The Teach Yourself Sex Ed course continues and this week we are going to think about Consent. It will involve you choosing a chocolate bar and watching TV with someone. So pretty hard work. Remember, as with everything here at Bish, this is for everyone over 14.
This Teach Yourself Sex Ed course began during one of the Coronavirus lockdowns. You might also find it useful when you go back to school, because sadly many schools still don’t do great sex ed.
I’ve written a lot about consent on here oh and look, here’s a consent book that I’ve written that you can buy in shops and everything! So a lot of this teach yourself sex ed module is going to link you to other articles I’ve already written.
We’re going to start with what consent is. Then you’ll learn about self consent. After that it’s about consent with others. Then I’ll get you to think about power.
This isn’t really about sex and consent and it’s sex ed, not sex advice. If you want the best advice about how to have consensual sex have a look at the rest of the consent articles on here. Especially this one about what is sex and this one about sex talk and communication.
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1. What is consent?
The legal definition of consent (click the link to find out more about that) is “[a] person consents if [they] agree by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” This makes it sound like your choice is limited to you agree to do a thing, or not. But it’s important to notice the freedom and choice bit here. Consent is something we could always have more of and to have more consent we need more freedom and more choice.
2. Your own freedom to choose
The first step is to try to learn about our own freedoms and choices. Learning to work out what we need and want can be tricky – even before we think about how to ask people if they can give us what we want. Also it’s harder for some people to feel like they can ask for things than others (which we’ve already covered in this lesson remember).
So you’re going to learn about your own freedoms and choices and how you can tune into what you actually want. And you’re going to do this by choosing a bar of chocolate. There’s more about how to do this at my article How to Choose a Chocolate Bar, so go and read that now (it’ll open in a new tab).
Note. If you can’t go to the shop, or don’t get to buy yourself chocolate, try this for the next time you choose anything for yourself. It doesn’t have to involve buying anything. It could be listening to music, watching something on TV etc etc Read more about how to do this in my article about self care.
What makes it difficult to choose?
Once you’ve done that, think about what made that tricky for you? Even though it was just you, choosing from many different kinds of chocolate, what made it tricky?
Next, remember the characters you drew for the gender, you, and culture lesson? Consider what might make it difficult for these characters to go into a shop and buy the bar of chocolate that they really really want. Think of their identity, their background, what society lets them do and what it doesn’t.
Remember that word ‘agency’ from the you and the self lesson? We all have different levels of freedom to choose what we want. But self consent is about increasing the agency we already have. The more we practice using our freedom to choose things we want and need, the more our agency can grow. Now, how do we do this with other people and in society?
3. Choosing things with other people
You might be thinking that we’re going to be talking about sex in this bit. Well that’s where you’re wrong! In this bit we’re going to choose how to watch a TV show with someone else and how to have consensual greetings.
Watching TV with someone
This next activity involves you choosing to watch something on TV with someone. It could be Freeview, Netflix, or Now TV, or YouTube, or iplayer or whatever. The choice is literally endless now, which actually makes this pretty tricky. When I was a teenager there were only 4 channels on TV we could watch. Anyway. The instructions for the activity and how to choose what to watch are here, again this opens in a new tab.
Okay have you done that? How did it go? What made it tricky? How much decision making power (agency) did each of you have? Were there any attempts to even this out between you? Who held the remote? Again, think back to the characters I was talking about above, which of these might find it easier or harder to choose what they want to watch on TV with others? How might they overcome that?
Next, I’d like you to think about greetings. You know, handshakes, fistbumps, elbow bumps, little salutes, hugs, kisses, squeezes. Now this is tricky because we’ve not really been doing a lot of these recently thanks to Covid.
Again this involves opening up this article, how consent feels which is all about handshakes. There is some stuff about sex on there but just do the bit about handshakes. All of that applies to different kinds of greetings too.
Have you read it? Did you manage to try out a greeting with someone in your bubble? Great. So you’ll have practised the ‘handshake script’, and the negotiated handshake (which is like the watching a TV show with someone). You’ll also have some experience now about on-going consent.
Both of these activities have this blend of negotiation but also paying attention to what is happening all the way through. If your brother is sighing, throwing things at the TV, and playing on his phone, he doesn’t like Bridgerton. So this is where you need to stop and check in.
If someone goes stiff during a hug, or backs away as you start to lean in for a hug, can you pay attention to that and see if they want a different kind of greeting.
The other big thing to take away from this activity is the idea of the should story. Wherever you are in the world there is always a ‘should story’ of a) what kind of greeting you should do and b) how you should do that kind of greeting. Where do they come from? What affect do they have on our freedom to choose?
4. Should stories
There aren’t many should stories when it comes to choosing a bar of chocolate or watching something on TV with someone. Apart from a) 45 year old men shouldn’t eat Curly Wurlys (I do anyway), and b) Bridgerton is really boring and you shouldn’t watch it.
However, when it comes to greetings there are really powerful should stories. Why is it that a handshake is always, right hand, up and down, 2 to 3 seconds, 6 out of 10 firmness, tiny bit of eye contact, and then done. When we’re told that’s how we’re supposed to do handshakes, does that give us very much choice?
‘Should stories’ might sometimes be helpful, because they can give us a bit of information about how we might do things. But if we don’t allow people to talk about what they actually might want, or need, then the should story leads to less consent, not more.
And yes, you’ve guessed it, there are should stories for how we ‘should’ have sex. Just as there are should stories for how we should have relationships. What are they do you think? Think about sex scenes in TV shows or (if you’ve seen any) porn scenes. What about the stories about relationships on TV, how ‘should’ those work out?
So the key to being able to do things more consensually is the ability to write our own stories about what it is that we want, needs, wish for, and desire. Doing this for ourselves is hard enough, but doing this with others is even harder. Giving each other the time and space to write those stories is crucial.
There’s more about how to do this with sex in this article about how to have the best first time sex.
As we’ve learned, people have different levels of agency. Freedom to choose is not fairly distributed in society. This, plus should stories, is what makes consent difficult.
Again, I’ve written an article about power in relationships already, and again that opens in a new tab. Just have a read of that and consider the different scenarios that I put in there.
You’ll see that it’s often hard to ask for what we want and this can be for many reasons. Again, go back to the characters I asked you to do in the gender, culture, and you module. Put some of these characters next to each other and consider who might have the most freedom to choose between them. Who might feel most comfortable asking? What can the other person do to even this up a bit?
Going back to handshakes for a second. Imagine that someone really important put their (right) hand out in front of you as if to shake your hand. Someone like your headteacher, or Prince William, for example – could you refuse to shake their hand?
Could you say ‘okay let’s do this, but I’d like a 7.5 / 10 firmness, eye contact the whole way through, and 9 very small up and downs’. Now imagine that you had that much power, what can you do to make the other person feel like they have choice and freedom (and the freedom to not shake your hand).
If you have the power to make something more consensual then use that power. You might both end up doing this for each other, which is great. It’s not about sacrificing some of your power so that someone else has more. Instead just think about what you can do to make sure you and everyone else involved has more freedom to choose. That way everyone has fun and everyone can enjoy having more fun together (whatever it is you’re doing). There’s more about this in my article about solidarity.
If you want to geek out with some of your mates about this you could check out this activity.
And, again, there’s loads more about this on here and in my book Can We Talk About Consent?
Okay that’s it for this week. Hope you found that useful and interesting. Here’s the next in the series, it’s about sex. Finally!
© Justin Hancock, 2021.
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here