Main Navigation

Beyond the Birds and the Bees

By Addie Huff, Student Staff Member

Awkward, uneasy, confused, All things I felt as sex was discussed in my early childhood. As I got older and began to think back on my sex education, I realized these discussions barely scratched the surface. These conversations in my personal life and school mostly revolved around anatomical terms and protection, and that was all. This left a gap in my knowledge of important aspects of sex such as consent and healthy communication. Consent and healthy communication are important in sexual situations because they allow for each individual to be heard, seen, and respected as a human being. As I’ve gotten older I have realized the profound influence family & institutions have on our approach to sexual interactions. It’s important that we reflect and adopt consent and healthy communication into social and sexual interactions. With these tools we can approach sexual situations with empathy and avoid causing harm.

My personal upbringing significantly influenced my approach to interpersonal dynamics, emphasizing the importance of respect, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This principle ingrained in me a natural instinct of respect specifically in sexual interactions. Because my family had taught me this early on, I assumed others would approach sexual situations with the same respect. I quickly realized that was not the case for everyone and I found myself in scenarios where consent and respect were noticeably absent leaving me to have an unclear perception of what a sexual encounter should look like. I wish I could bring up how religion played a significant role in my formative years, shaping my beliefs, morals, and aspirations. Growing up in a religious background and later choosing to leave the church, has allowed me to take a step back and reflect on how not just organized religion handles sexual violence, but institutions, and social groups in our communities. These imperfections in the systems can profoundly influence one’s perspective on the world and can lead to harm. One important question is, “Why are we so focused on responding to harm rather than making efforts to prevent harm?” It is important that we reflect on this in our own communities we are involved in, in order to move towards reducing harm. We must realize the differences between response and prevention within institutions to understand healthy communication and consent.

When I recall my high school health education class, inappropriate jokes from male peers created an atmosphere where sex was treated as a joke. I got the impression that it wasn’t always understood the negative effects that words and thoughts can have on an individual. This disempowered my voice as a woman and fostered a sense of shame and uncertainty around the topic. By teaching about consent early on and empowering individuals to really be mindful of how they go into any sexual interaction it can not only foster healthier relationships but prevent harm before it occurs.

Navigating sexual consent is comparable to understanding the rules of a game; it involves clear communication, mutual agreement, and respect for each player’s boundaries, yet no one seems to know where to go to learn the rules, and those responsible for teaching likely feel uncomfortable properly teaching about it. It’s hard to avoid harming someone if you don’t know what constitutes harm or on the flip side, how to not cause harm. If we can think about encouraging conversation beyond the basics and teach early on about respect, understanding what consent is and how it can look different person to person, these can all aid in healthy communication and positive experiences in the future.

I like to think of consent as the bridge for healthy communication and you can’t have one without the other. As I started to encounter sexual experiences I often felt unheard, and pressured. Yet, I hadn’t ever been taught in my sex ed classes back in high school that healthy communication and consent should be present in my experiences. Healthy communication can be broad – so consider, how would you like to be treated and understood? If we can start at an early age of expounding upon different aspects of sex ed such as consent and healthy communication we can prevent harm early on from occurring.

It’s never too late to reflect and learn how you can adopt tools such as consent and healthy communication to end harm. Imagine the impact made by engaging in healthy communication and consent. At the Mcclusky Center for Violence Prevention we dream big and we imagine. We imagine a world where harm doesn’t exist and where consent and healthy communication are at the forefront of preventing harm. In your next interaction with someone, try to adopt these tools. Fostering self awareness and being considerate of not only our surroundings but those around us will mitigate harm. By learning and reflecting we can make healthy, informed choices that respect and honor our values while also respecting others.

Before I sign off, consider how do you imagine a world with consent and communication?