HOW to ask? When to ask? Shyness in talking about the issue and their experiences… not having the language to ask for consent during sex.
These are just some of the issues young people today face, according to youth workers who took part in a study by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) entitled ‘Consent and the Youth Sector: What do we know?’.
We knew anecdotally that consent was a significant issue among young people. This research has confirmed that and provided insights we can use to support young people and help those working with them to start the conversation on the concept of consent.
Confusion as to what consent actually entails
Evidence from the youth workers in the research indicates that there is confusion among some young people as to what the term consent means and what this involves (58%).
Furthermore, confusion was reported in relation to the ongoing process of consent, the use of verbal and non-verbal cues including body language, and consent in regard to relationships.
It was reported that some young people believed that because they were in a relationship consent did not need to be discussed. This needs to be challenged.
Communication and confidence are key
The report also showed that some young people have a lack of confidence to communicate their preferences in relation to sexual activity (23%) and some felt peer pressured to engage in sexual activity and this is impacting on their ability to address the concept of consent.
According to the research, some young people felt that they would not have the confidence to talk about consent first in a relationship or were unsure about the content of that conversation and what it would involve.
There was also a fear highlighted for young people about saying ‘no’ to engaging in sexual activity that they are uncomfortable with or fearing rejection if they did not agree to something.
Where are young people finding out about consent?
The research also indicated that peers (60%), media (34%) and school (29%) are the main sources of information on consent for young people.
In relation to peers, youth workers noted that some young people were relying on each other for information and oftentimes this was inaccurate.
In relation to media, in which 18% accounts for social media, inaccuracies were again highlighted and the importance of developing media literacy skills with young people was emphasised to support them to be aware of what is a reliable source of information.
Where to from here?
A cornerstone of our work is helping youth workers to support young people to build and maintain healthy relationships, which includes building their confidence around their sexual health.
As we enter a period of living alongside evolving Covid-19 restrictions, it is important to highlight resources available to support young people in terms of their sexual health and the concept of consent, which is a key aspect of any relationship.
The evidence suggests that there is a lack of clarity, as well as a certain amount of misinformation regarding the concept of consent and this in turn is having an impact on young people’s sexual health.
To help tackle this, the NYCI National Youth Health Programme has published ‘Let’s talk about consent’ a guide for young people and a guide for those working with them. The two guides provide an introduction to the concept of consent and include information on consent and the Irish law and tools to build the confidence and the communication skills of young people in relation to their sexual health.
The guide for youth workers provides support to start a conversation with young people on the concept of consent and how their organisation can support young people and their sexual health. In addition, the NYCI National Youth Health Programme will also be rolling out a training programme addressing the concept of consent for the youth sector in the upcoming months.
These guides and supports are just the start of the conversation, and we look forward to working with young people and youth workers nationwide to make sure that in future young people will feel supported to be able to say the phrase ‘lets’ talk about consent’.
For more information and to access the report and guides go to www.youth.ie
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Harold is Health Promotion Officer at the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) National Youth Health Programme and author of the report ‘Consent and the Youth Sector: What do we know?’.