Mandatory consent education is a huge win for Australia – but consent is only a small part of navigating relationships

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One year after the activist Chanel Contos Instagram Poll revealed more than 6,700 testimonies of sexual assault – often at high school parties – education ministers across Australia have unanimously agreed make consent education mandatory in schools from 2023.

All Australian schools will be required to teach age-appropriate consent education – which includes coercion, gender stereotyping and power imbalances – from foundation through 10th grade.

Currently, one in five women in Australia has suffered some form of sexual violence, one in four of whom were under 18 at the time. The evidence shows preventive educationincluding consent informationis a powerful tool to reduce sexual assault.

Thus, a commitment to mandatory consent education is worth celebrating.

But the details of what schools can teach, what teachers are willing to teach, and what parents are willing to accept are complex. And an exclusive focus on security can come at the expense of the pleasurable benefits of human connection.

Young people say consent education is now ‘excruciating’

As part of a ongoing projectwe asked teenagers and their parents on their perceptions school-based sex education, their experiences of online and offline prejudice, and online pornography.

Teenagers as young as 11 have shared personal stories of harmful behavior, including breaches of consent online, such as receiving unsolicited sexual images, and people re-sharing nude photos intended for private viewing.

Teens who reported receiving education about consent felt they weren’t given the tools to initiate or navigate a conversation about consent – ​​nor were they helped about way to communicate a firm but respectful ‘no’.

A teenager said:

The education system needs to catch up, it is light years behind […] because to be frankly honest, the education we receive (in this area) is atrocious.

A teenager told us when the romantic relationship between a friend and his girlfriend turned sexual

[…]It wasn’t that it wasn’t consensual and she didn’t want it but it wasn’t 100% […] but now because there was a little minor check that didn’t happen his life has been completely thrown in the trash […] part of the system failed because it didn’t know how to (communicate a lack of consent) and it didn’t know how to (obtain consent) properly.

This highlights the fact that consent is often a fuzzy and difficult concept that needs to be clarified. It illustrates that consent can be revoked at any time. Another teenager said:

(we) only learned ‘make sure there is consent’, not how to check whether there is indeed consent.

It’s also often based on fear

The adolescents in our study said that the fear-based approach to sex education means they are less likely to share their experiences with parents and caregivers for fear of being punished. However, we also found that teens are generally reluctant, shy or otherwise unreceptive to talking about sex with their parents.

Research also shows that the “don’t do it” approach is similar to abstinence education. This increases the chances that teenagers will turn to pornography for information.



Read more: Sex ed can counter what kids learn from porn, but some teachers fear backlash when tackling ‘risky’ topics


Such an approach overlooks the positive aspects of expressing intimacy in safe spaces and denies young people’s actual experiences of pleasurable and safe sexual behavior, both online and offline.

Fear-based approaches to online sex education ignore the genuinely positive and safe experiences of many young people.
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Given that most parents lack consent education themselves and many of them experience generational sexual shame that reflects traditional, cultural and religious beliefs, we expected many parents resist certain parts of sex education, such as teaching about positive sexual experiences.

But most of the parents we spoke to were in favor of better sex education, relationships and consent in schools. Many also felt they lacked the skills to delve into the nuances of consent and relied on schools to provide this information.



Read more: 4 in 5 parents support teaching about gender and sexual diversity in Australian schools


“Consent” is just the beginning of good consent education

What constitutes comprehensive relationship and sexuality education has been debated for many years, but includes consent education.

Experts agree that consent education includes more than just “no means no” discussions. The conversation should include how to maintain and respect boundaries, manage rejection, and balance consent with aspects of pleasure and desire.



Read more: Not as Simple as “No Means No”: What Young People Need to Know About Consent


Too much focus on consent, using a sexually negative fear-based approach (think phrases like “Are you sure?” “Are you absolutely sure?”) fails to acknowledge and respect the positives and enjoyable intimate human relationships.

Awkward approaches to these topics can mean that romance, consensual courtship, courtship, and trust can suffer, and teens will disconnect.

Relationship education involves discussions about communication skills and empathy. Consent is only a small part of a complex picture.
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Consent education only begins with “consent”. There is a bigger picture involving gender-positive concepts such as practicing empathy, building healthy relationships, communication skills, discussing sex outside of reproductive notions, and dealing with emotions.

Many have said that quality sex education depends on the teacher. But schools that offer consent education usually have no compulsory training for those who teach it.

Ensuring that important parts of sex education are not skipped

After a period of public consultation in 2021, the Australian Curriculum Assessment reviewed the australian programconsidering it overcrowded.

Given this, all the trickier aspects of relationships and sex education are more likely to be overlooked or omitted. This is more likely if a teacher feels uncomfortable, rushed, or lacks appropriate skills and knowledge.

Any change in curriculum must be accompanied by an audit process. Consent education should balance the perspective of safety with the positive and realistic aspects of relationships and sex and be included in the curriculum up to grade 12. Ideally, this would include government-mandated support and training for teachers, based on sex positivity.

It is also important to consider that education about consent, relationships and sexuality does not stop at school. There must still be conversations at home where individual family beliefs and values ​​can be discussed.



Read more: Parents, your children are watching you. Sex education starts at home


Mandatory consent education in Australia is a huge win. But this milestone is just one of many needed to raise thoughtful, compassionate and caring human beings while improving overall well-being and reducing widespread discrimination – as well as the risk and incidence of sexual assault. .

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit To reach

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