What Consent Means and How to Teach It.

Author:Newman, Emily
Position:UP FRONT - Column

The #MeToo and Times Up movements have highlighted how too many men have harassed or assaulted women--and men--throughout the decades and across many professions. Most attention has been focused on analyzing incidents and discussing appropriate consequences. But what about preventing further events? One of the best ways to do that is by educating people--boy, girls, men, and women--about the importance of consent and how it works. We may assume that respect is obvious, but it needs to be taught, emphasized, and demonstrated.

Consent is about giving permission or approval and applies to much more than sex. It's about communicating what contact is wanted and unwanted, understanding where one's boundaries are, and recognizing that each person has the right to make their own decisions, especially decisions concerning their body. "No means no" assumes the default is "go ahead" unless stopped, and it puts the onus on the people who are feeling uncomfortable to speak up to the people making them uncomfortable. We should instead teach "yes means yes," making both parties responsible for expressing consent and understanding what consent entails. The Planned Parenthood website explains that consent is freely given (not pressured), reversible (can change or be taken away), informed (agreed upon), enthusiastic (enjoyable), and specific (not all encompassing).

Opponents of comprehensive sex education programs--particularly Planned Parenthood's Get Real program taught in thirty-one states--argue that it teaches "too much too soon," that informing students how to have safe sex encourages them to be sexually active. However, medically accurate, age-appropriate curriculum has shown to delay sex and improve communication skills for healthy relationships. In January 2018, UNESCO updated its International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education--originally developed in 2009--to include a focus on respect for human rights and gender equality. It outlines curriculum for ages five and up on consent, privacy, and bodily integrity and includes details on the right to decide who can touch your body, understanding unwanted sexual attention, and being in control of what you will or will not do sexually.

Abstinence-only programs are incomplete, inaccurate, and dangerous but are still strongly supported by leading politicians. This includes President Donald Trump, who has cut funding to comprehensive sexual education programs. A recent analysis in Teen Vogue, citing a...

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