Understanding sexual consent: a participatory approach with young people

Whittington, Elsie (2019) Understanding sexual consent: a participatory approach with young people. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This research aims to co-produce an account of consent that is congruent with young people’s everyday lives and which will enhance educational agendas for consent education. By combining participatory research with feminist youth work and informal education methods the research has generated data across seven different educational settings with diverse groups of young people and practitioners with different professional backgrounds. In line with participatory action research principals the research questions, methods and outputs have been developed in collaboration with educators and young people. A total of 103 young people age 13-25 contributed directly to the research by taking part in group work, interactive activities and creative research processes.
This study finds that young people speak about sexual consent and violation along a spectrum; avoiding labelling things ‘rape’ unless there was overt violence or if overt rejection was expressed. The research also confirms previous research (Holland et al. 1998; Carmody, 2015) on the persistence of heteronormative and gendered double standards and stereotyping in what young people expect from, and how they judge, sexual encounters. Age and experience are important in shaping how young people engage with some of the more complex elements of sexual negotiation. The personal and professional background of educators is also central to how they approach the challenge of teaching sexual consent as are the settings in which education takes place.
Confirming the findings of other recent studies (Coy et al. 2013, Brady et al. 2017) the study shows consent to be a complex concept with a range of different and sometimes unhelpful meanings - yet goes further in offering an alternative model of teaching and talking about sexual negotiation. Framing consent as a binary that involves getting and giving a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ is not sufficient for teaching young people about the situated realties of sexual negotiation in different contexts. Talking and teaching about the grey areas may seem a difficult task, but this research argues that this is essential. The overall argument of the thesis is that exposing awkwardness, embracing ambiguity, and acknowledging ambivalence, are key components for enabling conversations and learning about sexual negotiation in a way that might nurture a shift in sexual cultures of communication.
The thesis concludes with a set of recommendations for practice including the use of specialist educators, moving beyond a focus on legality and binary notions of consent to explore sexual negotiation and communication and the necessity of addressing gendered norms of sexual agency and pleasure. The doctoral research was co-funded by Brook (The UK’s largest sexual health and wellbeing charity for young people) and the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth at the University of Sussex.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Social Work and Social Care
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ0012 Sexual life > HQ0019 Sexual behaviour and attitudes. Sexuality > HQ0027 Adolescents and young adults
H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ0012 Sexual life > HQ0031 Sex instruction and sexual ethics
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV0697 Protection, assistance and relief > HV0700 Special classes > HV1421 Young adults. Youth. Teenagers
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 15 May 2019 09:17
Last Modified: 15 May 2019 09:17
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/83801

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