written by Martin Tampier
“Consent” is central to discussions around sexual abuse and is an essential element of modern school sex-ed curricula. As the reader will learn, serious problems and conflicts of interest are linked to this concept. It is not suitable to combat sexual abuse or for teaching minors about sexuality.
The #MeToo movement has led us to re-evaluate consent: too often, consent was tacitly presumed to exist when it did not. In 2020, Vanessa Springora published her memoir, referring to French writer Gabriel Matzneff (then aged 50) seducing her when she was merely 14. France’s literary establishment is described as “male chauvinist, quite misogynistic, and which stays silent — omertà.” As we are trying to change attitudes, many are asking, is “consent” rationalised as the cost of business for actresses, or the cost of moving up in one’s career? Is sex offered willingly and used as a bribe to obtain preferential treatment or is it coerced by those with workplace decision power? Who is the victim – who seduced whom? And what is going wrong?
How obvious is it whether the partners consented, or even who seduced whom?
In a culture where casual sex is common, one person makes a move that hopes for the other’s consent – why would this be wrong? In a quote attributed to David French, he says, “Consent is determined by the request, and in a completely sexualized culture, the request can come at any time, anywhere, and from any person you encounter—regardless of the power imbalance or the propriety of the location.” French here already provides some of the key factors playing into freely giving consent: power imbalances and the situation. Power imbalances are ubiquitous: a man may have more power in a situation where a woman needs to make a decision whether to consent (#MeToo is a female movement). An older teenager has more power than the younger; an adult has more power than a minor.
So when can we be sure consent has been given? Professor of theology Angela Franks asks, “Is it consent to dress provocatively? Or to say no, but to give in? Or to keep saying no, but stop short of physical violence? How much refusal outweighs the default of the yes?” As she explains, one of the actresses abused by Mr. Weinstein admitted to giving in after he insisted, then felt guilty about what happened. She goes on to explain, “consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it—or to refuse it...The burden that the default of the yes places on them is unjust.”
Maybe we need to move away from the assumption there is any default yes. Then, does consent have to be clearly asked for and voiced? Maybe even provided in writing or using an app, as an Australian police officer suggested? Just once, or at different stages? And what if we mix in some alcohol or drugs? In Australia, thousands of women and girls across the country are sexually assaulted as students. New South Wales Education Minister Sarah Mitchell’s response to this situation was that should teach about consent. Only, given a culture that seeks to lower the “consent” hurdle with , it remains unclear how such education will prevent non-consensual sex at institutions of learning. In addition, NSW students are already being taught about consent during sex-ed at schools, from kindergarten through to year 12.
A guide on consent for parents of children ages 8-18 years provides a hypothetical situation: You are at a party and you’ve had two beers. You don’t normally drink, and you’re feeling a little light headed. Everything seems silly. You’re flirting back and forth with a guy/girl you know from math class but have never really noticed before. You feel silly and giddy, and he/she suddenly seems like the greatest person in the room. He/she, who has also had a few drinks, starts making sexual overtures toward you. You’ve never thought of him or her like that before, but you feel so tipsy that sex seems like a good idea. You find a secluded spot together and have sex. The guide then proceeds to ask the teenager whether,
- consent has truly been given by both; and whether
- he/she thinks this would play out differently if one or both weren’t impaired.
After a few drinks, can we still be sure consent has been given?
Can we ever be sure consent has been given? Can we even be sure about our own consent being genuine? Some contributions to this debate seem less than helpful. American feminist Cindy Crabb’s Learning Good Consent guide goes as far as to reduce consent to bodily consent (in the context of women having experienced past abuse): “How do you know when your body says ‘yes’?”, it asks. “Sometimes we make choices in our heads, because it seems like a good idea, seems to make sense, when we may be feeling something entirely different in our bodies… It is important to make a difference between experiencing feelings and wanting to stop what you are doing. You can do this by paying attention to your body and learning its language.” The book relativizes consent, rather than defining it. It becomes very confusing: “Consent is never assumed, consent is never defined the same way by everybody, consent is verbal, consent can be nonverbal including body language, consent is never assumed with strangers OR long-term partners, consent is an on-going process at each new stage, consent is only possible when healthy communication is possible.” The claim is that “there is no set definition of .” Consent then becomes a useless concept.
