Consent & Personal Boundaries

Regardless of whatever topics you choose to teach the young people in your classes – regardless of what year group they may be in – this topic should be a priority. It is essential that all young people at all ages understand the importance of consent.

It may sound scary – but it isn’t difficult. As part of my role we deliver consent lessons in primary school – to children as young as 4. However, we aren’t talking about sex – we talk about things like tickling and play fighting.

Think about it –

My daughter is 9 (at writing) – still young enough that you can tickle her and she will roll around laughing until she cant breathe and turns blue… it is quite good fun. The thing is, when you tickle a small child, as part of the game they generally scream ‘stop!’ in between uncontrollable giggles… So when my daughter shouts: “stop, stop.. I’m gonna wet myself…!!” I know, this isn’t actually true – she has very good bladder control – and is all part of the game… so should I stop or should I carry on knowing she doesn’t really mean it…?

If I stop I am teaching her really positive messages. I am teaching her that “STOP” and “NO” are important words and should always be listened to… I am teaching her that she is in control of her body and that no one has the right to touch her in a way she doesn’t like or agree to…

Obviously, when I do stop she either thwacks me with a cushion or says “do it again”… but either way it is about reinforcing positive messages for her…

This is a lesson about consent.

So what is consent?

Consent is all about giving someone permission or agreeing to do something.  So when it comes to taking young people on school trips – you will send consent forms home to ask parents to agree to you taking them out for the day.

Now, when it comes to sex… we don’t send consent forms home with our partners for their parent’s to sign… although that might be fun! But it begs the question…

How do you know if someone wants to have sex with you…?

This is a great question… but in fact let’s slow things down a bit…

How do you know if someone wants to kiss you?

Asking young people this is brilliant. They will often mention things like eye contact and body language… you just know… At this point I usually play a bit dumb… and try and get them to explain, poking fun and pulling stupid faces as they explain about playing with their hair (what if they have nits – perhaps that’s why they are fiddling with it?!?); or about crossing their legs towards you (perhaps they actual have arthritis in their hips?!?). The fact is no matter what magazine you pick up, whether it is a lads mag or a girls mag – they will always have two articles in it… “How to get Beach-Body Ready”, and “How to tell if they are really into you…”

The reason being we are simply not very good at this bit!

Not many people are confident enough to brazenly strut across a room and say: “hello, I think you are very attractive, the way the disco lights catch the highlights in your hair… and make your eyes sparkle… you are lovely… I would very much like to kiss you… is that ok…?”

Generally when it comes to that first kiss – we kind of just go for it and hope. You lean in and hope they don’t pull a face and move away swiftly!

This is not very good practice when it comes to consent….

Thing is it get’s worse when you consider sex… generally when you do get young people to explain how you know if someone wants to have sex with you the conversation again, moves along similarly predictable lines…

Once you get over the usual “banter” of… “how short her skirt is”“if she is that type of girl…”, she has a reputation… to name but a few, (notice that all the banter tends to be aimed at girls?); The usual response is… “well you start making out… and then move your hands, feeling them up and stuff and you kind of keep going until someone says stop or you end up having sex…”

This tends to be most people’s experience of a sexual encounter – you keep going until someone says stop. Here lies the problem – This is assumed consent…. we are assuming that if someone doesn’t say NO – then everything must be ok…. unfortunately, there is a massive gap here when it comes to consent – there may be many reasons why one party doesn’t shout “Stop” or “No”, even if they don’t want to have sex…

You may have been enjoying the making out and the feeling each other up – but not ready in that moment for the next step – and yet unable to say anything… If you were in that situation and you told your partner “no” or “stop” – how would they react… yes we hope they would stop (as they should), but how might they feel… rejected perhaps… hurt… confused…?

All of these are natural responses – however, it will most probably also lead to all that nice, fun stuff we were enjoying stopping too… now we both feel awkward and insecure… feeling like we have done something wrong… Sometimes, as a result it is easier to just let things carry on despite whether we feel it is ok.

In this situation, most people wouldn’t say it was rape… but equally it isn’t consent either.

This is only one example – the simple fact that you don’t want to hurt your partner’s feelings or have to deal with their insecurities may be a real reason why someone feels unable to say no at one time or another…. however, now think about if one party is scared, frightened, feeling pressured, coerced, has had sex before, needs a place to stay the night, has a violent partner, wants to save face, is drunk or under the influence of drugs… there are many reasons why someone feels unable to say no… however, this doesn’t mean it is consensual…

Legally in order to give consent you need three things – Capacity – Choice and Freedom.  If you are under the age of consent, under the influence of alcohol or drugs or have SEN then you may not have capacity to agree to sex… If you are being held against your will, in an abusive relationships or a forced marriage you may not have the freedom to say no. Finally, is it a free choice devoid of pressure, coercion or the threat of violence. In these situations, even if you say “yes” aloud it doesn’t necessarily count.

Let us take a step back to the kissing things for a moment…

Not all that long ago, I was in a session at a training provider, working with a group of 17-18 year olds, and we were having the exact same conversation about how’d you know if someone want’s to kiss you… and this lad shouts out “Well it’s the 80-20 rule innit?”

This lad was proper hench, as they say, he was a big stocky lad with loads of tattoos… the kind of guy you would avoid if you were walking about at night on your own…

I asked him what he meant… and these are his words…

“Well, you don’t simply lean in and go for it – that’s an amateur mistake… what if she like, pulls out – like eww no, fuck off… mate, there is no recovering from that… Nah, what you do, is you know… you’re chatting away and you’re like, leaning in a bit, then slowly like… have a quick look at her lips and then back at her eyes like… and then lean in a bit more – but only 80% of the way… Then if she doesn’t go for it, you can style it out like…” at this point, he points off to the side and says “Oh look there’s a squirrel…” As I said, these are his words…. He continued, “So, you’re leaning in 80% of the way, and then she has to come the other 20%… you make her kiss you…and then you know like…”

This is by far the best explanation of how to ensure a kiss is consensual I have ever heard, from anyone… young persons and professional alike… I was so impressed that I went home and told one of my friends about it afterwards – she laughed and said “you do realise the 80-20 rule is a Will Smith line from a 00s romantic comedy film called Hitch…!” Which to be fair made me like this lad even more. It makes me very happy that this big, hench, lad sits at home and watches romantic comedies with his mum!

Anyway, you get my point!

For a really good explanation of consent watch this…

The key is to encourage young people to move from a position of assumed consent to instead embracing the notion of Enthusiastic consent – the 80-20 rule… sex should never be something that happens to you – but something you do… it is a verb… something that you both do together as Lacy Turner explains.

Consent Shaking Hands

D()ingIt.Consent (Powerpoint & Lesson plan)

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