The theme for Sexual Health Week this year is Consent: Do You Get It? In this blog, 19-year-old Brook Champion Elise Perks shares her experiences of consent education at school and university, how she thinks it could be improved, and tells us why we need to normalise conversations about consent amongst our friends and family.
Consent is nothing new to us, we’ve been practicing it since we were born in many different ways. What I’d like to know is why its existence isn’t continued in later conversations – particularly in those surrounding sex and relationships. To mark Sexual Health Week 2021 I want to run through some of my experiences of consent education. I’ll also share my top tips on how to maintain a good level of understanding around this topic with your friends and partners, making sure everyone feels safe and comfortable!
In my experience, consent education at school was incredibly limited to the point where, whilst I did leave with a slight understanding, I still felt the need to find more clarification. I’m sure I won’t be the only young person whose only consent education was the ‘Tea’ video. This video essentially stated that if someone does not want a cup of tea or is unable to say whether they want a cup of tea then you shouldn’t give them one. As a 14 year old I found it punchy and effective but it lacked a sense of seriousness. Many people found it a bit of a joke and did not fully understand the message that was being delivered.
As a young person, being taught about consent can leave you with lots of questions, and can lead to looking back at your own past experiences perhaps in a different light. This is why I believe that schools must deliver ongoing consent lessons as part of RSE.
Too often, students will have a session delivered on one day and that will be it for the rest of their schooling career. This needs to change. Individuals need time to think about what they have learnt and develop their own understanding before perhaps wanting more information – information that they may only be able to find online at this point.
It would be ideal if I could say that consent education is more accessible at higher institutions like universities but my personal experience is that information is even less readily available, leaving students feeling vulnerable and forgotten. With increases in sexual assault across many campuses, students need guidance and safe spaces to go to if they feel threatened or in need of advice. Student blog The Tab requested data from over 200 universities across the UK and of the 200 asked, 45 shared a complete set of figures for the past four academic years. Across those universities there has been a combined 112 per cent increase in reports of sexual misconduct.
This shows that universities aren’t doing enough to raise awareness or offer support to those affected by sexual assault and misconduct, so incidences like these will continue to occur.
As a university student myself I find it troubling that many UK establishments fail to have easily accessible resources surrounding consent and sexual wellbeing.
Learning about consent can bring people closer together due to the shared understanding of personal boundaries (both of a sexual and nonsexual nature). It is important to remember that even just having a chat with your friends about what you consider consent to be can help to bring awareness to the topic and can normalise discussions surrounding it.
Movements like #MeToo provide a good starting point for these conversations and can make the subject feel more accessible. Music also often plays a big role in being able to talk about consent, particularly when many songs still contain lyrics that do not seem like they are promoting healthy consensual relationships. From this, you can mention to your friends that you think it’s wrong and how attitudes towards such things should be altered and not promoted in mainstream music. The same can be said for movies and TV shows; perhaps next time you are watching something and either good or bad practice of consent comes up you could use it as an opportunity to open up a chat about this topic.
Something else that I believe is crucial when it comes to being open about consent and if you are comfortable with how it exists within your own life, is having conversations with friends or trusted people about your own relationships. Simple questions to friends like “Are you feeling safe and secure with your partner?” can open many doors. It gives people the opportunity to either say that they are happy and there are no issues or be able to open up and highlight their worries or concerns without having to feel like they are offloading to you.
If you are in a relationship yourself it can be really helpful to have regular check-ups with your partner surrounding consent.
People’s preferences and what they are comfortable with can be fluid and change accordingly. It can be important to make sure you are able to have a healthy dialogue about your relationship as and when you feel it is appropriate.
Conversations regarding sex and consent no longer have to be taboo as long as you and others feel comfortable with bringing it up!