Some have nevertheless tried to define it. The University of Alberta claims that “consent is as simple as tea,” then goes to quite some lengths to ensure it is adequately conveyed. At the least, we can agree that consent is not given whenever there is coercion, such as:
- pressuring (e.g. repeatedly asking someone until they are worn down);
- threatening (e.g. “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me”);
- intimidating (e.g. smashing something when someone says “no”);
- blackmailing (e.g. “I’ll tell everyone you’re gay if you don’t”);
- guilt-tripping (e.g. “If you really loved me, you would have sex with me”).
Planned Parenthood, the U.S.-based abortion services provider, provides a positive list of what consent should be using the acronym “FRIES”:
- Freely given,
- Enthusiastic, and
So, there should be no coercion or alcohol or drugs involved, one can change their mind, must agree to the rules of the game, both partners must want to do the things proposed, and one thing must not lead to another without clear consent at each stage. If there is something to lose by saying ‘no’ (e.g., safety or a relationship), it is not consent. Neither can we speak of consent if someone feels pressured, forced, threatened, guilty, blackmailed, intimidated, bullied or harassed. Legally, consent therefore remains unclear even if apparently granted verbally.
Consent is a vague concept that remains helplessly unclear in a practical context.
We are therefore left with the idea that consent is a vague concept that remains helplessly unclear in a practical context. If we are struggling with it in adult circles, it creates even greater concern when consent is employed in teaching material to “empower” vulnerable minors to explore their sexuality. Cannot teenagers be manipulated to consent, even if they are made aware of related techniques? Does grasping the concept still protect if alcohol or drugs are part of the picture? Or something as common as peer pressure? Social pressure from peers is cited as a key factor leading to having intercourse for the first time, and peer pressure is most effective during the adolescent years until young adulthood. Sex education at schools, to which consent is central, therefore needs to be examined as well.
Comprehensive Sex Education
"Teaching consent is a basic health and safety issue for students in regards to sexuality, and it needs to be strengthened if anything." This is what Alberta’s former Minister of Health, David Eggen, defined as his government’s policy with respect to sex education in schools. Yet, the very idea that children can (and should) consent stands in conflict with parental oversight, positioning schools at odds with parents. A book on consent “for kids of all ages” (actually, recommended by Kirkus for ages 6 to 10) actively drives a wedge between the child and his parents: “It’s great when your family supports your choices. But if they don’t, you have a few options, such as reaching out to supportive friends or thinking about what you’ll do differently as an adult.” In addition, the key message of the book (as displayed on its cover) is “I’m the ruler of my own body,” suggesting complete autonomy of children over their decisions in the context of sex. So, consent has nothing to do with parental consent but is based on the autonomy of children.
Should children be the rulers of their own bodies?
UNESCO’s 2018 International technical guidance on sexuality education (Section 5.2) wants children aged 5 to 8 to know that “[e]veryone deserves to make their own decisions and all decisions have consequences.” Although parents are initially mentioned as giving help with decisions, as of age 9, children are “empowered” to learn to make good decisions by themselves. International Planned Parenthood Foundation’s (IPPF) 2011 Young people's guide to Sexual rights (p.9) is even more explicit: “In all situations, the evolving capacities of young people to autonomously exercise their rights must be recognized.”
Promoting consent in the context of “sexual rights” essentially reduces parents to facilitators of feelings or behaviour, however inappropriate these may be.
