In high schools across the nation, sexual education classes are having conversations surrounding consent. The focus on teaching consent as part of schools’ reproductive health curriculum has been growing ever since the #MeToo movement was brought to the world’s attention in 2017.
The viral hashtag, originally created by Tarana Burke, blew up on social media after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was publicly outed for sexually harassing and assaulting several women over the span of his career. The hashtag gave many on Twitter the opportunity to tell their own stories of harassment and assault, and sparked a national debate over what consent means, who can give it and whether or not it can be withdrawn.
Today, it appears, that debate is moving off the internet and into the classroom. According to the Associated Press, schools like Central Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon are expanding their sexual education classes to include topics like abusive relationships and consent, with the goal of teaching teens acceptable behaviors.
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski, a certified sexuality educator and counselor with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), tells Parentology while teaching about consent in school is vital, parents should begin educating their children at home as early as possible.
Parents give their children messages about their bodies from birth, Dr. Podgurski explains, running the gamut of giving genitals correct names, opting to use fake names or ignore those body parts all together. “Children who know their bodies are normal and know the right names for their bodies parts are more likely to disclose unwanted touch or abuse.”
Podgurski says it’s imperative to discuss setting limitations, consent and disclosure. Disclosing unwanted touching and abuse is what the very heart of the the #MeToo movement was. A more comprehensive sexual education course that includes these topics, and builds upon what parents are teaching at home, may be able to reduce instances of assault and abuse later in life by teaching kids about boundaries early.
Jennifer Driver, the state policy director of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, told the Associated Press the #MeToo movement brought conversations about consent into the national spotlight.
Driver went on to say she believes many people still struggle with the culture shift that’s happening in response to #MeToo, even two years later.
Only time will tell if more schools will start teaching consent to students like the ones at Oregon’s Central Catholic High School. As for now, it’s clear the conversation about whether or not the topic should be brought into the classroom is taking place.
Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski
American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT)