Sunday, November 29

Learning about consent? But what are we teaching?

(cross-posted @ the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault blog)

Although I have already attended one high school reunion (guess I'm getting old!), I still have very clear memories of football games, standardized test prep, and the ubiquitous all-school assembly. There was always something festive about being called in to sit in the auditorium, and even though the presentations were usually awful, it was fun to escape the daily grind. Thanks to the conservative leanings of most central PA citizens, I had to sit through my fair share of anti drug/anti drinking/anti sex lectures, and I definitely remember at least one program that involved puppets and a scary "don't have sex or you'll get STDs message."

Why the walk down memory lane?

Well, a co-worker recently sent me a link to an organization that specializes in risk management courses for students.

I found one of their offerings particularly interesting.

The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management offers a 'consent program' for high school students, with a focus on understanding and then obtaining consent in sexual situations.

When I read the overview, I couldn't help imagining what this program might look like in a high school auditorium; a room full of students equally excited by the thought of discussing sex at school and irritated that they have to listen to some awkward guy the entire time.

According to the program, "Conversations about Consent" there are ten things you will learn:

  1. Can men be raped? How?
  2. Does consent have an expiration date?
  3. Can consent be withdrawn? How?
  4. When must consent be given—before, during or after sexual contact?
  5. Are there different levels of sexual interaction to which consent must be specifically given?
  6. What are some comfortable strategies for finding out if someone is interested in sex?
  7. What are some indicators of a lack of clarity in a sexual situation?
  8. What are common assumptions men and women make about sex.
  9. How consent is like—and unlike—baseball.
  10. What is the difference between seduction and coercion?

In theory, I like the idea of a consent program.

I'm rather concerned, however, with the focus of this particular program.

Talking about consent from a risk management perspective means focusing on the rules--ie how to get consent so that you do not get accused of rape.

Is this really the right tactic?

Do we want to be teaching about sexuality and relationships from a risk management perspective?

Wouldn't it be healthier and more socially responsible to teach young adults that consent is an intrinsic part of a healthy relationship? That consent is necessary because your partner's desires and wishes are as important as your own?

I don't think that parents would be thrilled if someone came in and taught a risk management seminar on drunk driving to teens. The tag-line might be "Conversations about Drinking," but the message would be: how not to get caught if you do something wrong.

Sexual violence and sexual assault is wrong.

I'm not sure that engaging in a 'discussion' about how to avoid being caught is something I would want to promote.Yet I'm sure the National Center is doing a booming business--there's nothing adults like more than to preach about healthy relationships without having to engage in the truly difficult discussions about our cultural norms and sex.

Side note: Someone PLEASE tell me how consent is both like and unlike baseball. I refuse to take #9 on the list above seriously.