Kids need to know when 'yes' means yes
Sexual politics and the issue of consent is a very challenging area for today's young people
I've got to say I'm pretty worried about the sexual lives of our adolescents and young adults. Don't get me wrong - of course young people are going to have sex and going to make mistakes, but I'm concerned about them coming through that period of insecurity and inexperience as relatively unscathed as possible.
I thought long on this, after speaking to an 18-year-old boy who had been accused of rape by a girl he met at a party. His story was that he'd had consensual sex with a girl while they were both drunk, and the next day after she went home, she said he'd raped her. That's a simplified version, but close enough to what he said.
Now, of course, I don't know what the truth of any of this is. But what I do know is the boy, who's been questioned by the guards but not charged as yet, is way out of his depth. He's lost weight. He's not eating or sleeping. And his anxiety levels are through the roof.
My guess is the girl involved in this - who may or may not have been raped - is likely to be in no great shape either. But what really alarms me is that it's actually possible in the current scheme of adolescent sexual politics that she thinks she's been raped and he thinks he's had consensual sex. That's a big problem. And one that can lead to huge fall-out for both genders.
These kids are very young and inexperienced and have no real road map for navigating their way through the very adult issues surrounding sex. And unlike in previous generations, when sex was a no-go before marriage, now we have the situation where sex is quite likely before any semblance of a relationship.
From the age of 12 or 13 many of these kids will meet - that's snog in the old money - with no preamble whatsoever. No slow set. No nothing. A perfunctory "Will you meet my mate?" from a wingman, followed by acquiescence or rejection and that's it. They don't know each other's names, despite almost getting their braces entangled.
Fast forward to 16 and house parties with no adult supervision, a ton of booze and random sex with strangers. That's a reality for many adolescents.
I'm not harking back to the bad old days of sexual repression and passing judgment. But I'm concerned about the fall-out for these kids. Pregnancy, STIs, sexual assaults - or indeed the accusation of sexual assaults - have real consequences. And I've heard anecdotally of six or seven alleged rapes, at parties attended by school kids - school kids! - in the past year or two. My instinct has been that the girls likely are being assaulted, but the boy I talked to gave a very credible and plausible version of events. Yet such is the immaturity of all parties involved, I think the need for, or indeed the absence of, consent may not always be recognised.
Our kids' sex education concentrates largely on biology, but I think we should be focussing far more on tricky issues like consent and things like the 'Yes Means Yes' campaign.
Basically it recognises that, of course, 'No Means No' but the absence of yes can also mean no. The only way to truly establish consent - which is important for both parties - is by one saying "Are you sure you want to do this?" And the other saying "Yes." That allows young people -who really aren't that great at reading or managing these situations - to be sure, that both of them, are on the same page regarding sex, I honestly think we need to intercede more as adults in what's going on. To design some sort of safety net for our kids.
Our previous challenge was to shake off religious interference in our sex lives but our new challenge is to see that sexually active kids get launched into their adulthood without incurring undue harm.