What does consent actually mean?
The oxford dictionary definition of consent is the “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”.
This is exactly what it means when it comes to sexual activity, consent means someone agreeing to do something. Any sexual act that doesn’t have consent is illegal!
If someone does not give consent for something and someone else still performs that sexual act with them, they could be charged with rape or sexual assault.
It is unlikely someone has the capacity to consent if they are asleep, unconscious or very drunk, and just because someone agrees to something earlier on that doesn’t mean they have consented, everyone has the right to change their mind. If someone feels threatened or forced into a sexual act it will also not be consensual.
It should be noted that any person under the age of 13 cannot consent to any type of sexual activity as they are perceived to be too young, and so any sexual act performed with someone under 13 is viewed as rape or sexual assault. Make sure you always ask a person how old they are as sometimes people can look a lot older than they actually are.
You’ve probably also heard of the age of consent right?
This is the age that it becomes legal for someone to have sex, in the UK the age of consent is 16.
Sexual activity with someone aged 13-15 is against the law BUT the law is not usually used on people that agree to sex and are of the same age. The law is there to protect someone being abused or taken advantage of by a man or woman older than themselves.
You can always speak to a health professional confidentially; they will only pass on information from you if they believe you or someone else to be in danger.
How do you know it's consensual?
Sex is meant to be enjoyable but it also must be consensual, a good way to make sure of this is to always ask for and give ‘enthusiastic consent’, making sure everyone involved has said yes freely and without force. Getting a solid “YES”, “I want to” or “I’m sure” is great as it shows that everyone involved is on the same page. If you ever have second thoughts and become unsure if the other person is actually consenting or what they are consenting to then just ask them, this way everyone is sure where things are headed.
Consent isn’t just saying the words “yes” or “no” though, you should read body language as well to make sure they feel comfortable with the situation.
You can say NO anytime!
Always remember that you always have a right to say no and to withdraw consent at any time if you don’t feel comfortable with what is happening.
Getting Help Locally
Brook - Free & confidential information for under 25s
CLEAR - A registered charity providing a range of therapeutic services for children and young people who have experienced or been linked to abusive relationships
National Support Websites
Rise Above - Find information and advice about sex and consent
BBC Radio 1 - Get some more information on the age of consent and what it means
The Mix - How to say no to sex and other advice
Need someone to talk to?
SHAC - Sexual Health and Contraception
YZUP - Wise up to Drugs and Alcohol
Ask PHIL - support, information and advice on local services
ABC - Anti-bullying in Cornwall
Childline - a free 24 hour counselling service for children and young people
Samaritans - 24 hour confidential emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts
Brook - free and confidential sexual health advice and contraception to young people
Kooth - free online support for young people
Think you know - internet safety and safe surfing for young people
Talk to Frank - friendly, confidential drugs advice