Talking about consent with Dr. Julia

Talking about consent with Dr. Julia

Our resident medical expert Julia Arnold VanRooyen weighs in on how comprehensive sex education can advance the conversation around consent. 

The more openly and frequently we talk about consent, the more comfortable everyone will feel expressing both their desires and their reservations. It should be routine to check in with your partner to make sure they are on board with what’s about to happen. One way that this will become easier is to ensure all kids have access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs in school. 

CSE programs include concepts of bodily autonomy and consent communicated in an age-appropriate manner from the earliest years of schooling. In kindergarten through second grade, the lessons are about safety, not sex. CSE curricula emphasizes that all people, including children, have the right to tell others not to touch their body when they do not want to be touched. Children at this age also learn how to identify trusted individuals, including parents or others whom they can tell if they experience discomfort. And they should learn how to respond if someone is touching them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. That’s consent in a nutshell. 

CSE curricula becomes gradually more explicit, in an age-appropriate manner, as kids get older. Communication about consent is woven into each successive unit. In districts that have CSE programs, students have had years of conversations about consent by the time they graduate from high school. Given that about half of teens are sexually active by that time, they need these conversations! 

On the flip side, kids who attend schools without any sex education — or programs that are abstinence-only or even “abstinence-plus” — don’t receive instruction about consent. They may be more likely to find themselves in situations where they end up feeling exploited. 

Our best hope for preventing the kind of scenario depicted in “Rehearsal” is by discussing these issues openly. And it’s critical that we begin in the earliest years of schooling with simple, age-appropriate discussions about no one has the right to touch you if you don’t want to be touched.

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