All High School Sex Education Classes Should Come With A Lesson In Consent

by Jerriann Sullivan
Originally Published: 

Lectures on consent will be part of mandatory health classes for high school students

Rape culture and issues of consent have been in the news lately as the Vanderbilt University gang rape and the Stanford rape trials came to a close. It’s in the news again, but for once — something that gives us hope. California has become the first state in the United States to make learning about consent in high school mandatory.

That’s right, the state will teach high school students to recognize that a clear communication of “yes” is necessary in all sexual encounters.

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2017, and was passed by the state legislature with bipartisan support, The Mary Sue reported. In short, school districts must incorporate teachings on affirmative consent into health classes that are required for graduation. Sadly, a school district is exempt from the law if it doesn’t have a mandatory health class. Thankfully most high schools nationwide still have this requirement.

Affirmative consent is the concept that the absence of “no” isn’t enough, but that a clear communication of “yes” is needed in all sexual encounters. Teachers will be expected to lecture on the topic of consent, specifically affirmative consent, but it isn’t entirely clear how those lectures will be created at the moment. We’ll have a better idea in 2018 when the California Education Department is scheduled to update health education guidelines, i School Guide wrote. Until then, the lessons will likely mirror the additional education California imposed on colleges and universities.

In 2014, the state was the first to force colleges and universities to adopt the affirmative consent policy during campus sexual assault investigations. The new system means a few things. First, it shifts the burden of proof in campus sexual assault cases from those accusing to the accused, Insider Higher Ed reported. Additionally, sexual experiences being investigated will only be considered consensual if both parties declared their willingness in a voluntary and affirmative way while fully conscious. The policy states what most of us already knew – if your partner isn’t in their right mind because of drugs or alcohol, then they can’t consent. If there isn’t an enthusiastic yes – verbally or physically – then consent doesn’t exist.

Enthusiastic consent should be a mandatory part of sex education. One in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and females age 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Women ages 18-24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Males age 18-24 who are college students are five times more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

We should gladly embrace anything that helps us reduce those statistics. Consent matters. An enthusiastic “yes” is something that high school kids should be taught is necessary. Parents will be given the option to remove their kids from some or all of the state’s sex ed, but we hope they don’t. California is making history in its efforts to educate young people about sex and consent. Hopefully the rest of the country will follow.

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