A discussion of consent is a crucial aspect of schooling right now, and both senior campuses are ensuring that the young men and women have a strong understanding of what it means to give and receive consent – which is not always simple transaction.
Although the term itself is a simple one, consent meaning of course to give permission to something, consent in terms of intimate relationships and sexuality can be complicated and we need to ensure all the young people we work with are fully versed around their rights and responsibilities. This is a great message to reinforce at home as well as via school – and many of these are conversations you can begin with in simple ways no matter how old your son or daughter is. Another recent article has some suggestions on this.
For example, we ensure that both boys and girls understand that consent should be both verbal and enthusiastic. Unlike the old saying, silence should never be taken as consent. Not speaking up (which may occur for a number of reasons, some of which I will outline below and others in subsequent articles) does not mean that a persona accepts or invites what is happening – and in fact tends to indicate the opposite. Consent should instead be wholehearted and enthusiastically given. A very casual phrase I have used both in assemblies and in sexual education sessions with our boys – if it is not a “hell yes!”, then treat it as a “no”. Body language can also be a good indicator of whether a person is comfortable or not, and looking at this will be a key feature of activities around our wellbeing theme of noticing.
We also teach our students in particular that they deserve enthusiastic consent – that everyone has the absolute right to be both comfortable and positive about any big steps they are taking. All intimate acts – from kissing to sexting and sexual activity of any kind are acts of trust. We are making a big leap of faith that the other person will behave respectfully and kindly towards us. We must take that act of trust seriously.
We have also spoken about the need for conversation around consent – and continued conversation. While it may not seem very romantic to be continually checking in on whether a partner is okay or enjoying what is happening – this is precisely what we need to do. Consent can be withdrawn at any stage – and again, we want to show respect and ensure that any intimate contact is a loving and pleasurable experience for the person we are with. We have also recommended that conversations about becoming sexually active with a partner not occur in the moment – and that often regretful decisions are made in a moment of passion or pressure. These are big choices to navigate – and we need time to think about them and process them to know what is right for us.
And if you do not feel ready to have mature conversations about the possibility of sex… then this is probably a good indication that you are not ready for sex itself.
Discussing impairment through drugs and alcohol is also a key part of considering consent. A very drunk person for example is deemed legally unable to give consent – and yet you are accountable for any actions taken that violate another person physically while drunk. It is important for young people, who are often drawn to experimenting with substances, consider this. It is never a good idea to diminish our capacity to give consent, especially around those we don’t know well. It comes back to trust again.
There is a video that many educators use to help young people around understanding consent – which is very useful even though many will already be familiar with it. This video compares consent with making a cup of tea – and points out how ludicrous it is to get angry with someone for changing their mind about tea, or for falling asleep just as you are making tea or for choosing not to have tea this week even though they did last week. It’s simple and gets a few giggles (as honestly turning up on someone’s doorstep with a steaming cup of tea sounds very silly) – but the messages are incredibly serious and help to see what a violation NOT LISTENING can be. Please take the time to have a watch:
Recently, Kate Sackville a columnist for The Age took this tea metaphor further, looking at the concept of pleasure. You can read the whole article here, or simply share in some of these extracts I shared with senior students recently….
“Kids, different people like tea in different ways. Some like tea with sugar; some like it black and very hot. Some like to drink tea every day, others only want it occasionally. Plenty are happy with a teabag, others prefer something fancier, like Earl Grey. And some people enjoy brews that are exotic and not to everyone’s taste: fermented yak butter tea, anyone?”
As well as…. “Now, you can’t know what kind of tea you like until you’ve experimented a bit. Having said that, you shouldn’t try tea unless you’re really keen to, and you shouldn’t try tea at all if the whole idea doesn’t appeal. Despite our rampantly tea-obsessed culture and media, it is perfectly fine to reject tea altogether!”
And furthermore: “But learning about different types of tea is a process. You absolutely can, and definitely should, drink tea alone to discover what you enjoy. If you decide to drink tea with another person, you are both responsible for making the experience pleasurable. If you offer another person tea, find out how they like it; if you are accepting someone else’s tea, make your preferences known”.
And finally…. “There are lots of ways to learn how to make tea well. Please remember, though, that porn is not one of them. In porn, the tea is often quite unorthodox, and not to the taste of the average drinker”.
There are plenty of great messages here – focusing on the enjoyment of ahem, drinking tea (or having sex) which of course is what we want for young people – for them to grow into a place where they have healthy functioning sex lives with people they care about. Should they want to! I love that Sackville acknowledges a “rampantly tea-obsessed culture”, reminding us that our teens are exposed to sexualized images from a very young age, and learn through this some false and damaging beliefs like sex is something all teenagers do, you’re abnormal if you are not interested (yet or ever – there are plenty of functioning and happy asexual people in society) and sex should look like it does in porn. All of this is false!! Consent should be about feeling comfortable and enjoying your experience. Or not having it at all! Not all of us want or like tea!
Indeed the tea analogy is growing fast as more and more use it for further discussion. Recently Karen Milkens-Hendry from Independent Schools Victoria encouraged us to consider the following tea-based analogies:
I might even add to this myself that:
Is it time for you perhaps to discuss tea, or sex, with your young person? If you do – feel free to comment with any more tea-based analogies you find useful!
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