‘I didn’t learn a single thing’: What boys were taught in school about sexual assault

‘Sex ed was more focused on embarrassment than consent’


TW: Discussion of sexual assault, consent, rape

From an early age, how to “avoid” getting sexually assaulted is drilled in to girls. We’re taught to shout “fire”, because people say no one will do anything if we shout “help” instead. We’re told to wear trainers so we can run away, send our friends our location so they can track us, and to never walk alone at night – or never walk alone, full stop. But we can change every single aspect of our behaviour and still get sexually harassed, assaulted, or even worse, because all of this “advice” ignores the actual problem: The men who harass, assault and kill us.

The Tab asked boys what they were taught about consent and sexual assault in school. The overwhelming majority of them said they were taught “absolutely nothing”, or the “bare minimum”. Without a question, this needs to change.

97 per cent of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. You definitely have female friends who are a part of this statistic, and you also probably have male friends who have sexually harassed women. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year in England and Wales, and every three days a man kills a woman. Women are terrified constantly, we’re tired of living in fear of assault and we’re exhausted from continually having to explain all this to men. I can’t believe the year is 2021 and we’re still having these discussions.

Here’s what 10 boys told The Tab they actually taught about sexual assault in school:

‘Sexual assault was brushed under the carpet’

I didn’t learn a single thing about sexual assault at school. I distinctly remember sexual education in primary school being particularly lacking, but you could put that down to an emphasis on trying to get the basics out of the way.

In secondary school, where you’d think the education system would begin to teach young people about the broader topic of sex (including the abuses that can come with it), sexual assault seemed to be again brushed under the carpet.

I recall various reports of sexual assault in the area around my school. I’ve heard many reports since. Did we get any education on the matter? None. There’s an unavoidable sense that generation after generation have been let down by a reluctance to broach difficult topics, and we’re seeing the repercussions of that now more than ever.

Harry

‘It was more focused on embarrassment than consent’

All me and my friends remember of our school sex ed was having to put a condom on a prosthetic blue penis, and being told we should try to avoid losing our virginities in a bush at the rec if at all possible. In hindsight, it was probably focused far more on embarrassment than consent.

Greg

‘We discussed consent maybe once’

Sex ed was minimal at school. I remember a teacher putting a condom on a blue penis but that’s about it. In terms of consent-specific stuff, I remember watching the “tea” video and discussing it maybe once, but that’s about it. I imagine that if people were getting lessons on consent, they were usually coming from elsewhere.

It needs to change. The focus should be on educating boys from as early as possible.

We went to an all-boys school and I remember one specific male teacher giving an assembly on feminism. He moved to an all-girls school in the south and has just been jailed for having sex with a pupil.

Danny

‘We were just shown the ‘consent is like a cup of tea’ video’

I remember being shown the “consent is like a cup of tea” video in year 10, but with zero follow up discussion or any defining conversation about rape.

It was part of sex ed, and we’d been talking about STIs in biology. They legit just opened the lesson with the video and then moved on to “chlamydia”.

Kyle

‘Even to the teachers it seemed like a joke’

At PSHE day we went into an all-boys group and there was a bit about consent. It was from a male point of view though so it was a man being touched on a train and saying no. This was probably about year 8 and most people laughed at it, which wasn’t discouraged by the teacher. I think he even rewound the video and showed it again for more laughs. Even to the teachers it all seemed like a joke.

So we were taught about how it was okay to say no but there wasn’t much in terms of knowing when you’d been given consent. Teaching was much better on STDs but there was never really any discussion around consent.

There was one video we were shown where this guy had sex with a really drunk girl and I remember guys not really understanding the problem? I don’t think consent was really explained beyond what we saw in the video. And the videos we watched must have been like 20 years old.

I wonder if the issue was that because we would only have sex ed once a year it never stopped being a taboo. So it was just a joke to all the guys and we were never encouraged to think about how important it was. I think the whole way it was done was wrong because a PSHE day felt like a day off school. Everyone was sort of there for a laugh rather than to learn anything important, and I don’t think teachers discouraged that.

Michael

‘We got taught the bare minimum’

We didn’t get taught anything. We got taught about consent but the bare minimum of it: “Ask for consent”, that’s it. Everything we got taught in PSHE was about not to sell or take drugs, not to murder someone, nothing on assault. 

Tony

‘We were only taught about violent assault’

In terms of formal sex education? Absolutely nothing on sexual assault.

We had some teachers (particularly my law, history and English teachers) who were very on the ball with it but a) they probably only mentioned because there was sexual assault in that legal case/historical event/literary piece and b) I’m sure they only pointed it out because they felt strongly about it. As I recall (especially in law) we were only really taught against the most heinous assaults ie. violent assault. I seem to recall being told during Of Mice and Men that it was definitely ‘wrong’ to touch a girl unless she invited you to.

I believe the school mandated absolutely zero teaching about it. We didn’t learn anything about things such as unsolicited nudes or drunk ‘consent’.

Bobby

‘We got a 10-minute ‘no means no’ talk’

The girls in my year did, but they were just taught to shout “fire” instead of “rape” because then people will actually come to help. All I remember is guys were told “no means no, don’t do anything if they are not conscious”. A 10 minute conversation.

Sam

‘Catcalling and ‘boys will be boys’ needs to be addressed’

Explicit consent was mentioned once, and that was literally it. It would have been in PSHE in high school.

This 100 per cent needs to change. Everybody knows kids don’t take things in straight away, especially if you’re being taught about sex at a young age you need to be told about how your actions can affect others and what’s considered inappropriate aside from the standard “yes and no” when referring to consent. I feel like schoolboy/lad culture clouds a lot of people’s better judgement and makes them oblivious to their/their friends’ behaviour.

Stuff like catcalling and “boys will be boys” needs to be addressed. There needs to be a total attitude change.

Umar

‘They focused on avoiding being assaulted’

My school was obsessed with teaching us about drugs. I distinctly remember learning about date-rape and rohypnol in the context of that.

I can’t remember learning about consent early on – they mostly focused on preventative methods to avoid getting raped/getting mugged or to stop us sending each other nudes and getting in relationships with groomers. Then it properly started in year 9 with the “tea” video and rape would start appearing in PSHE and then some other lessons. Honestly I feel like my experiences of these lessons were quite good. Our PSHE teacher was excellent and she really got everyone speaking about personal experiences and stuff.

I will say though that perhaps we could have gone into it earlier as a sexual assault had already happened in my form by year 8 and perhaps had these lessons happened earlier, that wouldn’t have happened. I knew someone who got expelled for taking their penis out in a lesson and I also knew someone who got expelled for assaulting someone before year 9 had even began.

Liam

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