When I was at school, the only time I heard the word ‘consent’ was when we had to get parental permission to go on a school trip. Somewhere between primary school and high school it went from being a ‘permission slip’ to being a ‘consent form’, and that was the extent of my familiarity with the idea of ‘consent’.
How I wish I’d known more.
Like most young people, my early sexual experiences involved a lot of awkwardly figuring stuff out. Most of the time it was fun and exciting but, as is the case for an alarmingly large number of young people, some of my experiences didn’t involve a great deal of consent.
Over the years, as I’ve done more and more work in this area, I’ve become very familiar with the stats. In New Zealand, 24 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men report experiencing sexual violence. Up to one in three girls will have had an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16, and 70 per cent of those experiences will involve unwanted genital contact.
It paints a pretty scary picture, especially given that non-consensual experiences can have a significant impact over a long period of time. I know that in my own life I’ve struggled to deal with some of the things that happened to me, from my earliest non-consensual experience at age 13 to my most recent, which happened only a few years ago. Far too many people, particularly women, are being victimised, and it’s not good enough.
So what can we do to turn the stats around? One vital element is better sexuality education. In Kiwi schools, it is not compulsory to teach consent as part of the sexuality education curriculum. In fact, it’s not compulsory to teach anything, as schools can choose what they teach (in consultation with parents, which must occur every two years) and parents can withdraw their children from the lessons at any time.
There are of course those who will argue that sexuality education should be delivered only by parents, and while I disagree, I think the importance of teaching consent stands in any context. Whether consent training is delivered by teachers or parents, it needs to be done. Which is why it was an absolute no-brainer to include an episode on consent in The REAL Sex Talk. Whether young people watch the episode on their own devices, in their classrooms or in front of the family TV, we don’t really care. We just hope that they’ll watch it.
If I’d known about consent as a teenager, understood that it was my inalienable right to say ‘no’ and to stand up for myself, and known that I too deserved to enjoy sexual encounters, it probably would’ve saved me some heartache.
I hope that the consent episode of The REAL Sex Talk will equip Kiwi teens better than the education system equipped me.
You can watch the consent episode of The REAL Sex Talk here.Support Villainesse