Ordering children to kiss older relatives and even strangers can lead to confusion over sexual consent later in life, according to a campaigner.
Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, made the comments while discussing the campaign group’s survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles.
She argued that learning about consent “starts from age zero” and young children use every day experiences to learn if their opinion is valued and what physical control they have.
Miss Emmerson added: “Intervening may be awkward ... but it is necessary if we are truly to teach children that their bodies are their own and that their instincts should be followed.
“Suggesting alternatives to the child such as a high-five, a hug, blowing a kiss or a wave put the child in control.
”If we can’t manage to create a culture of consent for everyday physical contact, it will be surely be a tall order for sexual situations.“
She used examples from an Australian blog post called Stop asking my daughter to give you a kiss, where mother Kasey Edwards wrote about resolving to stop letting her four-year-old be ordered to kiss strangers.
“The reason is that a kiss isn’t just a kiss, no matter how innocent and innocuous the intent might be,” Ms Edwards wrote.
Some groups have dismissed the link, arguing family rituals have no bearing on sexual interaction.
Norman Wells, director of the conservative Family Education Trust, told The Daily Mail: ”Even if the distinction is lost on the Sex Education Forum, children and young people are able to recognise that there is all the difference in the world between self-consciously – and perhaps on occasion reluctantly – kissing an uncle or aunt on the cheek on the one hand, and accepting unwanted sexual advances on the other.“
The forum’s survey also found that almost one in three young people said they did not learn about consent at school and even less had learnt about good and bad behaviour in relationships.
Formal teaching about sexual consent was “lacking”, according to the report, although most respondents demonstrated an understanding of offences and the law.
Miss Emmerson said the quality of sex education across the country was “a lottery”.
She added: “Young people are telling us very clearly that teaching is often too theoretical and fails to deal with the real-life practicalities of getting help and advice or building the skills for pleasurable, equal and safe relationships.”