Yes means yes? Of course it does. Is it really necessary that Californian high-school students cover this alongside other sex-ed topics like anatomy, birth control and sexually transmitted infections? Yes.
Some high schools and college campuses have experimented with workshops to teach what consent means. This is part of a larger effort to prevent sexual assault and rapes on campuses over outdated methods like rape whistles and the buddy system, which ignore the fact that most cases of rape occur between two people who know each other.
Here’s the sort of thing workshop attendees can expect to think about:
A girl and boy meet at a school dance. The boy drives her home. They kiss. What happens next, over the girl’s protests, leaves him confused and her crying, no longer a virgin. Was the girl raped?
For folks keeping track at home, this does constitute rape in the state of California. A remarkable fraction of students (and adults) get this question wrong—but more importantly, they don’t understand why.
Many intelligent people still insist that rape always necessitates an intent to rape, or otherwise think it’s important to ask what the girl was wearing or if she tried to resist. Which is why it’s important for an informed discussion about consent to reach people at a young age.
In an episode of This American Life, Chana Joffe-Walt shows how badly these ideas need to reach young people before they reach college. When workshop attendees are informed that consent is an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement that can be revoked at any time, or simply a “verbal and enthusiastic yes,” it becomes clear that many students really have no idea what this means.
The questions that follow demonstrate just how poorly the students get it. “What’s the minimum number of times to I need to hear yes?” “What about body language?” “What if she gave consent in a message on twitter?” “What’s the drink limit before consent can’t be given?” “Does the girl need to ask?” “What if you’ve been together for a year?” Some kids are concerned that constantly making sure the answer is yes is going to “ruin the mood.”
According to Joffe-Walt, “These kids are trying to just have one conversation. A conversation that takes into account consent, but also all their questions and anxieties when they’re talking to a person they’re sleeping with.”
Adolescents should learn that, when it comes to sex, you’re going to have to ask your partner what they like and check in with them to make sure they’re enjoying themselves. If you’re not doing these things, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, doing it wrong badly enough will make you a rapist even if you had no intention of raping somebody. Yes, doing it wrong badly enough could result in criminal consequences for the harm you have caused someone.
It shouldn’t be this hard, and kids shouldn’t have to wait to learn this sort of thing.