If you’re a millennial, chances are good that, at some point or another, an adult has lectured you for something having to do with hookup culture. You know, that thing that, if you listen to every trend piece the New York Times has ever written, only young adults do and only young adults are responsible for answering for?
Yeah. You know about it. But, as it turns out, hookup culture has roots in a lack of sexual education, and actually has far more serious consequences that go beyond a casual hookup here and there. According to a new study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, teens who don’t receive adequate sexual education are more likely to experience sexual assault.
The study, which surveyed 3,000 teens and young adults from different parts of the United States, as well as adults in leadership roles for kids and teens such as parents, teachers, coaches, and counselors, found that older adults are quick to place the blame on young adults for engaging in oft-maligned “hookup culture,” but a good deal of responsibility for creating hookup culture actually lies with adults who are reluctant to discuss sex and relationships with children. This means that they fail to prepare their children for healthy, caring romantic relationships, and, most disconcertingly, do very little to deal with “pervasive misogyny and sexual harassment” that affects kids and adults.
Breaking it down by numbers, 87 percent of women age 18 to 25 reported being sexually harassed at some point in their lives, but 76 percent of the overall respondents had never had a discussion with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others. 70 percent of the respondents also wished that they had received more information from their parents on the “emotional” aspect of relationships, including “how to have a more mature relationship” (38 percent), “how to deal with breakups” (36 percent), “how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship” (34 percent), or “how to begin a relationship”(27 percent). 60 percent of respondents wished they had received more guidance on the emotional aspect of relationships in school, too, but since most sexual education in schools is focused solely on abstinence or “disaster prevention,” it was uncommon to have learned that in school.
Of course, in many ways, all this means is that this is just another day that ends with “Y.” Millennials tend to get blamed for lots of things that are totally beyond their control, from buying avocado toast instead of houses to single-handedly bringing about the decline of breakfast cereal and fabric softener, so the results of this study don’t exactly come as a surprise. And, of course, pretending that unsavory topics like sexual harassment just don’t exist is only going to make it worse, so it’s also unsurprising that a lack of sex ed correlates with higher numbers of sexual assault. Still, the consequences of these findings are pretty grave. Being a part of a generation that gets blamed for not knowing how to deal with sexual assault, when the roots of it are something that has largely been caused by adults, is frustrating–and, of course, does not bode well for the future.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you are automatically going to experience sexual assault if you like having casual hookups. It also doesn’t mean that a young person who sexually assaults someone else is blameless simply because their parents or teachers never told them explicitly not to sexually assault people. But what it does mean is that rape culture, institutionalized sexual harassment, and relationship abuse are likely to keep getting worse unless sexual education programs with comprehensive sections on sexual assault and consent are implemented in schools. So, for now? Educate yourself on sexual assault (the study from Harvard is a good place to start) so you can help educate your peers, too. And adults too, because, uh, apparently they need it .
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Were you surprised by this study? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!