Many sexuality educators thus feel conflicted about the focus in the media and in the public conversation in general on affirmative consent. “I think it’s a positive step. It’s acknowledging that young people might want to say yes [to sex], and it’s giving them more space to say yes,” said Eva Goldfarb, a sexuality educator and public-health professor at Montclair State University. “But what do parents and administrators expect to happen afterward if consent is all children know and are prepared for? We’re spending so much time on the conversation of gatekeeping,” Goldfarb continued. “It still sets a sexual dynamic that’s adversarial. Everyone wants to keep people safe, but it’s still about avoiding danger rather than exploring positive aspects of sexuality.”
Elizabeth Schroeder, a sexuality educator at both Montclair State University and Widener University, feels similarly. In zeroing in on a single problematic issue such as consent, she thinks both parents and administrators are missing the point: that unhealthy sexual behaviors can have their origins in insufficient early education, and that a more holistic approach to sexuality education can eventually lead to healthier attitudes toward sex and relationships.
Both educators believe that children would be better off with a more comprehensive understanding of sexuality, beyond just the issue of consent—one most effectively taught at a younger age as part of a larger curriculum that includes teachings on boundaries, personal autonomy, relationships, and other aspects of sexual health. This attitude reflects a growing movement among sexuality organizations and educators to advocate for comprehensive sex-education programs that begin as early as kindergarten, to provide students with age-appropriate and medically accurate information that acts as a foundation for later lessons on consent.
A full 40 percent of parents supported comprehensive sexuality education in general.