Kate Orson wonders whether classroom teaching about consent is really enough to help a child
Society is developing kinder and more compassionate ways to teach children about consent. Modern day consent education is encouraging teachers and caregivers to explain to children that they have the right to have the boundaries of their body respected, that they have the right to say no to unwanted touch - here is a quote from one set of teacher guidelines about teaching consent
‘Sexual consent refers to a positive choice to take part in a sexual activity by people who understand the nature and implications of the activity they are agreeing to. All parties take part not because they have to, but because they want to. Consent must be free — an active, personal choice; it cannot be inferred, assumed, or gained by coercion or exploitation.’
Consent teaching is so important not just to develop a healthy attitude towards sex, but also to navigate situations involving touch. A child who is raised with an understanding of consent will know they have the right to say no to a hug from a distant auntie, or if tickling feels invasive.
As parents we can model consent from the very beginning of our children’s lives. Even in situations where something has to get done like changing a nappy or going in a car seat, we can explain to children, we can go at a slow pace, (when time allows!) listening to feelings of upset especially when something feels strange and unusual. We can advocate for our children in medical or dentist appointments, so that they feel their bodies are being respected.
With 22% of evangelical women suffering from pain during intercourse, (double the rate of the general population*) it is so important that Christian families recognise the importance of open and honest communication about touch, and pleasure.
School isn’t enough
However, secular teachings about consent can also be problematic in some ways. What is compassionate and loving on the surface can be twisted to promote worldly sexual attitudes. The problem with using our physical sensation as the barometer for whether touch is right or wrong is that we can experience physical pleasure in the most casual of sexual encounters. Consent teaching is often about the present moment, what do I want, right here, right now? It makes sex transactional, about giving and receiving touch, but whether it takes place in a committed relationship or not seems immaterial.
Ice cream tastes good in the moment, but if we eat too much we will get a stomach ache, or rot our teeth. Only God truly sees the long term.
Our bodies do give us vital information that we should listen to. Our nerves tell us when sex is painful, or feels good, or when our hand is touching something hot that will burn. However, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things,’ and chasing physical pleasure without following God’s commandments will not give us lasting joy. Proverbs 3 5-6 tell us to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.’
Our bodies are not idols to worship. Ultimately they belong not to us, but to God. As Psalm 24 says, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.’ - Psalm 24.
Let’s teach and model consent to our children in the way we treat them and touch them but remind them that truly joyful relationships need to be rooted in the safety of marriage and commitment. Just as Christ waits for his bride, let’s encourage our children to do the same.
*The figure is from a survey conducted by the authors of The Great Sex Rescue, Sheila Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, Joanna Sawatsky. )