The new sex education curriculum for schools in Ireland will now introduce the concept of consent and several other delicate issues to students. According to a report in The Times, pupils would also be taught about healthy relationships, contraception, internet safety and gay, lesbian and transgender issues. Some parts of the existing curriculum have not changed since 1999. Ireland will be setting up a fine example for education boards and governments across the globe, if it does go on to teach consent to students as a part of its sex education curriculum.
It is a golden chance for us to mould young minds in their formative years to understand consent and groom them into a sensitized generation.
Knowledge of consent is as important as learning about sex
Sex-ed helps answer so many questions in the adolescent’s minds. It prepares them for the hormonal turbulence they will face in years ahead. It also helps them understand the consequences of unprotected sexual intercourse. But with changing social norms, it is becoming increasingly essential to add sense and sensibility to the curriculum. As much as teen-aged students need to learn about sex, they should realise the importance sexual consent. Adolescents, both male and female should be aware of their roles in this matter. Boys should not only understand that it is wrong to force someone into sexual subjugation, they also need to understand the meaning of “No”. A refusal to a sexual encounter, no matter how meek or soft, is in the end, a refusal. Boys need to accept that and back off.
On the other hand, we also need to teach girls to make their stance clear. In recent times, there have been numerous cases where women have gotten into unwanted sexual encounters, only to regret them later. This happened because they could not bring themselves to say a loud and clear “No.”
Thus it becomes an equal responsibility of both partners to be clear on each other’s stance.
However, when it comes to our country, teaching consent alone, may not bring in the changes that we desire.
With an adolescent population of over 243 million, it is vital to teach young adults about sex and consent. But we live in a society where patriarchy represses women’s rights socially, economically and sexually. So, how does one broach the issue of sexual consent? How do you teach a boy, who has grown up believing that he is superior to his female counterparts, that she has an equal say in the matter of sex? Moreover, how do you convince a young adult girl, who is being hegemonized into becoming a submissive creature, that she has a right to say “No”?
Merely teaching consent will not be enough, unless we start making some constructive changes in our social framework.
We need to teach our boys that girls are their equals, and we need to stand by our girls when they learn to say “No”. This awareness of equality is crucial for understanding consent. Our boys should understand how sexual exploitation harms girls. It will then become easier to teach them about consent. In our society, consent is interlinked with awareness about sexual desires and with the gender hierarchy. So raising awareness about sexual consent will not work on its own, unless we stimulate a change in our social dictates.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.