So why is comprehensive sex education in schools so much at odds with both reality and parental oversight? The witness of Carol Everett, former abortion clinic director, indicates that the answer may be more sinister than we would like to believe. Interviewed for the documentary Blood Money, she admits that sex education was the clinic’s marketing strategy (at around 22 minutes): “We had a whole plan to sell abortions and it was called sex education. Break down their natural modesty, separate them from their parents and their values and become the sex expert in their lives so they turn to us.” Not only that but they gave away cheap (unreliable) condoms and prescribed the pill, knowing that girls would often miss a day or two, which made them more susceptible to becoming pregnant – a “problem” for which the clinic had a ready answer. The conflict of interest that Planned Parenthood as the corporate sponsor of comprehensive sex education has is difficult to overlook. The question is whether minors would consent as often as they do, were it not for the marketing efforts of the abortion industry in our schools. A metastudy conducted by the Institute for Research & Evaluation actually shows that sexual comprehensive sex-ed programs do not produce the desired positive effects but rather, increase sexual activity and related problems, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Maybe this is because comprehensive sex education does not provide the broad information that minors would need to have to even consider making an informed decision about having sex. STIs are not well covered in curricula, which suggest that anal sex is a good option to prevent pregnancies despite the much higher risk of contracting an STI, or condom use is presented as a panacea against STIs, despite the significant failure rate of condoms and their ineffectiveness against certain STIs.[i] The impact of early sexual activity on mental health is not discussed, nor are children informed that taking the pill will increase their risk of developing breast cancer. Sex is discussed only in terms of inconsequential exploration and pleasure. This needs to be seen in the context that early sexual experience is significantly associated with short-term relationships and failure to protect intercourse (condom use).
Parents (and schools) would do well to heavily discourage teen sexual activity due to the manifold negative consequences that are well documented in the scientific literature.
Parents (and schools) would do well to heavily discourage teen sexual activity due to the manifold negative consequences that are well documented in the scientific literature:
- A study published in 2010 found that “the longer a couple waited to become sexually involved, the better their sexual quality, relationship communication, relationship satisfaction, and perceived relationship stability was in marriage.”
- Data from a 25-year longitudinal study of New Zealand children found that 41 percent of women had become pregnant on at least one occasion prior to age 25, with 14.6 percent having an abortion. Those having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors and substance use disorders.
- More than a third of females aged 16-24 and more than half of teenage girls under 16 regret having early sexual activity.
- Teenage pregnancies are known to be associated with poorer health, lower academic achievement, lower socioeconomic status, and lesser chances for, and higher abuse rates of, the children born to very young mothers.
An ideological dimension must also be added to the early sexualization of our children. Explains French professor Henri Joyeux (translated into English by the author), “You make the child believe that it is free but in reality, it is completely vulnerable and can be manipulated by adults who are more progressive than its ‘reactionary’ parents. This leitmotif has always been that of totalitarian regimes. The truth is that the young person does not have the intellectual, psychological or emotional resources that would allow her to deal with certain concepts presented as liberating.” Scott Masson, professor at Tyndale College, further explains the philosophy and intent behind bestowing “sexual rights” upon children: “The intent of the word, consent, is expressive, to be understood in the cultural Marxist terms of autonomous sexual freedom, and even sexual identity. They are the terms of men from Herbert Marcuse to Michel Foucault, the favourites of the philosopher-kings of our day, whose autonomy is declared precisely against the natural family.” In other words, ideologically, comprehensive sex education is to be placed within cultural Marxism and is naturally against the nuclear family and parental authority The latter is clearly reflected in the curricula used in our schools (which are all very similar across provinces).
The Pedophile Connection
Apart from the abortion industry, one other group has a vested interest in lowering (or removing) the minimum age of consent: pedophile activists. The pedophile origins of comprehensive sex education are well known. The slogan that children are “sexual from birth”, part of any national or international school curriculum, was coined by a group of child molesters around Alfred Kinsey, the pseudo-scientist whose “research” led to erroneous conclusions about sexuality and was nevertheless used to justify many of the court judgments that have facilitated the mainstreaming of the sexual revolution in Western countries. The details of the fraud and abuse perpetrated by him and his colleagues have been documented by the late Judith Reisman. But Kinsey’s example has been copied in other countries than the U.S.: the late professor Kentler - considered the father of comprehensive sex education in Germany - had pedophile connections and in Croatia, similar links have been uncovered. In Canada, former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s deputy education minister Benjamin Levin, who is the originator of that province’s sex education program, was sent to prison for making child pornography.
The idea of “sexual rights” (of children) comes from U.S. abortion provider Planned Parenthood (and the related IPPF), in league with the notorious Kinsey Institute and its offspring, SIECUS, founded with seed money from no other than Playboy's Hugh Hefner. This unholy trinity promotes concepts that are very compatible with the pedophile tendencies of the Kinsey Institute’s founder. Indeed, the material provided by IPPF, Planned Parenthood’s advocacy branch for exporting abortion services worldwide, never mentions either pedophilia or the appropriate age of the child among any of the calls for fulfilment of sexual desire. Rather, it is again affirmed that the child is sexual during all life phases and so, no minimum age before a child should be allowed to engage in sexual activity can be defined.
