Consent: the facts
Consent is when a person gives permission for something to happen. Giving consent means that you know what is going to happen and are comfortable with it.
Sex and consent:
When it comes to sex, consent is a legal requirement. This means that if consent isn’t given, then the law is broken. Anyone involved in sexual activity must consent to it; freely, readily, and without any pressure whatsoever. Sexual activity includes touching, oral sex and intercourse. This law is designed to make sure that people have freedom over their own bodies and can make their own decisions about sex.
There are some important things to remember when thinking about consent to sex. Consent can only be given when there is a genuine choice. This means the people involved must agree by choice, and must have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Freedom means the person is not pressured or manipulated into saying yes, and capacity means they fully understand and are able to make a clear decision. Being pressured or made to feel bad or unsafe means that consent has not been given as the person has not had a genuine choice. Similarly, if someone is really drunk they cannot give consent as they do not have capacity.
Consent can’t be assumed and it is important to know that consent is not about listening out for a “no”. Consent is about listening and asking for a “yes” to what is happening. Sometimes people don’t consent to sexual stuff but don’t use the word “no”. They might be worried or scared to say it. Instead, they might use body language to communicate that they are not into it. Stopping kissing or touching, staying very still or avoiding physical contact can all be signs of non-consent. Don’t ignore these signs - it’s always best to ask a partner if they are okay. If they are happy with what is happening and if they want to carry on.
Have you seen the video comparing sexual consent to making someone a cup of tea? It’s a funny and light-hearted way of showing that just as you wouldn’t force someone to drink tea if they didn’t want it – it is also wrong to force someone to have sex if they don’t want it.
Consent and Nudes:
According to the law, young people under the age of 18 cannot consent to a nude image of themselves being taken or shared with another person. However, from talking to young people we know that sometimes they do send ‘nudes’ to others. Young people tell us that they send nude selfies sometimes as part of a relationship or to peers, for fun or to feel good about themselves. Pics or videos are sometimes shared in a consensual way - both people may feel comfortable and want take and send the image.
However, there have been situations when nudes are shared without consent. Images might be shared through posting on social media, sending as part of a group chat or showing other people the image. Understandably, sharing nude images without consent can cause a lot of stress, embarrassment and anxiety for the young person involved. Sharing a nude image of someone else without them knowing is never okay and is against the law - whether you know the young person in the image or not.
Think before you share and remember that you can always take a stand. Telling an adult confidentially can help resolve the situation and make sure that the young person involved is supported. Reporting directly to the social media website/app can also help to remove the image if it has been posted online. If you need advice or someone to talk to about what you’ve seen, you can always speak confidentially to Childline at any time of the day.
Consent is not there if a person is pressured or emotionally blackmailed:
If you are being made to feel bad for saying ‘no’ this means you don’t have a genuine choice. Being made to feel you have to do something means that you haven’t made the decision on your own without pressure - this isn’t consent.
A person can’t consent if their ability to make decisions is impaired:
A person can’t give consent if they are very drunk or under the influence of drugs. Drink and drugs can change your perspective on things and can affect your capacity to make decisions. Being encouraged to drink lots of alcohol or take drugs to make you more likely to have sex is never okay.
Consent cannot be given if a person is scared for their safety:
If a person is threatened or made to feel unsafe for saying no, they cannot consent to sex. They may say yes or seem to go along with it - but this is not true consent. Consent can only be given if a personal feels safe and free to make a genuine choice.
Someone who is asleep or passed out cannot consent:
It may seem obvious, but a person who is asleep or passed out cannot give permission to sexual activity. Even if they were awake and gave permission - if they fall asleep they can no longer make an informed decision.
Just because someone consents once, doesn’t mean they always will:
A person can give consent and change their mind at any point - even if sex has already begun. Carrying on once someone has changed their mind is rape. Consent needs to be given every time sexual activity takes place. Just because someone said yes once or even 100 times before - doesn’t mean they consent every time.
If someone is under 16, they can’t give consent:
In UK law the age of consent is 16. This means that anyone below 16 cannot give consent even if they are saying yes to sex. Sex with anyone under 16 is illegal. Learn more about sex and the law.
Always 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 an explanation. Someone that truly respects you will understand this. If you are worried about pressure in relationships you can find information here.
Worried about consent or sex?
Talk to an adult that you trust (e.g. a parent/carer, teacher or youth worker) about what you’re going through and get help.
Get professional help
There are lots of organisations that offer confidential advice:
Information, advice and help for teen relationships. The website also contains a directory of confidential support services.
The UK’s free, confidential helpline for young people of all ages who are upset or in danger. Counsellors provide support over the phone and online 24 hours a day - www.childline.org.uk or call 0800 1111
Free, confidential sexual health information and support services for young people under 25.
CEOP helps young people who are being sexually abused or are worried that someone they’ve met is trying to abuse them.
If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex, you can report to CEOP.
This might be someone:
- Making you have sex when you donʼt want to
- Asking you to do sexual things on webcam or over a live stream
- Asking for sexual pictures of you
If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, report to CEOP.