What should education programs look like and how can sexual consent be taught effectively?
A recent study by researchers from Kirby Institute and the School of Population Health UNSW Medicine and Health identified several themes that reflected the complexities of sexual consent and the issues of global sex and relationship education.
Conducting a systemic review of studies examining sexual consent education programs for young people, the researchers identified several issues with current sexual consent education, including:
- Many programs were short, one-time, 1-2 hours, and university-based.
- They have often defined consent in the context of the risks and potential negative impacts of sexual activity, as opposed to healthy relationships.
- Programs rarely involved young people in co-design, which is essential to meet their needs.
- Many programs were not inclusive enough and lacked diversity.
The study’s lead author, Dr Allie Carter of the Kirby Institute, said sexual negativity is common in fear-based school sex education.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that we found many sexual consent education programs framing consent in the context of the risks and potential negative impacts of sexual activity. This approach creates stigma and shame and can make it difficult for young people to ask questions and talk about sex and healthy relationships.
When to teach sexual consent
On average, Australians are sexually active between the ages of 16 and 17. Dr Carter said sexual consent education should be taught in an age-appropriate way from primary school to ensure young people understand – before they are sexually active – that every being human has the right to autonomy and self-determination over his own body.
“It’s important to teach young people, including small children, about consent and their bodies as young as possible – long before it has anything to do with sex – building more issues each year. complex,” Dr. Carter said.
“For example, early education may center on learning the correct names of body parts, respecting a child’s choices about touch, teaching children to respect the boundaries of others, asking of consent and the identification and expression of feelings.”
Dr Carter said it can lay the groundwork for open, candid and informative discussions about sexual consent with adolescents, whether it’s helping them develop empathy for others or developing relationship skills. positive.
A whole school approach
The researchers also recommended a whole-school approach to sexual consent education. This approach advocates that a cohesive set of policies, principles, and values regarding consent and respectful relationships be promoted and embodied in a school or college.
“A school-wide approach involves both formal and informal practices and conversations inside and outside the classroom, involving multiple audiences across the school, including parents, teachers and students,” said Olivia Burton, first author of the study, from the School of Population Health.
She said this approach should be used more widely in future programs because reducing violence not only requires educating students, but also changing the culture.
“Education must go beyond the individual and interpersonal level – where one person assaults another – and include a critical discussion of the structural and institutional environments that enable or enable this behavior.”
Address the root cause at the societal level
The researchers said changing the culture of sexual consent needs to be more than relying on schools to implement programs – it needs a cross-sectoral approach to ensure governments invest in programs and policies. progressives to address the root causes of sexual violence at institutional and societal levels and to promote social justice, sexual agency and health.