April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood recently released a new survey that shows the lack of education around consent and sexual assault—demonstrating the need to integrate these concepts into sex education nationwide.
In October 2015, Planned Parenthood surveyed 2,012 adults aged 18-95 across the U.S. The survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, investigated experiences with parental and school education, as well as knowledge and beliefs about consent and sexual assault.
The survey found that very few people received consent education in school or from parents, and that there is a lot of confusion about consent and what constitutes sexual assault. On average, women have a clearer understanding about these issues than men, but there is disagreement and confusion across the board.
People held different views on what constitutes consent. Some strongly agree that getting a condom (37%), taking off their own clothes (35%), nodding in agreement (24%), engaging in foreplay (22%) or not saying no (19%) indicates consent for more sexual activity. However, between 12% and 13% of people indicated they strongly disagree that these behaviors mean consent. And others fall in between.
The survey also found that most people in the U.S. have had little or no consent education in middle school or high school. The topic addressed the least? How to ask for consent in the first place.
The good news: An overwhelming majority support the teaching high school students how to ask for consent (88%), how to recognize whether your partner is giving consent (93%), and how to avoid sexually assaulting someone (95%).
Consent Education is Sex Education
To address sexual assault in this country and move us toward a healthy culture of consent, young people need to understand the following concepts:
- All sex should be wanted sex. Consent means both people are excited about what’s happening.
- Any sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.
- Good communication skills are an important part of healthy sexual intimacy. Silence is not consent. Saying “I don’t know” is not consent. Being pressured or manipulated is not consent.
- Without a freely given and clear “yes,” there is not consent and sex should not happen. If a person is drunk, high, passed out, or asleep, they can’t consent.
- Getting consent is a great way to set the mood. Making sure everyone is on board can enhance the experiences of both people.
- No one should be shamed, harassed, or judged because of their personal boundaries or sexual preferences.
- Sexual assault survivors deserve support, healthcare, privacy, and to be believed. No one should be blamed for their own assault, belittled, or brushed aside when they come forward about their experience.
It’s important to recognize that college is too late to start sexual assault prevention, and not everyone goes to college. Consent education is sexual assault prevention, and it needs to happen before young people start having sex.
At Planned Parenthood, we believe that all people have the right to only engage in sex they truly want. Planned Parenthood fights to ensure that all people have the education, power, and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies.
Everyone deserves a sex life that is safe, healthy, and pleasurable.
Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest’s team of professional trainers provides presentations on healthy relationships, communication, and consent to youth. To learn more, visit our website.
At our health centers, our highly-trained medical staff members provide support for survivors of sexual assault and intimate-partner violence. To make an appointment at a health center near you, visit planned.org or call 1-888-743-7526.