Consent is when you give permission for something to happen and you are comfortable doing so. Before sex or any intimate activity, everyone involved must give consent, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. You should never assume that someone is giving consent – you have to be sure. If you haven’t consented to sex, and it takes place against your will, that’s illegal.
You can’t assume that if someone has previously consented they will again. If someone has consented to something once, you should ask again because people can change their mind – even during sex. Consent to one sort of sexual activity does not mean consent to everything. And saying “no” should never be treated as a game. “No” means “NO”.
Consent has to be given freely. If somebody agrees to sexual activity because they’ve been pressured into it, they have not given consent. This includes things like being made to feel bad for saying “no” or being told “I love you and if you loved me you would…”
If you’re not sure what consent means, watch this video from the Thames Valley Police. It helps to explain how you need to be really sure your partner has consented before you start having sex by comparing it to making a cup of tea.
Knowing if someone has consented
You should think about three questions:
- Is the person capable of giving consent? Think about it. If someone is drunk, high on drugs, asleep, unconscious or simply doesn’t understand what you’re saying, that’s not consent. In the UK, people must be over 16 to legally consent to sex
- Has the person been asked? Don’t rely on having asked them before. You need to ask every time and consent to one type of sexual activity does not mean consent to everything
- Does their body language back up verbal consent? Does your partner seem tense or frightened? Are they pulling away when you try to kiss or touch them? These could be signs of not consenting. Don’t ignore them.
Sex without consent and the law
Consent is defined as “an agreement made by someone with the freedom and ability to decide something”. Under the law, it is the person seeking consent who is responsible for ensuring that these conditions are met.
Sex without consent or pressuring someone into sex is either ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’, depending on who is involved and what happens. This sounds serious because it is. The legal consequences of rape and sexual assault can include a prison sentence, criminal record, and being put on the sex offender register.
- Disrespect Nobody has a website for people of all ages full of information and advice on consent, relationship abuse, sexting, rape and porn
- Barnardo’s has an easy-to-read guide for young people called ‘Sexual Exploitation – Sex, Secrets & Lies’, Your Guide. It covers consent as well as other risks young people face and ways of keeping safe
- Brook provides free, confidential information for people under 25, including a text & web chat service and more on consent
- ChildLine is available to support you if you are worried or confused about anything to do with consent under age. You can talk to ChildLine anonymously on 0800 1111. This is free and available 24/7
- NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood): provides help and support for people who have been abused in childhood, You can find more information on their website or call them on 0808 801 0331