News Item

Are lessons on sexual consent what our children really need?

An important discussion has burst into our Australian psych. Everyone is talking about the rise in sexual harassment cases – stories emerging from our school yards to our parliament.

Echoing our Prime Minister’s words, we have found the reports ‘disgusting and sickening.’

But we enter dangerous territory if our opinion of all males is tainted by the disgusting, criminal behaviour of some males. Whilst it is true that the majority of sexual predators are male, and most women have a personal example of some form of sexual harassment occurring in their lives, every male is not a predator.

Last week at a school assembly in Victoria, boys as young as 12 were instructed to “stand up and apologise” to the girls seated around them for crimes of sexual harassment, violence and rape. Reportedly, many boys were left feeling guilty, embarrassed, confused and upset, telling their parents later that they were not sure why they had to apologise for things they hadn’t done.

As a mother of a son and a grandmother of boys, I understand the confusion. I wonder how we have come to this.

The action taken by this school is one of the responses to the growing discussion around sexual harassment in our nation. Girls want to feel safe. They want to be respected and be confident that they can go about their day without being sexually propositioned.

This is an important issue and one that needs to be addressed urgently. But the answer will not be found in ‘sexual consent’ education – which is the direction State Governments around the nation are rushing towards.

In NSW for instance, members of parliament are calling for reforms to their sex education programs to cover issues including “rape culture, slut shaming, sexual coercion and queer sex.”

Consent is said to be a decision to agree to sexual activity that is made with adequate knowledge and understanding of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social risks of engaging in that sexual activity. Can a 12 year old, 14 year old, 16 year old child be expected to have that deep knowledge and understanding?

We all know that ‘consent’ – particularly for teenage girls – is too easily coerced. And after the fact, so often what we see is a war of “he said” vs “she said.” As Martyn Iles said recently, “It’s a mess.”

Another approach to educating our children on engaging in sexual activity is the teaching of abstinence which by its nature teaches self-control, self-discipline, and respect. It’s hard to understand why we ignore this most excellent option.

In every way imaginable, it is in the best interests of children to wait to have sex.

Sexually active adolescents are at a higher risk of acquiring a sexually transmittable infection (STI), which can have serious consequences including infertility. Currently around 1 in 6 Australians (16%) are known to suffer from a sexually transmitted infection. This horrendous statistic is considered to be a conservative estimate.

Of course, abstinence is not merely a physical consideration. Many children (from both Christian and non-Christian homes) do not understand what sex is for according to God’s design.

Sex is not a recreational activity. It is far from being a mere form of entertainment, a bit of fun, or the end to a good night out. Sex is of deep significance and has a profound affect on our lives. 

If our children don’t understand the deep meaning of sex, how can they be responsible for providing informed consent?

In her book, Growing up by the book, Dr. Patricia Weerakoon said,

“Sex education is more than ‘just sex.’ It’s about character. It’s about teaching personal integrity and relational faithfulness within God’s pattern for life. It’s not about telling children ‘just don’t do it’; it’s about explaining God’s plan to them (Proverbs 22:6), showing them why it’s the best way to live, and demonstrating this in your own life.”

There are many other questions we should consider in this ongoing discussion. For instance, if we teach the concept of consent for children from 12 years old, are we also condoning consensual sexting, pornography and even prostitution? 

Sadly, the biggest teacher of sexuality today could be pornography. With the rise of the mobile phone, the average age of first exposure to pornography is around 11. Any teaching on sexual consent will surely fail when the diet of pornography teaches that females enjoy degradation and even violence.

Is it any wonder that child on child abuse is rising significantly?

If we are serious about teaching respect, we must teach children about the harms of pornography. In early 2020, the Federal Parliament released a report, ‘Protecting the Age of Innocence’, highlighting the harms of pornography. The report’s recommendations have not been implemented and yet another inquiry has commenced.

We’ve had enough reports to know the problem. For the sake of our children, we need to see action!

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