Are consent classes effective?

Orla Dwyer and Callum Lavery

Consent classes may be taught in primary and secondary schools

Consent classes are being proposed for primary and secondary schools by Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Are they useful or merely idealistic? 

Orla Dwyer: Consent classes are worthwhile 

Consent classes are being proposed for primary and secondary schools as part of Richard Bruton’s reformation of sexual education in Ireland. I believe these would be a necessary addition to a shockingly outdated class. Knowledge of consent is lacking in Ireland and making classes mandatory is the first step to changing this for current and future generations.

In 2016, a Eurobarometer poll showed that 21 per cent of Irish people believed having sex without consent was justified in certain situations. These situations included being drunk, on drugs, voluntarily going home with someone, or wearing ‘provocative’ clothing. If consent classes helped to even slightly reduce this percentage, they could be deemed effective. They’re certainly as good a start as any.

 

The earlier consent classes are given the better, especially because the average age to first watch porn is 11 years old. The concept of consent should be brought up to those witnessing sexual acts as soon as possible.

 

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone has said that children would be asked to challenge the existing ideas of what consent is and examine the effects of sexual violence. The important factor here is the encouragement to debate consent. Although it’s true to simply tell students that ‘no means no’, the issue is more complicated and nuanced than that.

 

Too often in education we are simply taught that two plus two equals four. You write it down in your copy and don’t think about it until memorising it the night before the test. By opening up the classroom to questions and opinions on consent, with a qualified teacher to moderate, students would be more engaged and more likely to listen and take in what’s being discussed.

 

The mandatory aspect of the classes is a key factor in their success. It would prevent them from repeating the situation in 2017 with the consent classes in UCD where only 20 people showed up and they were cancelled. While forcing students to learn certain things can be off-putting, consent is different. This is something almost every person will encounter in their lives.

 

11 per cent of female students are subjected to unwanted sexual contact, while 5 per cent are raped, according to a 2013 USI study. This is a significant amount of people, and this is just students. CSO statistics show that reported rape figures in Ireland increased by 28 per cent between 2016 and 2017. Sexual assault is not an issue that will disappear, but it is one that can be diminished through education on consent.

 

Voluntary classes are problematic because those who need to attend won’t because they don’t think they need it. Those who advocated for the classes in the first place probably won’t need to attend either because they’re already aware of the issue. By making them mandatory for young people, this would make everybody knowledgeable about consent from a young age. They would be well informed by the time they reach the legal age of consent, 17.

 

Hopefully the consent classes and other reforms will end the era of sweaty, awkward teachers wringing their hands as they play an unnecessarily graphic animated video of heterosexual intercourse.

Orla Dwyer

 

Callum Lavery: Consent classes are idealistic

Richard Bruton said he wants to review the Irish sex education curriculums. As part of this, he wants to put emphasis on introducing consent workshops into the curriculum, which is all well and good… if done correctly. But I notice two issues with Ireland’s attitude to sex ed, consent and its effectiveness: when it is taught, and how it is taught.

 

When it is taught:

In 2017, UCD Students’ Union spent €1,800 on advertising for consent classes. Despite this, only 20 people out of a student body of 30,000 attended these classes, hailed as a failure by critics.

 

Similarly, DCUSU in conjunction with DCU FemSoc, have tried to increase the number of consent workshops they have done this year, which has had mixed reviews.

The problem being: third level students are not going to attend consent workshops on their own volition, and you end up with a catch 22 situation of those who go to the workshops, not needing them, and those who should go, never being convinced to do so. Unfortunately, consent workshops at third level are ineffective.

 

This would obviously draw many to the conclusion that these workshops should be aimed at younger ages, who could be made to remain for the duration of the lesson. Correct?

 

How it is taught:

Now I’m not going to argue about the ‘ethics’ behind teaching children about sexual and emotional health. The argument that kids are ‘too young’ is played out and unfounded. No. My problem is with the Irish school system, which has not done much to garner credence in their effectiveness in explaining complex relationships to kids, due to out of date attitudes, religious involvement or untrained overseers.

 

The sector has consistently failed to accurately explain difficult topics to children. And, while teaching sexual health and consent has been done brilliantly in countries such as the Netherlands, I would be wary about Irish schools being able to do the same.

 

The Dutch approach to sex ed has gained international recognition, and have had some of the best outcomes when it comes to teen sexual health. On average, teens in the Netherlands have as much sex as those in other European countries ,however, according to the World Bank, their teenage pregnancy rate is one of the lowest in the world. Ninety per cent of  Dutch teens used contraception during their first time, STI rates are low and perhaps most importantly, they boast an assertive and consensual attitude to sex.  

 

This makes young consent workshops sound appealing doesn’t it? But I think it is fair to be skeptical about whether or not the Irish school system could be trusted to explain consent effectively.  If we could recall the sexual education we all received: segregating the classroom to discuss ‘boys issues’ and ‘girls stuff’, out of date videotapes, embarrassed students and mortified teachers, and little discussion of health, forget sex. How effectively could consent be discussed in that environment?

 

Conclusion:

Consent classes can be effective, but cannot and will not be effective when taught by the old school Irish system.

Callum Lavery 

Image credit: Getty Images

 

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