U.N. sex-ed material affirms with Alfred Kinsey that the child is sexual from birth and so, no minimum age can be defined
These concepts have found their way into official publications of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, as well as the modern comprehensive sex education curricula based on the latter. For example, the 2016 WHO Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe, referenced and used by several national ministries of education, claim (p.23) that children from the age of three “understand that adults are secretive about this subject [sexuality]. They test adults’ limits, for instance by undressing without warning or by using sexually charged language.” According to French psychologist and author Ariane Bilheran, such behaviour is really a clear indicator of previous abuse. By normalising it, pedophile abuse is then concealed.
The emphasis on “sexual rights” and consent opens up wholesale abuse of children under the guise of their sexual liberation.
The emphasis on “sexual rights” and consent opens up wholesale abuse of children under the guise of their sexual liberation. Courts now hold that minors can give sexual consent to having intercourse with adults. In Finland, the supreme court refused in 2018 to condemn the rape of a ten-year-old girl by a 23-year-old since it was unclear whether there had been consent. In France, a similar case involved a 30-year old man having relations with a girl of 13, which resulted in an acquittal of rape charges in 2017 since it could not be proven there was no consent.[ii]
This means that adults can easily use their position of influence and power to exploit the inexperience and immaturity of children to satisfy their own drives while relying on the law being on their side. Explains French professor of contemporary history and author Anne-Claude Ambroise-Rendu (L’histoire de la pédophilie – A History of Pedophilia), “the argument made by pedophiles is expressed in a few words: minors have a right to their desires.” We should not penalize the perpetrators because there is neither violence, threat, nor pressure being used in such relationships. Why would minors consent? “Because they like it,” reply the defenders of pedophilia. Why not, if you can make a few dollars by consenting? The abusive adult wants us to believe that a child knows what it wants and is therefore not only giving informed consent to the adult’s abuse, but may even be the seducer. According to this logic, the guilt – if there is any regret - may be placed on the abused person (here, the child) as much or even more so than on the abuser.
Comprehensive sex-ed therefore becomes part of the grooming activities carried out by pedophiles to lure minors into “consensual” sex. It teaches – unwittingly or by design – several elements of grooming, such as:
- undoing the boundaries the child’s caregiver has set;
- alienating the child from caregivers;
- providing an alternative person of trust that the child may confide in – who may be the groomer wanting sexual access to the child;
- testing and desensitizing boundaries (e.g., through exposure to sexual imagery or demonstrations of condom use at school);
- destroying the child’s innocence by talking about sex and in ways inappropriate for their level of maturity (just as sex-ed curricula do).
- intruding upon intimate boundaries under the guise of “teaching” the child;
- keeping parents out of the loop when it comes to sexual activity, ending a pregnancy, and sex education through apps, websites and secrecy at schools.
Comprehensive sex-ed curricula work against a child’s capacity to withhold consent, keep up healthy barriers, and remain under the protection of loving parents.
All these appear to work against a child’s capacity to withhold consent, keep up healthy barriers, and remain under the protection of loving parents. After all, the early promoters of the sexual autonomy of children, Foucault and Marcuse, were pedophile advocates themselves; Foucault stands accused of actually having had relations with children.
A Considered Alternative
As mentioned above, courts now tend to question whether children have given consent when it comes to accusations of sexual abuse. Setting an age limit has long been the main strategy to minimise abuse. Canadian legislators have determined that sexual consent can be given at 16 or even at 12 if the partner is not more than two years older. Around the world, the age of consent varies between 11 (some African countries) and 21 years (Bahrain), and is limited to sex within marriage in some Muslim countries. The trouble with setting an age is that, as outlined above, consent can be coerced even between adults, and children being more vulnerable will be more likely to be taken advantage of.
Another issue is brain maturity. We all know that young people will take larger risks, are often thrill seekers and don’t always make safe or wise decisions. Although legally, minors may drive cars as of age 16 or 18 the latest, it is an open secret that car rentals are off limits for young people under 25. So how is it that we encourage minors to make their own decisions when it comes to something as impactful as sexuality?
