Consent. Again.

I have just watched Channel 4’s news covering the new report on sex and teenagers. [For more, see here: http://www.channel4.com/news/sex-teenager-consent-rape-survey-young]

Here are some comments from the piece:

“Even when sex takes place under forced circumstances, they tend to blame the girl for putting themselves in a position where they ended up having sex.”

“It’s not really anybody’s fault, because the girl is getting drunk, that’s what she wants, and, like, the lad wants to get it on with somebody.”

Channel 4 had on Laurie Penny and Luciana Berger MP to discuss the report. Luciana Berger commented that the views expressed were “shocking”.

The views are harmful, and distressing but I don’t believe they are sudden or surprising. It cannot be a surprising state of affairs given we cannot tell the difference between teenagers’ opinions, adults’ opinions and media opinions. Victim blaming is everywhere, from twitter, to newspaper columns to law courts. Young people have had little experience of autonomy over their own physical boundaries and comfort zones [as I wrote about previously in September: https://kissmeandbequiet.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/teaching-consent-to-a-4-year-old/], and we let our young people down terribly with the woeful state of sex and relationship education in schools. How can we possibly express surprise that young people find the issue of consent difficult?

The tone of the interview on Channel 4 was ‘should young people be having sex at all?’, furthermore the women were asked whether Miley Cyrus was a good thing or a bad thing.

I think the response to both of those things is WTF??

We should be helping our young people navigate feelings, emotions, boundaries, healthy relationships and how to enjoy consensual sex when they are ready for it. We should be educating the whole population, and not only young people, on how to enjoy consensual sex and to understand what consent means.

Why is this so difficult?

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Teaching Consent to a 4 Year Old

My children do not have to hug daddy, kiss granny, snuggle mummy, give hugs to aunties or indeed engage in any physical activity they don’t want to. 

This can be quite hard. If I want to give my 4yo a goodnight kiss and she decides that she doesn’t want one I feel like I’ve missed part of the evening, if I drop her off at school and she decides she doesn’t need a hug I feel a bit like I’ve missed a step. I am not alone in feeling like this. I have heard many variations on a theme, both to my daughter and to other children around me: 

‘But you have to kiss daddy, you’ll hurt his feelings.’

‘Give grandma a kiss, she’s driven a long way to see you.’

‘Go and hug aunty, she’s brought you a present.’ 

‘Oh, well if I don’t get a kiss I won’t bring you a present / read you a story again.’

Just think about those sentences in the context of a teenagers life whilst flirting for a second: ‘I’ve bought you a drink, so you have to kiss me.’  See how wrong that sounds? The idea of kissing someone so that you don’t hurt their feelings, or kissing someone so that they don’t feel they’ve missed part of their evening becomes problematic when we’re talking about meaningful consent among teenagers (or older). 

I struggle to understand how we expect our teenagers to hit 13, 14, 15 etc years old and suddenly have the confidence to say no, when we’ve been overriding their wishes when it comes to physical contact for years and years. 

My daughters will never have to kiss or cuddle anyone unless they choose to and I will always back them up if they choose to say no. My 4yo knows that kissing (and hugging, holding hands, tickling etc) is only fun if everyone *wants* to do it.