“Schools are not required to teach sex education,” a disturbing fact the California Department of Education states on its website. Fortunately, 96 percent of schools do include sex education — though 100 percent would be ideal — in their curriculum, and this curriculum must abide by strict laws, including one Gov. Jerry Brown just approved: The “Yes Means Yes” policy that college campuses were required to implement this past year will soon be required to be taught in all schools that offer sex education. Although it’s sad that this is something that has to be taught — seriously, what is wrong with humanity sometimes? — it’s crucial that this idea permeates developing minds as early as possible. If a “yes means yes” culture can be established at a young age, then perhaps sexual assault won’t be such a frequent problem.
Although it’s too soon to tell if this campaign has been proven successful on college campuses, it’s clear that a change in policy and education was necessary to combat this problem. Prior to this, many colleges had a “no means no” policy, but this does not encompass cases in which the victim was unable to vocalize or resist the assault. A “yes means yes” policy, both in colleges and high school campuses, is the right step toward ensuring that sex is safe and enjoyable.
This bill, which is the first to mandate such a policy in high schools, updates California’s existing sex education policy to include information about sexual assault, including dating abuse and affirmative consent. Sexual education is more than watching someone put a condom on a banana; it’s a serious topic that demands serious discussion. Co-author of the bill Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) concurs: “It’s really critical that we start addressing issues of healthy relationships and sex and how to handle one’s sexuality and sexual behaviors at the earliest possible stage, because what we are seeing in our culture today is clearly sexual violence that is completely out of control and at epidemic levels.” Sexual assault cases can quickly turn into a “he said, she said” conundrum, but teaching affirmative consent and clearly defining what constitutes consent will uncloud this gray area.
With the majority of sexual assault cases occurring within a student’s first few semesters of college, teaching this before students enter college will hopefully change these grave statistics. Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice reports that women who do not attend college are 1.2 times more likely to be sexually assaulted, so it’s important that students who forgo college receive this information and apply it to themselves. Though some students might wish to breeze through this sometimes-awkward topic, it’s important that they understand the problems that can be avoided if they follow this policy. At the very least, students should be taught the difference between active, consensual body language versus passive, forced participation in sex.
Though it might seem excessive to ask for an enthusiastic “yes” at each point on the baseball diamond, it’s better to have that peace of mind than to be accused of something later on. If young people can get it in their mind as early as possible that consent is crucial, then the culture surrounding sexual assault can be transformed into one of mutual respect and enjoyment. Even kindergarteners can understand consent — “Yes, you can borrow my tickle-me-Elmo” — so high school is the perfect time to start instilling this in their minds.