The promotion of “consent” is meant to protect our youth from abuse but actually increases the potential for harm as it is embedded in a philosophy that disregards human nature. The concept is ill-defined, such that in any given situation, someone may not realize whether they are truly consenting or not; this may only transpire after the fact, upon further reflection. It also undermines parental oversight, apparently in the marketing interest of abortion providers. Furthermore, it plays into the hands of pedophiles who want children to consent to their abuse after they have been groomed.
Consent presumes a culture of casual sex, ignorant of the nature of humans and our real needs.
Consent also presumes a culture of casual sex, which denigrates and minimises something that all research confirms should be experienced within a loving, committed relationship. The mainstream approach to consent appears to be ignorant of the nature of humans and our real needs. With casual sex, the latter is reduced to a momentary pastime; it is never discussed as the expression of love and commitment of a married couple. The meaning of sex has become inverted, argue Elizabeth and Nathan Schlueter, and its placing into a setting without caring and vulnerability turns it into a power play where whoever “consents” is the loser, being dominated as the other experiences a perceived victory. No wonder the majority of students having had such sexual encounters experience regret afterwards. The American Psychological Association concludes, “It is likely that a substantial portion of emerging adults today are compelled to publicly engage in hookups while desiring both immediate sexual gratification and more stable romantic attachments,” yet these hookups “may leave more strings attached than many participants might first assume.”
Love in an intimate, committed relationship is only possible between equals. So Toronto professor Scott Masson rightly accuses comprehensive sex education of substituting restraint for unfettered sexual exploration. He quotes historian J.D. Unwin: ”Any human society is free to choose either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom; the evidence is that it cannot do both for more than one generation.” In other words, the ideology now being spread in Canadian schools will become our country’s demise. In the words of Jordan Peterson, “You have to divorce your sexuality from the humanity of the people you are engaged with sexually – all that’s gonna do is it’s gonna make you hard and bitter.”
Any human society is free to choose either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom; the evidence is that it cannot do both for more than one generation.
"A sexual ethic based on 'consent' is not enough,” warns Nancy Pearcey, professor at Houston Baptist University. “A genuine turnaround in the culture requires a change in the underlying worldview. Although critics say the hookup scene gives sex too much importance, in reality, it gives sex too little importance." Giving consent to sex in the moment will never respond to our inner needs, even if this consent is genuine. This is why responsible parents limit the freedom of their children, for example by picking them up from a party before midnight. Are parents still allowed to protect their offspring or do “sexual rights” now trump any prudence and wisdom that might have helped them avoid a decision they will later regret? Tendencies to remove the primacy of parents in the education of their children, as are in evidence in Quebec, for example, may lead parents to doubt they are still in control.
All of this leads to the conclusion that consent is an erroneous, even dangerous, concept to teach our children. They need to be protected from sexual abuse and psychological harm, rather than being exposed to abuse by their elders in the name of sexual rights. We need to protect the vulnerable, not “empower” them. During adolescence, children need to be encouraged to master and dominate their sexual drives, not explore them without realizing the serious consequences that will follow, so well documented in the scientific literature.
Sometimes, no is the only reasonable answer.
If there was such a thing as insurance against pregnancy or STIs for minors, what kinds of behaviour would the insurance industry exclude from coverage? It should be obvious that consent is not the answer. The literature on this subject shows that well-meant advice to delay sexual activity and to embed it in a committed relationship is much more than the bigoted opinion of reactionary parents. It is the best strategy to avoid heartache, lifelong disease, unwanted pregnancies, and to increase a child’s success in life. All of this points in one direction: sometimes, no is the only reasonable answer. It is never appropriate for children – even among their peers – to ask for sexual consent. And our children need parental support – let’s not let them down. Neither their school, the government, or Planned Parenthood love them as we do.
Martin Tampier is a writer, lecturer, concerned parent and part-time political activist. Born in Germany, he has called Canada home since 1999 and currently works as an engineer in Quebec.
[i] Zuidema, Susan: My Child, My Chance. Brantford, Ontario, 2017 (p.180-186)
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