It might have started when you got talking at the bar. They bought you a few drinks and going home together seemed like a good idea. Only when you get back to their place and are in bed you’re not so sure anymore and want to leave. Startling, a recent study by the Family Planning Association found that 47 percent of people think it's not OK to withdraw consent once you're naked. It's part of a dangerous system of beliefs around consent that the report aims to dismantle.
The FPA is a UK based charity which aims to help people to make informed choices about sex and sexual health. In a recent report it found a concerning disparities between people's beliefs about consent and what they actually do in real life scenarios. The study found that most people consider consent to be the most important thing when getting intimate with a partner, but in the heat of the moment people’s actions don’t always reflect this knowledge.
47 percent of people questioned said they didn’t think it was OK for someone to withdraw consent if they are already naked. That's nearly one in two people. Worryingly, 39 percent of young people aged 14-17 believe the same thing. The report aims to show that consent can be withdrawn at any point, and that withdrawal should be completely respected.
The study also found that nine percent of people questioned think it isn’t OK to withdraw consent if they have been bought dinner, drinks, or have already kissed the other person, are in their bedroom, have had sex with the person before, or are already naked. While nine percent doesn’t seem like a lot, that is still nine percent of people who think that they don’t have the right to say no to someone touching their body against their will because that person bought them a vodka and coke.
Natika Halil, the Chief Executive of the Family Planning Association described the findings as "worrying." She said in a statement: “It’s been encouraging to see the cultural shift in society over the past year, with calls for better understanding of and respect for consent. But it’s really worrying that people of all ages think that it’s not OK to withdraw consent in a range of situations. It’s always OK to say no to sexual activity that you’re not comfortable with, whatever the situation — and it is equally important to listen to and respect your partner if they want to stop.”
The #MeToo movement started a conversation about consent and the right to say no to anyone at any point. However it doesn’t seem to have made its way into our homes or classrooms just yet. According to the FPA study 45 percent of young people aged 18-24 said they learnt about consent from TV and film, along with 37 percent of those aged 14-17. That is massive responsibility given to an industry that clearly isn’t so clued up when it comes to respect for consent.
Changes in the curriculum for sex and relationship education have been drafted by the government and are due to be introduced in schools in England from 2020. The classes will go beyond just puberty and the physical act of sex to include topics such as consent, communication, harassment, and abuse. The report also found that only 13 percent of people said they would be most likely to discuss issues of consent with a partner. With any luck, normalising conversations about consent in the classroom may make talking to a partner about it a lot easier. It will also hopefully help send out the message that it's OK to say no in any situation more clearly than TV and film can.
In order to help keep the conversation going, the FPA is running its 2018 Sexual Health Week from Sept. 24-30. It will see the launch of their their new campaign, Consent: Yes, yes, yes!, which the organisation hopes will not only teach people that it is OK to say no but that consent is about giving an enthusiastic yes. And since so many young people learn about consent through TV and film, they have introduced a consent test that looks at whether sexual encounters in films and TV show positive or negative examples of negotiating consent.
Mel Gadd, the FPA's Projects and Training Coordinator said, “Consent is the single most important aspect of relationships and sex education. If a young person fully understands what consent means for themselves and others, it lays the foundations for so many other core values such as respect, good communication, self-esteem, and resilience. It can mean that they strive to do no harm to others and, in turn, know how to seek help if they are harmed. I often hear young people say how confusing they think consent is. But consent is easy, as long as it’s taught in the right way.”
People might like to think we live in a progressive and enlightened society, especially post #MeToo, but given the FPA's shocking findings around consent, it appears there's still a long way to go. What the FPA is doing with their campaign is so important in spreading the message that if it isn’t an enthusiastic yes it's time to stop. And that if you're not feeling enthusiastic about a sexual encounter, you have the right to say no at any stage.