How and When Consent Should be Taught

When thinking about your first sex-ed lesson a lot of phrases (and uncomfortable flashbacks) probably come to memory - images of reproductive organs, STD symptoms, birth control, and the such. However, according to a recent CNN article, there is a very high chance that the topic of consent was not a part of this curriculum.

Among U.S. public schooling systems, the requirement of teaching sexual assault and consent is only present in a mere eight states: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The mandating of sex-ed in the first place is required in 24 states.


Sad, right? This means that only one-third of the states teaching sex are also teaching consent - the most important prerequisite. It’s like trying to teach a child how to do long-division before they know simple addition - it just won’t work. And with the ever growing #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it’s clear that it hasn’t.

It’s been proven that a thorough K-12 sexual education is effective in reducing teenage pregnancy and sexual violence. Why, then, do so many states still come up short in their curriculum? If consent is mentioned at all, it’s often introduced way too late.

It seems that many tend to forget that the concept of consent is not only relevant to sexual acts. Merriam-Webster defines it as “to give assent or approval.”  A definition that simple can effectively be introduced to students as early as elementary school. Teaching the meanings of “yes” and “no” and the differences between them is not a hard feat. And by use of tickling, hugging, and other acts that they are already familiar with, it can even be fun. This simple lesson will enable them to proudly take ownership over their bodies and the later choices they will make about them.

Recently, the Kavanaugh hearings inspired a third grade teacher to make a “consent chart” for her students, which explains consent in plain terms. Her image quickly went viral, producing both praise and backlash. “Don’t talk sex to my kid” and “Kids can’t just be kids anymore” were among the many disapproving comments from parents who clearly failed to recognize that sex was not even mentioned anywhere in the chart.

My first remembrance with learning consent was in my public middle school in Georgia. The teacher spent three minutes at most on the topic, and it was highly focused on the common “no means no” phrase. Although this is a good starting point, it renders a space for ambiguity and the argument of, “Well, they never said no.” Many schools have instead turned to a more affirmative approach, explaining “yes means yes” and that consent can be a cool and sexy dialogue.

All in all, sex-ed has come far, but still has very far to go. Not only do more states need to officially mandate this type of curriculum, they also need to reform the lessons to include the most fundamental and crucial prerequisite - consent.

Summer Epps