With education campaigns and the advent of affirmative consent laws in a number of states and territories, sexual consent has been a topical issue in Australia over recent years. And rightly so – incidents of sexual abuse and sexual violence happen all too frequentlly. Focusing on consent between partners is one way we can work to change things.

Andrea Waling and her colleagues at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society wanted to know how consent education is translating into real-life situations. They spoke with young adults about their understanding of consent, and how it actually fits into their sexual encounters. The young men and women they talked to largely had a good understanding of the requirements of affirmative consent. But they described challenges in putting it into practice in intimate situations. For example, some felt being asked for consent in the heat of the moment could “kill the vibe”.

Waling and her colleagues note their findings don’t imply sexual consent education isn’t effective. Rather, they suggest there’s still work to do to bridge the gap between what people know and how they apply this knowledge.

“Sexual encounters often involve intricate layers of emotion and experience, influenced by culture, religion, and other factors, with elements like shame, pleasure, joy, uncertainty, fear and anxiety,” they write. “Understanding the complex variables that inform decision-making in these contexts is crucial for creating educational resources that help people navigate sexual consent in different situations.”

Phoebe Roth

Deputy Health Editor

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