OPINION: Mates and Dates informs mindful, honest consent

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Learning and understanding about consent is a vital part of becoming a sexually active and responsible adult.

Articles about rape, revenge porn, sexting and sexual harassment are an almost daily occurrence in the media.

Not surprising, really, when 23% of adults in New Zealand state they have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives (New Zealand Crime and Victim Survey 2018), and 20% of girls and 9% of boys report unwanted sexual touching or being forced to do sexual things (Youth 2000 survey 2012).

These topics, along with consent, are among those we at the YMCA discuss with young people through the Mates and Dates healthy relationships programme that we facilitate in secondary schools throughout South and Mid Canterbury and North Otago.

Consent is saying yes or no – through words and body language – to sexual activity and to acts like kissing, hugging, snuggling, touching that can lead to sexual activity.

So, how do we talk to young people about consent?

We clear up some misimpressions: consent is NOT a negotiation (if you do X with/to/for me, I’ll do Y with/to/for you), it’s an ongoing conversation that ideally should include likes, dislikes, boundaries, age, using condoms and disclosing STIs.

We discuss New Zealand law regarding consent:

  • You must be age 16 or over to engage in sexual activity.
  • You cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol to give or receive consent.
  • There can be no sexual coercion (you cannot force or pressure someone into engaging in sexual activity).

We tell young people to think of FRIES when it comes to consent, because consent should always be:

Freely given (no coercion everyone is doing what they’re doing because they really want to)

Reversible (anyone can change their mind or say no at any time, up to and including when they are already having sex sexual assault)

Informed (you’ve had a conversation about boundaries, condoms, STIs, age, likes, dislikes, etc.)

Enthusiastic (the clear and unequivocal, with no hesitation or conditions attached)

Safe (you feel safe in who you’re with, where you are and what you’ll be doing)

Specific (consent is given for this specific activity at this specific time, e.g. consenting to kissing should not be taken as consent for any other sexual act. Also, consenting to sex now doesn’t obligate you to have sex with this person at any time in the future.)

Consent is a big topic and young people typically have lots of questions about exactly what it means.

Our YMCA Mates and Dates facilitators follow their lead in this discussion to ensure we’re giving them the most up-to-date information they’re wanting.

It’s important for parents and caregivers to talk about consent with their children and young people.

A couple of good resources to begin that conversation are: Tea & Consent – an animated video explaining consent through the analogy of having a cup of tea – and Family Planning’s advice.