Teen Consent—Degrassi Gets It Right
August 28, 2018
After an exhausting junior year, summer has been the perfect time for me to kick back and explore a variety of shows on Netflix. One night, I came upon Degrassi: Next Class, a Canadian show that features a large, diverse cast of teen characters dealing with issues involving relationships, identity, drug use and more. When I started watching, I was expecting just another fun, fluffy high school show. I quickly realized this was not the case. Each episode is packed with realistic teen experiences. One particularly memorable episode, “#yesmeansyes,” shows two characters navigating the dynamics of their relationship and learning about consent.
Many TV shows include sexual situations but don’t address consent. Degrassi openly discusses it. In the episode, Zig and Maya, a couple, are studying together when Zig tries to make out with Maya. She pushes him off, leaving him feeling rejected and confused. Maya wonders if Zig respects her boundaries.
Later, Zig’s friend Grace explains that even though Maya is his girlfriend, he still needs her consent. This encourages him to talk with Maya about wanting to have sex, and he assures her he’ll ask for consent every step of the way. This conversation is groundbreaking for teen TV! After all, how many times have you seen teen characters openly discussing their sexual needs with one another?
The next time Zig and Maya are hanging out, he asks if he can kiss her neck, take off her shirt and more. When he asks her if she wants to have sex, she replies, “Yes!” This seemed a little excessive to me at first, but then I realized it sends the message that consent cannot simply be given once during a sexual encounter—rather, it’s important to make sure your partner is OK with everything you do.
This scene sets Degrassi apart from other teen shows because it discusses and displays explicit, enthusiastic consent. Many sexual encounters in teen shows occur without any spoken communication between partners. These TV portrayals of sex led me to believe that it’s always possible to rely on body language to know our partners’ wants and needs. A lot of shows also portray girls as passive participants in sexual situations; this has sometimes made me feel that it’s not O.K. for girls to be just as excited as boys about sex.
Zig and Maya’s actions show the concept that healthy consent is ongoing: consent for one action doesn’t equal consent for another. It is also enthusiastic: both partners show clear, active interest. They have sex because they’re sure they both want to.