California Senate Passes Measure To Teach Affirmative Consent In High Schools, Plus 4 Other Places That Get Sex Ed Right

In September 2014, California became the first state in the nation to adopt a "yes means yes" law, changing how college campuses teach sexual consent and how sexual assault is investigated. Now, California lawmakers are increasing its impact, recently passing a measure that would make California high schools "the first in the nation to have mandatory education in the 'yes means yes' sexual consent standard."

State senators "unanimously passed"  the measure, SB 695, this week. It mandates that any public high school that currently has a health education class graduation requirement must include lessons about affirmative consent in the health class.

Affirmative consent, as described in the "yes means yes" law for college campuses, specifies that consent is an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." In other words, a "lack of protest or resistance" does not mean consent. We live in a victim-blaming society that holds survivors responsible for their attacks if they didn't explicitly say "no," which happens because of fear, panic, intoxication, etc. Emilie Mitchell, a human sexuality professor at Sacramento's American River College, explains to The Guardian that the "yes means yes" consent standard professes “mutual responsibility. It used to be ‘Did you say no? Did you explicitly say no?’ Affirmative consent is really obvious. If someone says ‘Yeah, that feels great, let’s keep doing it,’ that’s affirmative consent. Sex is a mutually negotiated agreement, not ‘If you don’t like it you’d better speak up.’” Police officers investigating assaults can't tell survivors, "Well, you didn't say no" or ask what they were wearing. Instead of teaching women and survivors "don't get raped," this new standard teaches everybody "don't rape."

It is vital that kids are exposed to these ideas before college. As Kevin De Leon, acting Senate president and SB 695 co-author, explains, people don't begin engaging in sexual activity in college; for many, it begins in high school, if not junior high. The conversation about the college sexual assault epidemic is long overdue and absolutely necessary, but why are college students the only survivors who seem to matter to our government? Why does collegiate status make someone more deserving of safety?

The CDC found that 42.2 percent of women survivors (almost HALF) are raped or assaulted before their 18th birthdays. The US Justice Department found that women who don't attend college or university are actually more likely to be raped than their collegiate counterparts and that 80 percent of survivors previously knew their attackers. We desperately need to make affirmative consent a conversation topic as early as possible in order to prevent kids and teenagers from raping and assaulting their peers. In December, Meghan Warner, director of the Associated Students of the University of California Sexual Assault Commission, told Huffington Post, "It's better to focus on everybody, not just the few who attend universities."

As De Leon said before voting commenced, “This bill represents the next step in the fight to change behavior towards women, particularly young women. California must continue to lead the nation in educating our young people, both woman as well as young men, about the importance of respect and maintaining healthy peer and dating relationships.”

Thankfully, the Senate did the right thing. Since the first passing of affirmative consent education, New York has enacted the law at its public college campuses, and Colorado, New Hampshire, and Maryland are "considering it." We need these states, and the other 46 states, to consider it for high school curriculum (if not elementary and middle school curriculum, too) in order to create the largest impact possible. Two Democratic senators have introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015 in order to make consent education, among other comprehensive sex ed lessons, mandatory for all public middle and high schools.

While we wait for affirmative consent education to hopefully sweep the nation, here are examples of other places already doing sex ed right:

1. The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, comprehensive sex education begins when students are 4 years old. The kindergarteners don't explicitly learn about intercourse at all; they learn about healthy love and relationships. As students get older, the curriculum includes information about gender stereotypes, orientations, and contraception. Rather than focusing on sex education, the schools teach "sexuality education." Curriculum focuses on "sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness. That means encouraging respect for all sexual preferences and helping students develop skills to protect against sexual coercion, intimidation and abuse."

2. Canada

In January of this year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne advocated and enacted a new law that mandates the Ministry of Education to "include the subject of consent in its new sexual education curriculum." Kim Stanton, who is the legal director of the country's Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, stresses the curriculum's importance: "The term 'no means no' gets used a lot, but actually the legal standard in Canada is 'only yes means yes,'" The curriculum also addresses non-binary gender identities, sexual fluidity, and masturbation. While conservative parents have protested the new law, Wynne ever so perfectly said they "will have to agree to disagree."

3. Britain

This year, the Personal, Social, and Health Education Association (PSHE Association) adopted a curriculum that allows teachers to teach consent as early as 11 years old. Students participate in lessons in which they ask permission to enter someone's personal space, and practice saying "no" when they feel their personal space has been invaded. Consent is explained to the kids as the responsibility of the person initiating the behavior, and it "must... be sought out and can be withdrawn at any moment," even if the sexual partners are in a relationship.

4. New Zealand

This past May, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand was "formally advised to add lessons about consent and coercion into their sexuality education programs for the first time." The new curriculum will also focus on separating pornographic tropes from real sexual relationships, deconstructing heteronormativity, and challenging the sexualization of girls.


Images: CMCarterSS/Flickr; Giphy (4)

Must Reads