Council who has delivered consent education workshops in the past says,
“It's important to cover consent with children because it affects them from a young age. It enables them to be more aware of people around them and how they impact them, but it also gives them more control over their own bodies and lives, whether it's giving someone a hug or taking food from someone's plate. Consent doesn't only apply to sex, it is a huge part of our every day lives and we should be talking to children and young people about it from a much younger age.”
This is why starting consent based education at an early age is so important for today’s generation. As we learn from the movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, we need to rectify our education system so that we are able to teach children from a young age how important consent is. Whilst some of us may struggle with the idea of talking to children about such serious topics at such a young age, it is important to remember that they are life saving topics, and mustn't be shied away from. Time and time again children become victims themselves and many experience abuse or coercion later on in life, so we must provide the vital education they need that gives them the knowledge to identify when a relationship isn’t okay, and give them the power and confidence to speak up and seek help. By doing so, maybe then we will begin to see some change in the world; there will be less talk of ‘the grey area’ in consent, and more talk of speaking up for what is right, because with education we have the power to change the world.