Teaching Affirmative Consent
Teaching Affirmative Consent: Practical guidelines to increase student understanding is an exciting new supplement designed to help schools and communities offering sexual risk reduction programs deliver information about affirmative consent, the increasingly popular standard for sexual conduct policies. Under this standard, broadly known as "Yes Means Yes," each person involved in a sexual encounter needs to be clear about giving and getting consent for any sexual activity.
A culture of consent is one in which it is the norm, and not the exception, for all persons to obtain consent prior to sexual experiences. Many educators and young adults feel this policy shift is a step in the right direction and has the potential to create positive change. We think teaching about Affirmative Consent is a great idea. Here are some of the reasons why:
- It builds communication skills. Choosing to practice Affirmative Consent requires competence in communication, especially the ability to express one's own wishes and listen to and check in with a partner.
- It offers a positive, respectful frame about personal choice. The focus is on respecting personal limits while negotiating what each person wants.
- It responds to shifting cultural norms. Increasingly, individuals, organizations and policy bodies are addressing Affirmative Consent and integrating it into educational programs.
- It helps prevent sexual assault. We want young people to expect these standards of themselves and their partners. This can help build norms that encourage youth to leave situations where consent is not being respected.
- It supports law and policy. In some districts and states, this teaching helps schools and educators comply with laws or policies that require teaching about Affirmative Consent.
- It recognizes new social paradigms and addresses negative gender roles. This standard creates opportunities for positive relationships built on mutual respect. Everyone can say yes, and everyone can say no.
ETR is the largest producer and distributor of evidence-based interventions addressing pregnancy, STD/HIV prevention and other aspects of sexual and reproductive health. Most of the programs include activities where students practice refusal skills: saying "no" to sexual pressure. These are important skills for students to learn. However, this focus on repeatedly saying "no" can give the impression that sexual pressure is an expected norm in relationships.
Many educators now want to reframe instructional activities in ways that emphasize mutual respect and Affirmative Consent. This supplement is designed to meet this request, to honor the foundations of existing evidence-based programs while helping students learn about consent. It is a "green-light" adaptation for evidence-based programs.
There are 3 components in this supplement:
- Background for Educators: Includes information about sexual assault policies that have been expanded to include language on affirmative consent, shifting norms about consent, and guidance for teaching refusal skills within the context of learning about affirmative consent.
- Supplement Class: "What Do You Want?" Understanding Affirmative Consent is a one- to two-session lesson plan for a stand-alone class on consent. Students practice communicating and listening in verbal and nonverbal ways and assess various scenarios.
- Discussion Guide: Learning About Affirmative Consent offers general and specific suggestions for integrating discussions about consent into existing sexual health programs. These steps will reinforce learning from the supplement class across an entire course.