Texas high school students should learn about affirmative consent

Mary Dolan

The average age Americans lose their virginity is 17. Despite this, as of November 2013, only 13 states required high school students to take classes concerning sexual education and sexual violence and, by extension, sexual consent.

This needs to change. It is essential to educate students on sexual violence and affirmative consent in high school, before they become sexually active. If they are told that “yes means yes” when they are in high school, they will have a solid understanding of these concepts when they start forming relationships.

Indeed, many high school students report feeling awkward or uncomfortable when asking their partners for explicit consent. Many say that they feel it would “sound weird” if they asked their partner to consent to sexual activity.  It’s important that we teach students natural-sounding and organic ways to ask for consent. While students may feel uncomfortable in the moment, it is better to practice affirmative consent in high school rather than getting in the habit of relying on body language, which could lead to trouble down the road.

The Counseling and Mental Health Center has resources to reach out to students who may not have learned about consent in high school. CMHC employee Lynn Hoare oversees the Voices Against Violence program Get Sexy, Get Consent, which teaches students about consent through interactive performances. She says VAV’s mission is to teach students what affirmative consent means.

“The outreach and prevention programming that Voices Against Violence organizes and implements on campus promotes affirmative consent,” Hoare said. “VAV does this through encouraging verbal conversations in order to check in, to make sure people are on the same page and to negotiate boundaries.”

Some college students advocate teaching younger people about consent, such as computer science sophomore Hannah Mateja.

“I think that many high school students don’t really think seriously about affirmative consent,” Mateja said. “But they should be taught to ask their partner if he or she is feeling comfortable, instead of just relying on body language.”

Colleges are devoting more resources to teaching consent to students, but they shouldn’t have to do all the work. High schools need to help out and make sure that students are learning how to obtain affirmative consent from partners and live healthy lifestyles.

Dolan is a journalism sophomore from Abilene. Follow her on Twitter @mimimdolan.