This year’s Sexual Health Week, which begins today, is all about consent. The Consent: Yes, yes, yes! awareness campaign driven by sexual health charity FPA is focused on how consent is about far more than saying ‘No’ to unwanted activity.
In my experience, I have found that the topic of consent is given a lot of attention in secondary schools, but I feel that the current approach is often all too late. Yes, this is needed at secondary level, but there also needs to be an equal focus in primary schools. This would help children to develop coping strategies early.
1decision provides those building blocks. For example, in our relationships module for 5-8 year olds we focus on healthy relationships, friendship, body language and touch; this expands to a deeper understanding of relationships and appropriate touch within our growing and changing module for 8-11 year olds. Whilst we do not get into discussions around sexual consent within these modules we do encourage children to become aware of what is and is not acceptable in their personal space.
It is critical that children set out on the right foot, and that means putting in place the foundations around consent at a much earlier age. Consent should not only be discussed in a sexual context; it must start with how children feel and respond to being pushed, prodded and poked by friends and classmates, and having the confidence and ability to challenge others and seek help.
The key is having age-appropriate building blocks in place. If children have the knowledge and skills to be able to communicate what is a healthy or unhealthy relationship – and how to seek help if they feel worried about a particular relationship they have with someone – then by the time they reach the age of consent they will be more comfortable in speaking out about it.
It is unquestionably positive that Sexual Health Week is shining a light on what young people understand about consent, how consent can be negotiated and what should be taught in schools. But let us be clear that the principles of consent should be approached from primary school. Otherwise, we will find that some young people are being taught about sexual consent after they have already had sex they did not consent to.
Hayley Sherwood, creator of 1decision, part of Headway learning resources