Why Teaching Sexual Consent Is Essential To Ending Rape Culture

January 5, 2016  |  

Image Source: Shutterstock

Image Source: Shutterstock

On a side note: Let’s talk about sexual consent.

And no, we are not just talking about it because of Bill Cosby.

We are talking about it because based on a number of conversations I have had with the populace both online and off, I can tell that quite a few of us do not have a clue about what it means to explicitly give or receive permission before we engage in sexual activities (including kissing, touching and intercourse) with another human being.

And this is kind of important because sexual assault is a crime…

For instance, many are under the impression that if someone offers you a mood-altering drug, and you willingly accept it, then you basically consent to every action that happens following the consumption of the pill.

While it is conceivable that a person who accepts a mood-altering drug might be interested in a sexual relationship, not everyone who takes drugs is “asking for it.”

Many people are also under the impression that a person has given consent to be sexually assaulted by virtue of being in an active sexual relationship, or previously having sexual relations with the person who assaulted them.

That is also false.

There are other beliefs that many of us have about consent that are not very accurate and are potentially dangerous. And while there are tons of resources already available to help us all understand better what consent is and how to apply it to our lives (like here, here, here and this great Nigerian Jollof Rice consent video here…just to name a few), I am beginning to wonder if just having the information readily available is enough?

Maybe it’s not enough to tell folks to “Just Google it.” Lord knows what they might return with. Perhaps it is time we start drilling into people’s heads the importance of no means no. And maybe, just maybe, we need to start doing it as early as preschool and in all of the schools across America.

Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking: Isn’t this topic a little to heavy for children? Personally, I don’t believe that it is as children too can find themselves victims and perpetrators of unwanted sexual advances. But teaching consent isn’t a sex talk. And teaching consent is not only about showing folks how to effectively communicate their boundaries and wants, but also showing people how to navigate through situations when the “yes” or “no” is ambiguous.

As noted by Michelle Dominique Burk in a post for Everyday Feminism:

The way consent has been framed for most children — in cases where it is explicitly addressed — is that we tell kids something along the lines of “If someone says ‘no,’ then you need to listen to them.”

While this is an important lesson, it is normally as far as the discussion goes.

And simply couching all aspects of consent into this one no-means-no phrasing misses several key components of consent that are essential for kids to learn and employ as they start developing interpersonal relationships.

Discussing consent with a child in only this way proposes that “no” is the only form of non-consent available. This isn’t true, and when children learn about consent in this way, they can grow up with a sense of ambiguity about what constitutes consent.

Because discussing all aspects that encompass boundaries and consent can seem incredibly overwhelming – especially when trying to explain them to a child – many adults shy away from talking to kids about consent in a way that is comprehensive.

However, discussing consent with children in a way that acknowledges its various facets is hugely important because as children go through adolescence and then adulthood, the way that they have learned about consent as a child will inform how they interact with other adults and children in their own interpersonal relationships.

It should be noted that last year, California became the first state to mandate sexual consent lessons be required in high school sex education classes, which is a great start. But in all honesty, it’s nowhere close to where we need to be as a society.

And based on a lot of comments that I have been reading online, folks are going to find themselves in some serious trouble. While I am certain that some of the “folks” behind some of these comments are actual predators, I have to also acknowledge that some of the misinformation from those who aren’t comes from living in a culture that 1. does not value women and 2. treats rape as the norm.

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