Sexual consent classes: A step in the right direction or just insulting?

Sex – It’s a subject that isn’t particularly easy to discuss at the best of times,yet it is one that is unquestionably expected to be understood among young adults. Oxford and Cambridge introducing sexual consent classes however is a direct challenge to the dominant stereotype of sexually promiscuous, sex savvy students.

Our contradicting culture of overtly sexualised images in the media yet a simultaneous tight lipped reluctance for ardent conversation on the topic of sex has directly translated into problems for young people. On the one hand it is appealing to forge an attitude of flippancy towards sex in order perhaps to fit in when there is a culture across campuses that promotes it, yet it is ultimately one that is having unnerving outcomes.

Cases of rape and sexual assault on university campuses have been making headlines a great deal lately. Most notably the case of Columbia University student and rape victim, Emma Sulkowicz, who has been carrying her mattress to all of her classes in a bid to attain justice by convincing the university to expel the rapist.

American university culture thrives upon ‘frats’ or ‘fraternities’, the men who join these fraternities are, according to CNN, three times more likely to commit rape. It seems the UK’s equivalent of fraternities is the LAD culture of booze, misogyny and casual sex. Having this as a positive social life to strive for for within a university culture where minds are supposed to be broadened as opposed to narrowed is a sobering insight. Indeed, NUS research conducted has identified that 50 per cent of participants in a study on university culture confirmed that “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” is evident at their universities.

Oxford and Cambridge introducing sexual consent classes therefore is a step in the right direction of forming a response to the harrowing social ideals of sex, relationships and gender stereotypes that are ultimately being formed by students themselves through LAD culture.

These classes aren’t a patronising recap on sex education, they are about starting a positive and open discussion about sex, relationships and what constitutes sexual consent. As Charlotte Hempstead, women’s rep for St. Hugh’s University of Oxford has outlined ‘…we are discussing showing respect for your partner in all instances of intimacy. That was our key “takeaway” – respect your partner and their needs as well.’

It may be construed as patronising to many but given the harrowing 2010 NUS ‘Hidden Masks’ report that outlines how 68 per cent of respondents had been the victim of ‘one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student’ it appears to be high time the topic is broached upon and dealt with a sense of maturity. It is the safety of ourselves and those around us that is at the heart of the issue and that is always something to strive for. Hopefully Oxford and Cambridge will inspire other universities to follow in suit.


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