Today marks the beginning of Sexual Health Week 2018 – an annual campaign run by sexual health charity FPA to help raise awareness of various issues within sexual health. This year’s theme is consent, and judging by the research released by FPA today, we’re in urgent need of more education and information surrounding consent.
Over the last year or two, we’ve been having plenty of public discussions around consent: from the revelations of the #MeToo movement, which have highlighted just how much work there is still to do, to campaigns pushing for better consent education as part of SRE at school, you’d expect most people to be more aware of the importance of consent in sexual interactions.
However, to mark the start of Sexual Health Week, FPA surveyed 2000 people about their attitudes towards consent, and some of the results were very concerning:
- Just under half of those surveyed (47%) did not think it was OK to withdraw consent if they were already naked.
- Only 13% of people said they would be most likely to discuss issues of consent with a partner.
- 9% of people don’t think it is OK to withdraw consent if they have been bought dinner/drinks, or if they have previously engaged in other sexual activity with a person (i.e. kissing, previous sex, getting naked together)
Consent: what’s wrong with this picture?
It is always OK to withdraw consent for a sexual interaction. No matter what the interaction is, whether you’ve done it before, whether the person you’re with really really wants to, and how far along a particular path you are. Sometimes things just don’t feel right, sometimes you change your mind, sometimes what seemed like a fun game turns into something that feels pressured or uncomfortable: you are always allowed to say ‘no.’ And it should go without saying that a ‘no’ should always be respected.
But the sheer number of people who are still unsure about this means there’s lots of work on consent education still to do. Natika Halil, Chief Executive of the sexual health charity FPA said:
“It’s been encouraging to see the cultural shift in society over the past year, with calls for better understanding of and respect for consent. But it’s really worrying that people of all ages think that it’s not OK to withdraw consent in a range of situations. It’s always OK to say no to sexual activity that you’re not comfortable with, whatever the situation – and is equally important to listen to and respect your partner if they want to stop.
“We want Sexual Health Week to provide a starting point for these conversations, addressing the basics and helping people feel more confident recognising, discussing and negotiating consent.”
How do we educate people about consent?
For the vast majority of us who are adults today, consent was not a key focus in our sex education at school. So one of the key aims of sex educators today is to ensure that consent is included on the sex education curriculum: young people need to be taught the basics:
- that it is OK to say ‘no’
- that sexual activity should be something you do with someone, not to them
- you should be aware of all the factors that can influence someone’s capacity to consent including (but not limited to) alcohol or drugs, power imbalances, peer pressure, and many more
FPA has a number of resources on the Sexual Health Week section of their website for teachers, parents and students.
But we know that while many of our readers here will be parents, many of you will also just be looking for some information on consent as an adult – the stuff you weren’t taught in school, but which can be helpful for you in your everyday life.
Consent education doesn’t stop at school
Although you might never have needed to use quadratic equations since you left school, consent is something that is important in every interaction – not just sexual ones. Ever been in the pub and had someone pressure you into ‘one more drink’ even after you’ve said you’d rather stop? Had a date where someone’s pushed you into sharing a taxi home when you’d rather take the bus? Been in a work situation and had your boss tell you that you must come to the Christmas social because everyone does it?
The fact is, we don’t yet have a culture that embeds consent at the heart of all our interactions: pressure, cajoling and coercion is commonplace. So what’s the answer? Part of the FPA’s outreach this week focuses on consent in TV and films – discussing examples of consent in on-screen relationships (both good and bad) can be a good jumping-off point to talk about consent in your own life and relationships. Check out their examples of good and bad consent negotiation in TV and films, and if you like, use these as a springboard for discussing consent with your friends and partners.
We’d also recommend visiting MegJohnAndJustin.com – a site run by educators Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock featuring resources on all aspects of sex and relationships, with a core focus on consent. This episode of their podcast in particular – 7 tips for a consensual hook up – is a great place to start if you’re dating.
And finally, seeing as this week is Sexual Health Week, charities and health organisations (as well as adult companies like us!) will be writing and talking about consent over on the hashtag #SHW2018: check out the information provided, join in the discussion, share the FPA resources, and talk to the people in your life about consent – how to make sure that they have it before starting a sexual interaction, and understanding that it can be withdrawn at any time.
To promote Sexual Health Week and support the work of FPA, this week we’re offering a 20% discount on any of our products – PULSE III, the Queen Bee, Atom cock rings and Pocket Pulse – if you use the code FPA20 – 5% of sales will go directly to sexual health charity FPA.