A Change in Consent Education

Hey Reader,

Did you know it takes six hours to become Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED certified through The Red Cross? The certification is good for two years.

Presumably, The Red Cross believes that after six hours of training, you are prepared to act in the case of an emergency.

But let me tell you, as someone who’s completed this certification twice over the years, I’m nowhere near equipped to handle an emergency CPR/AED or First Aid situation.

And I’m not alone.

Through an informal poll on Instagram, I learned that 63% of people who have taken a CPR course as a non-medical professional feel the same way. After just 1 month (not two years, ONE MONTH), the majority of people who completed a CPR certification because they were a teacher, camp counselor, athletic coach, etc. didn’t feel confident or comfortable performing using the information that got them their certification.

Now why am I, a consent educator, going on about certification failures?

Right now, when schools teach consent, they teach it like The Red Cross teaches CPR.

If you ask a progressive school about their consent education programming, you’ll likely hear about an “entire” 40-minute class session devoted to teaching what consent is, what it isn’t, and some role-play where students can practice consent scenarios. These schools are likely patting themselves on the back for a job well done. But as a consent educator, it hurts to see this.

Disclaimer: I would rather this kind of consent education than no education, but there’s a third and (in my opinion) better option.

First, why doesn’t this kind of education work?

Science doesn’t support this kind of learning.

If you’re studying for a test, research shows that it’s better to study a little each day, than to cram the night before. This is because memory consolidation happens when information is repeated over time. If you learn information but you don’t practice recalling the information, your brain doesn’t commit it to memory. Over time, the knowledge fades.

If you’re not actively practicing consent, respecting body boundaries, and being reinforced in your (and others’) bodily autonomy, that one time you learned about consent in 11th grade, isn’t going to prepare you for safe consent practices.

So what does work?

Practice! Knowing how to do something is different than being able to do something.

I “know” how to dribble a basketball. Head up, the palm of your hand slightly concave, and lower center of gravity means more control. However, I’m not able to dribble a basketball well. Like if I’m looking at the ball and no one is defending me, I’m golden. But if you put me in a game, that ball will be stolen in no time.

Practice is crucial for skill acquisition. Turning knowledge into readiness isn’t just about knowledge recall. To successfully act, especially in a high-stakes situation, you need to have scaffolded practice, time to reflect on your abilities, and coaching to help you in your weak spots. Again, think about how we teach someone to play basketball or how we teach math in school.

While many CPR programs (like the one I attended) included some in-the-classroom practice, there was no scaffolding of higher stakes situations and no follow-up over time to see what I had retained and where I needed improvement.

If a year after my certification someone were to say to me, "but I thought you were certified in CPR, why didn't you know what to do?!" I would feel totally gaslit!

Research shows that knowledge isn’t enough.

In two recent studies, one from the University of Michigan and one from Columbia University, data suggests that while students can define affirmative consent, they do not practice affirmative consent in their sexual encounters. They have the knowledge but they don’t translate that knowledge into action.

Students overwhelmingly use "use ambiguous social cues" in sexual interactions and typically “ask” for consent by making a sexual advance and waiting for a reaction (i.e., these students don’t practice affirmative consent – they use the “no means no” standard of consent).

(This scene from The Office wasn't ok then and it's not ok now.)

If you’re going to be an EMT, you need to be ready to perform CPR. If you’re going to be having sex (of any kind), you need to be ready to practice consent. As my dear friend and advocate for survivors, Lauren says, “asking for consent saves lives.”

What can you do?

When schools adopt a comprehensive, scaffolded, approach to consent education, kids can learn and practice consent in a way that leads to an acquisition of skills and a change in behavior. If we keep consent education the way it is, I sadly see no reason for the rate of sexual assault to significantly go down. I don't want to be alarmist, I want to be real.

If you’re an educator (or even a parent), I invite you to join a FREE training on July 6th, 2021 at 11 am EST, in partnership with Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ACASA), to learn what it means to have a social-emotional, skill-based, approach to consent education.

This is the link to sign up. I hope to see you there.

To social-emotional consent education,


The ABC’s of Consent for Kids (an 11x17 poster) is a simple tool you can use to start bringing a social-emotional approach to consent into your home. You can order a hard copy or download a digital copy.

Comprehensive Consent

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