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Sexual consent

What is consent?

Consent, in simple terms, means to agree to something.

When applied to sex, sexual consent means to agree to engage in a sexual activity, with full understanding and capacity.

Sexual activities include:

  • Kissing
  • Sharing sexual messages and photos
  • Sexual touching
  • Oral sex
  • Vaginal or anal sex

Sexual consent must be present from all people involved in any sexual activity every time it occurs and can be withdrawn at any time. 

Capacity

Someone doesn’t have full capacity to consent if they:

  • Are asleep or unconscious
  • Are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Cannot speak or communicate clearly
  • Don’t understand what is happening
  • Are under 16 years old (see ‘Sex and the law’)

Forcing or pressuring someone to engage in a sexual act without their consent is a form of sexual abuse and is a criminal offence. If you are worried this has happened to you or a friend, speak to an adult you trust or report it to CEOP.

Talking about sexual activity can be awkward, but it is important to communicate before and during sexual activity to ensure you are giving and getting consent.

Communication doesn’t just have to be with words, for example saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Consent can be given and withdrawn with both our body language and our words.

Whether through words or actions, establishing consent should always involve:

  • Thinking about what you want and telling your partner
  • Checking what your partner wants and listening to what they say

Consent is:

  • Being able to change your mind. Even if you agreed to engage in sexual activity, it doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. You have the right to withdraw consent at any time, no matter how far into a sexual activity you are or how far you’ve gone with them or others before. If one person doesn’t appear happy, or asks to stop, this should be respected.
  • Checking in. Ask the other person how they are feeling and if they consent to what is happening before beginning any sexual activity. Check in with yourself. What do you want and how do you feel? Check in with yourself and your partner during sexual activity too; this can help you to know that you are both continuing to give consent. This can be as simple as asking ‘is this ok?’.
  • Given in different ways. This might be saying the word ‘yes’, or it might be through body language that shows they are happy with what is happening. It is important to listen to what someone is telling you and to notice what their body language is telling you. If you are unsure if the other person is giving consent for sexual activity, ask.

Consent is not:

  • Assumed. Consent applies to everyone and isn’t automatically given because you are in a relationship, they are flirting or seem interested. Consent needs to be given and should never be assumed.
  • Given under the influence. Alcohol and drugs can affect your state of mind and decision making. You don’t have to be ‘wasted’ for this to apply, sometimes even a little can impact how you feel and respond to those around you. Consent can only be given when you have full understanding and capacity to decide.
  • Given under pressure. Pressuring someone if they have said no or are displaying body language that shows they aren’t comfortable (such as looking worried, not moving, not knowing what to say), is never ok. Consent given under pressure is not consent.

Signs of consent

  • Saying ‘yes’
  • Telling you that they are enjoying the sexual activity and want to continue
  • Eye contact
  • Being relaxed
  • Touching or kissing you back
  • Being responsive

Signs of non-consent

  • Saying ‘no’
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Crying or shaking
  • Flinching
  • Resistance
  • Silence or stillness
  • Rigid or tense body

What does the law say about sexual consent?

In UK law the age of consent is 16 years old. This means anyone below 16 cannot give consent even if they are saying yes to sexual activity. Find out more about sex and the law.

Remember that no matter what your age, you don’t have to say yes to things you don’t want to do. You have the right to say no without giving a reason. Someone that respects you will understand this.

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