Bill Aims To Require Teaching Consent As Part Of Sex Ed In Schools

by Julie Scagell
Image via Getty/Elizabeth Fernandez

The bill would require that a broader definition of consent be taught in school

Understanding consent is a critical component to sex education, but it’s not one that is taught in most schools as part of this curriculum. Illinois lawmakers are trying to change that by requiring a new, more comprehensive definition be taught in public schools.

Democratic Rep. Ann Williams’ filed a bill last week attempting to “put a fuller definition of consent into the Illinois code detailing how schools must teach sex education,” The Chicago Sun Times reported.

Williams’ bill would add a requirement for schools that teach sex education to broaden the definition. “[There must be a] discussion on what constitutes sexual consent,” she tells the Sun Times. This includes discussing how it may come up during a sexual interaction to ensure kids understand exactly what it means to both give and receive consent.

The proposed law would ensure “consent is a freely given agreement to sexual activity, consent to one sexual act does not mean there is automatic consent to another act, lack of verbal or physical resistance nor a person’s manner of dress constitutes consent, and that a person cannot consent if drugs or alcohol inhibit understanding of the nature of the activity.” Giving these types of specifics will allow the curriculum to be taught uniformly across the state.

“Teaching consent tells you that, ‘I have the right to have my own bodily autonomy, and somebody should respect that,’” said Brigid Leahy, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “It’s not my fault when somebody violates my person without me agreeing to it.”

According to the CDC, sexual violence, referring to sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not given freely, is a public health crisis. Teaching kids as early as possible what constitutes consent could go a long way to combatting the problem.

By law, public K-12 schools in Illinois don’t have to teach sex education. In fact, only 24 states require sex ed be taught in public schools (34 states require HIV education), and of those, only eight discuss consent. Some may feel this is something that should be discussed at home, but that’s not always the case. Having those discussions in school allows discussions that do happen to be reinforced in a uniform way.

In fact, in a Planned Parenthood poll, 93 percent of parents support sex education in middle school, and 96 percent believe sex education should be taught in high schools. While discussions about contraception, STD’s, and puberty are important, consent is a critical component to understanding healthy and safe sexual encounters.

It’s important for both girls and boys to understand what it means to give consent. Kids need to know that can change at any time if they change their mind or are feeling uncomfortable. Communication is key, and understanding this at an early age as possible may help kids become more comfortable with the language of consent and conversations surrounding it.