The subject of consent is not one that is touched upon greatly in the Irish education system. Mainly because to broach the topic of consent, is to talk about sex. So, let me rephrase that. Sex is not touched upon greatly in the Irish education system, unless you count an incredibly awkward and scarring video you watch in Sixth class, followed by a very brief and equally awkward overview of contraception about five years later, and about five years too late.
Ignoring the subject of sex in Secondary Schools does more harm than good. It perpetuates the idea that sex is a taboo topic, something that can’t be spoken about or discussed. Not talking about sex until students are at the age of consent, or near it, is not good enough. With the huge availability of information available from Dr. Google, young teenagers can, and will, take their sex education into their own hands to learn the things they need to know. This can result in dodgy Cosmopolitan sex tips, to wildly unrealistic porn films. Neither of these resources are viable, nor helpful, for a healthy sex life. They do not tell teenagers what they need to know.
It seems the educators in Ireland adopt the “hear no evil, see no evil” approach to sex education. If they don’t bring it up, if they ignore it, the students won’t know, and they won’t have sex and everyone will live happily ever after.
Just because the topic is ignored in S.P.H.E class, or the fact that there is a legal age, does not stop teenagers engaging in sex before they are 17. If the amount of under-age drinking is anything to go by, educators need to be aware of how sexually active our young nation is. Giving them the old-fashioned approach of not talking about it or teaching abstinence, is only going to result in higher numbers of under-age, uneducated and unprotected sex.
My own sex education involved a breakdown of the different kinds of contraception available for me, but not where to get them, or how they affect my body. It involved a film about DIY abortions in 1950s Britain, but not a discussion on abortion itself. Most importantly, It involved nothing about consent, and how necessary it is.
Trinity College Dublin, much like Cambridge and Oxford across the pond, are debating whether to introduce mandatory sexual consent lessons for incoming first year students. And, for some reason, this is causing uproar.
Many are insulted that the college feel the need to introduce these classes. That it’s calling the student “potentional rapists”. That they don’t need to be taught not to rape. Well, to them I say boo-fucking-hoo. Trinity are not targeting one specific person, they are not calling anyone a rapist or molester. What they are trying to do is inform students about consent, which is not always black and white. So, I’m sorry if the introduction of consent classes to make students aware of the necessity of consent in sex offends you, you must obviously be well versed in the subject.
There is also another issue with the fact the classes are mandatory…. Because making all students learn that safe sex is consensual sex is a bad thing. OKAY.
The arguments against the classes are, in my eyes, futile. You may know “no means no”, but what’s the harm in a refresher course? Particularly in Ireland where the S.P.H.E. classes in many secondary schools do not offer students practical advice.
We are constantly told what to eat, to get our 5 a day, what is good for us and bad for us. There is an industry based on it. We all learn what is good and bad for our bodies through these lessons and (sometimes) incessant preaching. If we weren’t told, how else were we supposed to know?
No one gets offended at having to learn about nutrition in school, that they don’t need to be taught not to be unhealthy, or obese. But yet, it happens. The obesity rates in the country are shocking, just like the sexual assault statistics. The purpose of both the nutrition classes, and consent classes, is to educate, inform and prevent.
Students can’t be educated if they’re not spoken to. Consent is one thing that is never discussed in class. It is assumed that if you’re having sex, it is consensual. There is nothing about checking with your partner that they want to do the sexy dance with you, nor is there talk about listening to what they say.
There is no education about consent. There is no mention of the word. And there needs to be. It doesn’t mean that they think everyone in the room is a potential rapist, it means that that they want these students to go out into the world equipped with the necessary knowledge to have safe, consensual sex.
The topic of consent is one that needs to be discussed. It is maybe even more important to tackle this incredibly essential part of sex in young adults, as many sexual encounters will happen in the presence of, or under the influence of, alcohol and drugs. With reduced ability in the senses and perhaps a skewered judgement on a situation, it is vitally important that students know the importance of consent.
Everyone knows the basics; no means no. Applying that logic to a non-sexual situation, it generally tends to work. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you need to tell your little brother a few more times with a lot more force that no, he can’t stay up till half 11. Sometimes that girl will keep asking to borrow that dress, even if you tell her no. And, as disgusting and horrifying as it is, sometimes “no” doesn’t work in a sexual situation. Or maybe it’s not there at all. But that doesn’t mean “yes”, either.
Check with someone that they want to have sex with you. That’s all it takes. Just like outside of the bedroom, people can be slow to speak up when they are uncomfortable. And for something as intimate as sex, it is crucial that both parties are happy with what is about to happen. It is these blurred lines that need to be addressed, and highlighted. Treat consent like condoms, they may not be the best thing in the world, but they’re necessary for safe sex. Double-checking with someone could save both you, and them, from unnecessary and undesirable consequences, to put it lightly.
I am fortunate and proud to go to college that advocates so strongly for safe, consensual sex throughout the year, with the slogan “Consent Is Sexy” permeating the campus. The activism around the subject really opened my eyes to how little I knew about consent, or even thought about it. I will put my hand up and say I didn’t know about consent before I came to college. I am proud to say my college educated me, but ashamed to say my country’s sexual education system failed me in my teens.
While we may not have gotten the sexual education we needed when we were teenagers, I commend Trinity College for taking the steps needed to give it to us when we are adults, and I sincerely hope that these classes are the start of something much much bigger in sexual education.