Why did you and Yumi decide your next book should be about consent?
Melissa: We settled on consent because we think for Yumi having teenage daughters, and for me having children, it was something I was aware of when they were growing up. And I was working out how to make them feel empowered and have agency when it comes to sex but not having resources to teach them about that.
So it came from a place of we wish we had this when we were young but also as parents. And I see the book as a really useful resource for parents and teachers, as much as it is for young people. But I have had a particular interest in sex education and sexuality, and young people having the right to know more than they actually do know and more than they are taught.
What type of consent does the book tackle?
It is more around how to know if I am ready, how am I going to negotiate this, how do I tell this person that I like them, how do I respond when my boyfriend wants me to do x,y,z, I am not sure what I want. Making sure they feel comfortable and confident to understand their feelings and what feels right and then what doesn’t feel right is something I have worked in for decades now.
Why is this book important?
As Yumi and I say in the preface of the book and what we know to be true is one book, no matter how good it is, isn’t going to change the culture, it will not change the world. It is really one piece of the puzzle that isn’t just about young people but everybody.
Everybody in society actually being more aware of and thinking about consent and think about the fact that every single human has the right to bodily autonomy, so in other words that they are in charge of their bodies, and we are born with the right for nobody to touch our bodies without consent, and so I think we just wanted to be able to articulate some of these quite complicated concepts.
How does the book work as a guide to help teenagers navigate consent?
Body autonomy is one topic, and respect is another, and that’s hard to put into words, so the book is full of scenarios and examples. It’s interesting short bite-size pieces, but the actual nuts and bolts of the book are examples of how to understand what your gut is telling you when you’re in a situation, and you are not quite sure what your gut is feeling, telling you, and how to understand how to be aware of those feelings and how they link with your thinking and behaviour.
Then we give lots of examples of actual communications, like how you can communicate yes, no, I don’t know or maybe, so you can also understand it when someone else is trying to communicate it with you.
So what we have done in the book is include more relatable examples of everyday situations. The book isn’t all about sex. We talk about how this is really relevant for sex, and that may be for now and or in the future, but we give a lot of examples that have nothing to do with sex at all.
What are your thoughts on how the education system handles the topic of consent?
There are a couple of problems. I think the will is there. The teachers and the people who write the syllabus are aware of consent and sex more broadly as an essential topic for school students to learn.
That from kindergarten to right till the end of school, there needs to be learning about relationships, negotiation, consent, respect, and then they need to know more about what happens in puberty and how sex can be used for pleasure.
The teachers that I have met know this, but the curriculum is very crowded, and teachers don’t always have time to teach certain things. But I think more importantly teachers don’t get a lot of training in these lessons at university. The sex education and consent part of education is minimal.
I think what the government could do if they wanted to take action is to be willing to take this agenda forward and convene a panel of experts that includes young people and research. At least 30 years of research shows that if you teach school students about sexuality very comprehensively, you have much better health outcomes.
Can you tell us about your time as Dolly Doctor?
It was such an education for me, and I am so grateful for the opportunity for all those years. Because what I learnt is that the things I intuitively understood about adolescents and working with them as a doctor is they do have a lot of worries and concerns about what is happening to them through puberty and after puberty finishes, that they just aren’t going to ask someone about.
So, that gave me a lot more insight and depth to my work as a doctor and as someone who wanted to support educators and teachers. I think the fact I was there for so many years allowed me to build enough of a relationship with the various editors that came and went, so they trusted me to hand over letters and have access to emails.
The book is expected to be released on 19 May 2021 and can be pre-ordered online now!
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