TW: Sexual assault
In a survey conducted by The Boar, 10.2% of University of Warwick students said they felt that Sex and Relationships education (SRE) adequately prepared them for adult life and taught them about consent.
This was in contrast to 61% of students that said it did not prepare them for adult life, and 28.8% of students who said that it somewhat prepared them for adult life. 59 students responded to the survey between 8 February and 19 February.
The survey was conducted to ascertain whether students felt there was a strong link between SRE taught at school and an understanding of consent. Among the students asked, 6.8% said they had never received a single lesson on sex. 76.3% said that the provision of SRE has an impact on consent in a university setting, compared to 3.4% who felt it did not.
One student who anonymously participated in the survey said: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, I think you’re more likely to try to use relationships at university as a place to teach yourself, to the detriment of the people who are being used as a learning aid.”
As of September 2020, the Government updated the National Curriculum on SRE. The guidelines state that effective SRE “also supports people throughout life, to develop safe, fulfilling and healthy sexual relationships, at the appropriate time”. It also says that “pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual healthy and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way”.
However, many students commented on their experiences of an ineffective, and in some cases harmful, experience of SRE.
One student, who attended an independent Catholic school, spoke about their experiences of SRE at secondary school. They said: “We were made to do an ‘anonymous’ Kahoot about if we would get an abortion if we found ourselves in that situation. Everyone who answered yes was taken into a room and lectured on the pro-life argument.”
Another said: “Education could make much more of an attempt to negate the rape culture innate in our society. Instead, it is unaddressed.”
Answering the question of how consent is impacted by SRE throughout school, a Warwick student argued: “Sex and relationships education is so male-focused which teaches young boys that sex should be for them and prioritise them.”
Education could make much more of an attempt to negate the rape culture innate in our society. Instead, it is unaddressed
– University of Warwick student
“Obviously, consent is an issue for all genders but I do feel as though it is not a priority of the curriculum as a result, this means lots of people do not understand consent or feel as though it doesn’t apply to behaviour such as stealthing or other forms of consensual sex.”
The survey also found that only 35.6% of Warwick students have had a ‘mainly positive’ experience with sex, relationships, and sex since starting at the university. 27.1% of students said that their experience with sex has been mainly negative, compared with 37.3% who said their experience was neither positive nor negative.
Students who partook in the investigation were asked what could be improved in SRE at school, or within the university itself. Several students suggested that the university should implement compulsory consent education, and that SRE should have a heavier focus on relationships and female pleasure. Other students argued that there should be a greater focus on “safe sex for LGBTQUA+ couples”.
One student commented: “Education in this area has not been standardised among all schools across the country, which is wrong. All students should have the right to a full education; and this should be a part of it.”
In a conversation with The Boar, Tasha Hardaker, vice-president of It Happens Here, spoke about her work with the society. It Happens here is a Warwick society providing a community for sexual violence survivors.
She said: “One issue that I’ve found by talking to people through my work with It Happens Here is that people don’t find consent ‘sexy’. People think that if you ask for consent it’s going to kill the mood. This is such a toxic thing to think and it’s really damaging. You begin to question how much sex has actually been consensual.
“Consent is something you need to have, rather than something that should be considered a mood-killer.
“I definitely think that talking more freely about sex will prepare people more adequately for sex, relationships, and consent. If everything is really emotional and stigmatised from the beginning, it stops this conversation which is awful.”
Shame on You Warwick also offered a comment on the correlation between SRE throughout school and issues of consent at university.
They said: “Sex education in schools is very lacking, and there is a direct correlation between healthy, positive sex education and consent. Some countries, such as Sweden or Holland, teach sex education from the age of four, encouraging healthy attitudes towards sexuality and gender.
“Students in these countries are taught not just biology, but healthy relationships, focusing on pleasure and affirmative consent.
“Framing sex as a collaborative, pleasurable experience is a great way to start the conversation around consent. Furthermore, we are taught nothing about topics surrounding sex which are deemed as taboo, perhaps because our teachers were not knowledgeable about them.
“These include sex work, masturbation, sexual fluidity, and power dynamics. Sex is not just something that happens between two people in the bedroom; it is a huge part of society.”
Warwick’s Student Union (SU) currently run a programme called #WeGetConsent. They offer active bystander training and information on consent. The SU website says: “As a student community, we are actively building safer and more inclusive spaces.
“We’re proactively educating ourselves and others about consent, and are responding to the endemic issues of sexual violence, harassment and domestic abuse by empowering our community with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to intervene.”
For anyone who has been affected by the issues raised in this article, there are lots of places you can turn to for help and support. Warwick Wellbeing Support Services are available through the Wellbeing Portal, online or over the phone. NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust are offering online or over the phone urgent support for anyone suffering from mental health issues. More information can be found on their website. Charities such as MIND also have information, guidance and support available online.