We must do more to educate young people on consent

The idea that someone in their third year of university would feel pressured into sending sexually explicit messages or photos is indicative of a damaging and possibly dangerous relationship. And many would not hesitate to condemn the situation as unhealthy. So the statistic that 51 per cent of teenage girls feel pressured into such situations is particularly harrowing.

Statistics like these are important when we consider the ever-changing social pressures which young adults face. New forms of sexual expression (such as sexting) have opened the door to many avenues of misuse and mistreatment of young adults. The statistic I have drawn upon has been taken from the site GuardChild, which specialises in advising adults on how they can spy on and monitor their child’s digital activity. This breach of respect and trust is just one of many challenges young adults face in a digital age.

And the issues do not stop with social pressure to send sexually explicit messages or pictures, or the overbearing weight of privacy violating parents. Young adults currently live in a period where porn, or at least the suggestion of it, is everywhere. This contributes greatly to what young people, particularly boys and young men, see as healthy sex and healthy relationships.

Young boys are exposed to porn from as young as 12 years old (a statistic published in Psychology Today). Although viewing porn is not exclusively damaging,  if abused, or viewed independently of healthy relationships, in day to day life it can have damaging results. This is because porn teaches us almost nothing about sex in relationships, instead focusing on immediate sexual gratification. It reinforces the misinformed idea that sex and relationships are exclusively separate from each other, rather than mutually beneficial.

Of course, the claim that all pornography is damaging is simply not true, but it is true that depraved and degrading images and videos are easily accessible on the internet. You would not have to look far to find a video wherein a man forces himself upon a woman to her ‘unexpected pleasure.’ The message that this sends young men and women is worrying.

We live in a challenging time for women, especially young women. And although the feminist movement is coming on in leaps and bounds, it is often met with hate and violence (for example the recent rise in popularity of ‘men’s rights activists’ like RooshV).

So the idea that young women are finding themselves in situations where they feel pressured into sexual activity that they are not comfortable with, or that young men are being routinely exposed to media that perpetuates rape culture is highly concerning.

So what can we do to combat this? We can educate young people, in their early years about what constitutes healthy relationships, and healthy sexual activity.    

In particular we must educate them on what consent means, and how vital a role it must play in their relationships. We can encourage expressions of sexuality (found through sexting or other such forms), but stress that these instances should not involve any forms of pressure, or even threats.

It is difficult to bring about change when it comes to a subject so commonly seen as taboo. But talking to your younger family members, to peers who look up to you, or even to other adults about what it means to express your sexuality from a place of comfort, security, and pleasure may help to educate a younger generation for the better.

Image credit: Maurizio Pesce

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