When it comes to sex, how aware are you about the need for consent? Since it takes two to tango, both parties have to agree to it – and respect the other party’s response no matter what stage of intimacy they’re at. So how aware are young people these days about consent?
AWARE and Ngee Ann Polytechnic recently surveyed 539 youths in Singapore, ranging in age from 17 to 25 years, on their understanding of consent. The group consisted of 65% female and 35% male participants from a wide range of ethnicities.
Most youths tend to understand consent
From the survey, it seems that most young people in Singapore generally understood how consent works over a range of hypothetical scenarios, including when consent was withdrawn halfway through an act, or when consent was given under a state of intoxication or under threat.
However, some were less sure when it came to situations involving a) underage sex and b) a reluctant partner being coerced or urged to say yes.
Men were also more likely than women to identify some scenarios, like coersion, as consensual.
It was also found that males were more likely than females to agree with problematic statements on consent and rape (for example, “most claims of rape are false”). The most concerning matter is that more than 1 in 10 young people believed that victims of sexual assault or rape had to “take some responsibility for what happened to them”.
Sex education should begin in school
School is a place of learning, and it isn’t a stretch to add sexual education – including the topic of consent – as part of the curriculum, seeing that unlike subjects like advanced maths or history, all students will need this knowledge even long after graduation.
In fact, in the survey, 97% of youths wanted consent to be taught in schools.
Currently, the Ministry of Education’s sexuality education programmes’ emphasis on abstinence may impede the open discussion of consent. Most of the time, sexuality education classes spend more time on the negative consequences girls potentially face when they engage in sex—e.g. pregnancies and STDs—and less time on respectful interactions. Quite often, educators bring in their gendered biases when teaching.
As a result, many youth find themselves learning about consent from the internet and social media, or through peer groups.
Consent in real life
The survey also asked students how they practised consent in real life. Of those who had engaged in some form of sexual activity (16%), the majority (85%) said they asked for consent before initiating sexual encounters, but around one in three reported feeling awkward about asking for consent. Only slightly more than half had discussed sexual consent with their (most recent) partner before engaging in sexual activities.
Asking for consent may be a strange habit, since not many are used to the practice of it even though in theory it’s supposed to be as easy as asking a simple question.