Elevate Difference

Sex, Power and Consent: Youth Culture and the Unwritten Rules

I have been always interested in the problems, points of view, and so much more in the lives of young people; I also decided at the ripe age of twenty that at some point in my life I was going to be a lecturer!

Despite educating teenagers (and being taught by them) for the last twenty years and more, I have not lost my enthusiasm for knowing and guiding them from the perspective of what youngsters of eighteen to twenty consider an ‘old’ wise woman!

How do young people live their lives these days? Do they have the same problems that I had when I was eighteen? So much has changed in the last twenty to thirty years. We are bombarded by a sex-crazed culture, sex-everywhere phenomena. When we switch the TV on, we are faced with sex or violence in movies, shows, talks etc. In the words of Anastasia Powell, the author of Sex, Power and Consent: “contemporary Western Culture has been described as the age of raunch, generation sex, and generation SLUT (Sexually Liberated Urban Teens)."

Being part of such a cultural make-up, what are the views of young people on sex and love these days? Do they have more sex, more sexual relationships than my so-called liberated generation of the late 1970s? Do the youth talk openly about sex? Do they equate sex with love? How long do their relationships last when they are still teenagers? What is it that they want from relationships at the tender age of eighteen to twenty?

Powell’s indisputably needed and thorough book provides most answers to my questions. Her research and interviews with 117 teens and young adults of diverse sexualities in Victoria, Australia, provides readers with a wealth of knowledge about young people of today. She limited her research to one country but unquestionably, it is the representative study of Western youth.

Her book would be of interest to young and not-so-young readers as the author answers many questions that trouble Generation Y (born in or after 1982). It explores issues surrounding youth sex within popular culture, sexuality education and sexual violence prevention. It also clearly presents unwritten rules and the gendered power relationships which have not changed as drastically as I had always thought it had over the last twenty to thirty years. I was surprised to read that despite the apparent sexual freedom, the rates of sexual assault continue to rise with ninety-nine percent of offenders being male and ninety-two percent of sexual assault victims being women (according to Victoria Police data from 2008-2009).

The book also provides practical strategies for young people and for those who work with them towards the prevention of sexual violence. This very well-researched and written study would also be a useful reading for young women who feel pressured into unwanted sex. It might help them to be more aware of their choices, which is always welcome.

Written by: Anna Hamling, December 14th 2010