The Importance of Teaching Sexual Consent to Teens
From L: I work with middle school students teaching sex education. I’ve also had some experiences I would have been better prepared to handle if I’d received more comprehensive sex ed. It’s not that I thought you couldn’t get pregnant if you had sex standing up, or other stuff that some kids actually believe. I needed an understanding of consent and communication skills, as well some basic STI info. (Note: my response talks about sexual nonconsent, so this is a trigger warning for the reader.)
When I was 18 I started having sex with a 25-year-old guy I’d met in the city. Well, I should say, he started having sex with me. I was extremely drunk after our first date and my memory/awareness snapped back into action with him on top of me, having P-V sex, sans condom. After, I asked him to use a condom for next time and he was totally dismissive, giving what my sex ed class should have taught me are classic lame excuses: saying he wasn’t dirty, I didn’t need to worry, we’d already done it anyway, he knew he didn’t have anything and besides, I was on birth control.
Now, I was SUPER into this guy and liked that he was older and lived in the city (can we say power imbalance? a topic that can be challenging to educate on but is super critical). I ended up having sex with him, unprotected, for the whole summer. When I got back to school in the fall, the seriousness of what I’d done sank in. I was terrified I had HIV, but after a lot of intense feelings and an STI test, I determined that I was negative.
I now teach a sex ed class where students learn info that I could have used, such as:
- STIs aren’t always transmitted the first or second time, so it’s never too late to protect yourself.
- Most STIs including HIV have NO symptoms and you don’t have to be “dirty” to have one.
- The ONLY way to know if a person has an STI is to get tested.
It wasn’t until years later that I also started to realize that my experience was sexually abusive, manipulative and an experience of date rape. Even if I hadn’t felt immediately acutely traumatized by what happened, it definitely screwed with me. Coercing a partner into doing something that they feel negative or ambivalent about is NEVER okay and is an abuse of power and trust. Consent, communication skills, and respecting your own boundaries and the boundaries of others are something that kids (and everyone) need to learn about and deeply grasp, just as urgently as STI facts. These are messages and practical skills that I focus on with the kids I work with today. I believe that everyone has to make their own decisions, and I know that I was lucky. My hope though, is that the sex ed lessons I facilitate will be useful for kids I work with in feeling more informed, empowered, and respectful of their own boundaries and bodies and those of others.
In order to illustrate the importance of sex education (and on behalf of SIECUS our fundraising recipient this month), we asked our staff to contribute stories or anecdotes about their own sexual awakening or what kind of sex education they received. Feel free to share your comments on the Moms in Babeland blog and you could win a toy!
- Teens’ Sexual Bill of Rights
- The Sexual Anatomy Alphabet
- What Kids Should Be Learning in School About Sex
- Reality Bites or at Least Knocks Up Teens
- Sexual Health Study for New Moms