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Teen Boys Uncertain About Sexual Consent and Culture

Author: University of Surrey
Author Contact:
Published: 30th Nov 2022 - Updated: 5th Jan 2023
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: Male Adolescence Publications

Summary: Article explores how boys are being taught about consent at school and how they relate to and interpret educational messages about consent.



Consent occurs when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal or desires of another. It is a term of common speech, with specific definitions as used in such fields as the law, medicine, research, and sexual relationships.

  • An expression of consent is unmistakably stated rather than implied. It may be given in writing, by speech (orally), or non-verbally. Non-written express consent not evidenced by witnesses or an audio or video recording may be disputed if a party denies that it was given.
  • Unanimous consent, or general consent, by a group of several parties (e.g., an association) is the consent given by all parties.
  • Implied consent is consent inferred from a person's actions and the facts and circumstances of a particular situation (or, in some cases, by a person's silence or inaction).
  • Substituted consent, or the substituted judgment doctrine, allows a decision maker to attempt to establish the decision an incompetent person would have made if they were competent.
  • Informed consent in medicine is the consent given by a person who clearly understands an action's facts, implications, and future consequences. The term is also used in other contexts, such as sex, where informed consent means each person engaging in sexual activity is aware of any positive statuses (for sexually transmitted infections and diseases) they might expose themselves to.

Main Document

The research explores how boys are being taught about consent at school and how they relate to and interpret educational messages about consent.

The study involved classroom observations, individual focus groups with boys, and teacher discussions. Participating schools included a co-educational academy in a relatively middle-class, monocultural (white British) semi-rural area; a boys' academy in a socioeconomically deprived urban area serving predominantly black and minority ethnic pupils; and an independent boys' school in an urban area serving a relatively socioeconomically privileged cohort.

Dr. Emily Setty, the author of the study and Senior Lecturer in Criminology, said:

"Abstractly, most of the boys found these lessons helpful and provided a straightforward set of strictures for them to follow. Yet, it seemed they were often framed as initiators of sex, and it was clear that they struggled with some of the tensions and dilemmas that they faced, as initiators, to secure consent from a sexual partner."

"I believe we need to reflect on the premise and objectives of consent education. My discussions with the boys often explored the nature of 'choice' and the constraints on the choice that exists."

"Rather than hoping that knowledge will change behavior in a linear and desired fashion, we may need to consider why it doesn't. We can then start using consent education to enable young people to practice and develop the skills and emotional literacy required to uphold their and one another's rights to free and informed choice."

"Education must deal with the realities of ambivalence, ambiguity, and uncertainty, rather than trying to smooth this over through rationalized consent education. The road to consensual and affirming sex and relationships is far from smooth, and we need to go further in helping young people navigate the bends and bumps - both anticipated and encountered."

Colored silhouettes of people holding balls with yes and no symbols.Colored silhouettes of people holding balls with yes and no symbols.

Educating young people about consent in schools in England is required as part of the now-statutory Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RHSE) curriculum.

School-related sexual violence, abuse, and harassment (SVAH) among young people is recognized as a global problem. In July 2020, the Everyone's Invited website was created, encouraging young people to share testimonials about their experiences of SVAH in schools. There are now over 55,000 testimonials, with over 3,000 schools named.

A rapid response report conducted by UK schools' regulator Ofsted followed this and detailed a worrying normalization of SVAH in state and independent schools and colleges. It was identified that girls and gender non-conforming young people are disproportionately likely to be victims of SVAH, while boys are more likely to perpetrate SVAH.

Dr Emily Setty continued:

"Typically, RSHE about sexual consent in England educates about the law and 'affirmative consent' - which places responsibility on initiators of sex to secure consent through clear and direct agreement. However, this presents consent as something to be obtained as a minimum requirement rather than to be 'enthusiastically' established, which often reduces the ability of boys to perceive themselves as having rights to their sexual consent. Furthermore, it was found that this often creates a sense of responsibility, even burden, that may manifest in resistant and hostile attitudes."

While the boys in the study believed that boys responsible for SVAH might have problems with impulse control and self-regulation, many articulated a personal lack of emotional literacy and self-knowledge. They perceived a lack of space to engage with and explore their feelings and found it difficult to know how they could express emotions during sexual interactions.

References and Source(s):

Teen Boys Uncertain About Sexual Consent and Culture | University of Surrey ( makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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• (APA): University of Surrey. (2022, November 30). Teen Boys Uncertain About Sexual Consent and Culture. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from

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