High school is a difficult time for most. And with the landmines that are hormones, growth spurts, and acne surges that just won’t quit, is it really any wonder why? As teenagers try to navigate the unpredictable terrain their bodies have become, there is one beacon of light that aims to help them understand the truth of what is occurring within them.
That’s right: Sex Ed.
You remember cringing awkwardly while some underpaid health teacher tried to articulate the intricacies of sex and puberty to a bunch of teenagers who would have given their right arm to be anywhere else? You also probably remember the poorly acted short films designed to explain your own body to you as though it were a foreign piece of machinery.
You know what you probably don’t remember learning about? The importance of consent.
Of course, there was the usual lecture. ‘Don’t drink too much at a party because this might happen…’ and ‘Don’t take drugs or boys might take advantage of you…’ The Coach Carr-esque warnings go on and on. At the end of the day, we all received the same thinly veiled threat: if you are not on constant alert, expect your right to consent to be taken from you without hesitation.
Yet, in all my years of high school, I cannot bring to mind a single instance of a teacher explaining, without a hint of hesitation, that the right to consent is final. That if anyone is pressured into having sex against their will, even if the pressure is not overtly physical or violent, it is unequivocally rape, and is in no way acceptable under any circumstances. This is not only true for girls – pressuring men into sex is just as reprehensible and damaging to the victim.
It almost seems like rape is wielded in high school as a weapon, an incentive for youngsters to toe the line and bypass risk. But the result remains damaging, as the importance of respecting consent and an individual’s power over their own body is overlooked. And herein lies the true danger of the way in which health education is approached in schools: students are alienated from their own bodies and explained the external mechanics, instead of being taught to consider themselves from the inside looking out.
Sex is an intimate act and consent is a basic human right – those are the twin pillars upon which sexual acts should be based, and yet they are nowhere to be found in the classroom.
Sex Ed is important. Teenagers will be teenagers, and it is indispensable for them to know what goes where and why. Nonetheless, the issue of consent is far too important to be overlooked any longer, and if the syllabus doesn’t evolve along with the times, we will all be the worse off for it.