Get Consent

Waiting for a tour bus to take me on little drive involving glaciers, waterfalls, and a huge number of Icelandic horses, I picked up a copy of the alternative newspaper The Reykjavik Grapevine and came across a story about a program called ‘Fáðu já’ (“Get A Yes”)that has been implemented in the 10th grade for every student here in Iceland

One of the educators involved in the project explained a story she experienced in an Iceland high school, an experience that catalyzed her interest in producing the film:

To hammer the message home, ‘Fáðu já’ employs a lot of clever metaphors to remove ambiguity from any so-called grey areas, something that Þórdís Elva’s brought to the project in spades.

Þórdís wrote the critically acclaimed book ‘Á mannamáli’ which discusses sexual violence in Iceland in great detail. She tells me of one incident during her book tour at an upper secondary school in Reykjavík. She was taking questions, and one guy in his late teens asked whether it “wasn’t okay to finish if you were really close to coming but the girl wants to stop?” “I was taken aback by the question because it was totally sincere, and nobody in the class room reacted, or gave him a funny look,” Þórdís says. “Everyone just stared at me blankly, and I thought ‘oh god, we have so much work ahead…’

One of the important points the film makes is that previous sex education in Iceland was very good at teaching biological sexual function and emphasizing potential health risks, but not very effective at discussing the social or communicative aspects of dating and sex. In the United States generally and Montana specifically, too much of our health education information takes a similar approach, if sexual he alth is discussed at all.

Teaching students the anatomically correct names for their body parts and showing some slides of STDs is clearly insufficient. We need to make sure that our students are talk about the importance of communication, acceptable behavior, and, vitally, consent. In a country in which one in six women have been victims of rape or attempted rape–and in which 2/3 of rape victims between the ages of 18-29 knew their attackers, ensuring that young men and women understand these issues should be non-negotiable.

We’ve become too focused on teaching young women how to avoid rape. Some of this is well-intentioned advice about being careful about drinks in public settings and being aware of one’s surroundings, and some of it is just victim-shaming nonsense that seeks to place the blame for sexual assault on the behavior of the victim, not the perpetrator. In either case, we need to move past a model that teaches people they need to be on guard and manage their behavior to one that teaches potential aggressors to understand their behavior.

We need to shift our focus to a model that teaches young people about consent and respectful behavior. Popular culture and pornography (important sources of information about sexual behavior, whether we like it or not) simply don’t provide accurate information young people need.

Sex and communication about it can be very awkward and difficult for anyone, and doubly so for young people who often struggle with serious questions about identity and appropriate roles. I think both liberals and conservatives agree that we cannot abdicate our responsibility and let pop culture’s male-aggressive, never communicatively-challenged sex educate our children. Why not implement programs that give them the tools to have healthy relationships instead?

Having the courage to use programs like Fáðu já’sounds like an excellent place to start. The film is available (with English subtitles) here. While there are certainly some cultural differences, its approach–with frank, honest discussions about sexuality, consent, communication, and violence, offers the kind of program we need to make sure we’re making available to our kids.