Why 27% of Scottish students think No means Yes

350xA recent study of 1,000 students published by the Scottish Government reveals that 27% of Scottish teens believe that when a girl says no she doesn’t really mean it. The finding highlights that the problem with sex education curricula isn’t restricted to simply the US.

One of the criticisms launched against the Scottish Government is its framing of sex education that centers on pregnancy and the spread of STDs and fails to teach healthy and informed sexual behavior, primarily the concept of consent. The Scotsman‘s Saturday Op-Ed flags a “sea change” in Scottish society regarding the criminal justice system’s ability to address cases of rape and sexual assault. Among the many problems highlighted in this is teens’ understanding of sexual consent: “it is hard to envisage any analysis that would provide any reassurance: either a proportion of boys far higher than one-in-four is thinking along these lines, or some Scottish girls have so little self-esteem and self-confidence that they too buy into the pernicious belief that ‘no does not always mean no’.” Again, there is a fundamental similarity to US sex education pedagogical approaches, which is also complicated by conservative dogma that has led to incorporating abstinence-only messaging and creationism into sex education courses at the secondary education level.

Additionally, the survey found that a third of teenagers are unaware about the dangers of sharing needles and almost 20% do not realize that using a condom can help them avoid STDs:

The results show that while sex education in schools is reaching the majority, many are still ignorant of the health risks associated with drug use and unprotected intercourse.

While more than 80% of children recalled being taught about the risks of illegal drugs, contraception and avoiding STIs, just over two-thirds recalled being taught a “few” or “many” times about how to say no to sex and how to avoid catching HIV. Just over four in ten (42%) recalled being taught about how to avoid Hepatitis C.

When presented with the statement, “When a girl says no to sex, she always means no,” 73% of pupils said it was definitely or probably true.

The latest report reminds me of Jos’ point about radically reforming sex education in our schools, Maya’s close look at one Philadelphia high school teacher’s approach to sex education, and lastly, Zerlina’s post on teaching consent in sex education classes. Certainly, we can do better at teaching teens life skills that in their best application prevent rape, sexual assault and challenge the perpetuation of rape culture. Certainly, we can be better about talking about sex and sexuality, and teaching young women agency. Certainly, we can be better about engaging in frank conversation with teens about sex and sexuality that isn’t rooted in fear.

sm-bio Syreeta McFadden contains multitudes, searches for the perfect line break, and wears the white hat.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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