By Yvonne Ní Mhurchú
How are children supposed to know about boundaries and consent when there are mixed signals everywhere?
When I was a young the first I heard about sex and all that jazz was through friends. Most of what they ‘knew’ isn’t worth speaking of now but as far as I was aware at the time they were fountains of knowledge on the matter and not to be questioned. I went to a Catholic primary and secondary school, in primary school we were deemed much too young and thus were never told anything about anything even though at ages 11 – 13 some of us were clearly hitting puberty with a bang. Up until then I had absolutely no sexual experience at all (I was 12) but had I started ‘meeting’ a boy I would have gone by what little and wrong information I knew as I had been told nothing else.
Before I went to secondary school I asked my mother for a book about the birds and the bees, thankfully this cleared up a lot for me! But still in an all girls secondary school we never received any sort decent sex ed. The most we got was a biology lesson. My brother went to an all boys school and had a similar experience but with one difference, they got a talk on STD’s (with very graphic pictures included). No-one ever attempted to talk to any of us about feelings, love, other emotions, respect, sex, proper sexual health, rape, boundaries or consent. We got NOTHING. So at 16, 17 and 18 years old we were finished school and off to take on the big bad world armed with biology, old wives tales and the blind leading the blind when it came to sex.
I remember a friend of mine had an older boyfriend while we were still in school and we were hearing all about her first time. When I heard the details I was a little shocked (it did not sound like how it was in the movies). The truth is she wasn’t really ready and she wasn’t really into it (she told him this) but he didn’t stop. She knew it didn’t’ feel right but she didn’t know what to do so she lay there. Knowing now what I didn’t know then was that for her first time she had been raped by her boyfriend. Maybe if someone, ANYONE with a bit of real knowledge and experience had sat us down and explained to us about boundaries and consent she wouldn’t have ended up staying with a rapist for several months after that because she didn’t know any better. (I am in no way blaming her for anything that happened, all of the blame lies solely on the person that raped her).
In the digital age we live in now it is harder than ever to grow up. There is social media, more peer pressure and mixed messages seem to be everywhere. Take the Steubenville case, some people actually still believe that those boys did nothing wrong. In the UK children as young as 8 are ‘sexting’ and sending naked pictures of themselves to their friends. They don’t see anything wrong with it because they haven’t been told any different. There have been respected retailers selling t-shirts with slogans saying ‘keep calm and rape them’ on them, someone obviously assuming there would be a market for them. A tumblr account called facebook- whores exists consisting of pictures of “dumb bitches” found on facebook. Last April a 17 year old boy in Belfast was investigated for boasting about an alleged rape on facebook. His post claimed he had sex with a woman after misleading her about who he was. The post received over 1000 ‘LIKES’. Then there are TV shows like Jersey and Geordie Shore where girls are openly talked about and treated like objects and sex acts with numerous random strangers happen more often than the cast members have hot dinners (that is what apparently passes for entertainment these days). Not to mention the damage hardcore pornography is doing to kids.
No wonder children and teens are growing up completely confused. In a way you cannot entirely blame them when there are mixed signals everywhere they turn. Not enough is being done to change their young minds and show them right from wrong and just how important consent, respect and boundaries are. Now it is more important than ever that no child ever feels any sort of confusion on these matters. Ending these mixed messages for good could potentially stop another Steubenville from happening in the future.
Yvonne Ní Mhurchú