The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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April 8, 2024

Redefining consent: A call for comprehensive education in high schools

Mundane and uninspiring teaching methods like simple PowerPoints and videos are the bane of effective consent and sex education, leading to a disheartening lack of attention from students.

As teenagers navigate the complexities of interpersonal relationships, the absence of effective consent education in schools leaves a critical gap in students’ understanding of boundaries and healthy communication. 

Since 2021, MCPS has required students to take a semester of a health course to graduate. Consent is a minor topic in the health curriculum, typically covered during a single lesson. The lesson helps students define and identify affirmative consent, sexual coercion, boundary violations and situations when an individual can and cannot give consent. However, while even one lesson is helpful, students must receive more education on the importance of consent in a more digestible and effective manner.

As students grow older, parties become a fixture of their social lives, where alcohol consumption and underage substance use are prominent. Drug and alcohol use at parties puts students at major risk of sexual assault, and the threat of students neglecting to ask for consent increases drastically, with 30% of all sexual assaults occurring while the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol. According to the 2021 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 20.6% of students drank alcohol or used drugs before their most recent engagement in sexual intercourse. 

In a situation where students are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other intoxicating substances, giving consent is impossible. Although lightly mentioned in the curriculum, without an in-depth education outlining when it’s appropriate to engage in sexual intercourse, students aren’t able to determine when consent can legally be given. 

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Mundane and uninspiring teaching methods like simple PowerPoints and videos are the bane of effective consent and sex education, leading to a disheartening lack of attention from students. The conventional approaches, laden with dry facts and monotone presentations, fail to capture the urgency and relevance of sexual education. Consent, a dynamic and nuanced concept, demands an engaging educational approach beyond mere recitation of information.

Embracing consent as a dynamic concept highlights the necessity for a more engaging and interactive teaching method to address the complexities of consent effectively. Students may worry that verifying consent “kills the vibe” or creates an awkward situation. However, asking for consent creates an open and safe space for all parties involved and can help avoid future conflict. Consent education that engages students is crucial because it destigmatizes asking for consent in all situations. 

“I think normalizing asking for consent and not making it seem daunting would solve that problem,” junior Marisa Halvorson said.“So many of my friends have engaged in romantic relationships before we even learned about consent in sophomore year health class.”

Not only should schools teach consent more thoroughly, but consent education should begin in middle school before teenagers start building romantic relationships — in one study, the CDC found that 83% of teenagers didn’t receive sex education until after they’d already had sex. 

Schools also need to urge parents to have these conversations with their children, in addition to school-provided health education, as parents are likely the most important role models for their children. 

Additionally, recognizing students’ diverse backgrounds and varied family structures is paramount when implementing consent education. To account for individuals who may not have a stable relationship with their parents at home, schools and organizations can provide alternative spaces for learning about consent, such as more workshops, seminars or support groups, empowering students to express themselves outside family conversations.

Such an approach would emphasize the importance of consensual interactions and nurture a holistic understanding of healthy relationships, which entails looking at the emotional, psychological and social aspects of consent. Providing resources for students who might not have parental figures is essential to creating an inclusive platform that caters to diverse family structures, acknowledging that students’ backgrounds may vary. A broader approach would also allow students to grasp the idea of consent beyond the borders of a single lesson, fostering a culture of respect, communication and empowerment that extends beyond the classroom setting.

MCPS must seriously educate students about the dangers and consequences of not asking for consent. There should be more education in health curriculums, and teachers should take individual action in smaller settings to connect with students and ensure they fully understand the importance of consent in relationships.

In an interview with The Guardian, Leesa Waters, deputy CEO of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) expanded on the importance of working together to make consent education available to all to protect students from sexual violence. 

“Schools can’t do this alone. Parents can’t do this alone,” Water said. “We all have to say we’re committed to this because we want change, and we want to prevent it happening to another generation.”

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About the Contributor
Aya Chami, Opinion Writer
Grade 11 Why did you join the Black and White? To give myself a creative outlet and to inform my school community about current issues What is your favorite song of all time? Cameras / Good Ones Go - Drake

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