Someone consents to sexual activity or contact only if they… ‘Agree by choice . . . and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.’ (Sexual Offences Act 2003).
What do we mean by freedom and capacity?
Someone might not have the freedom to consent if…
There was an abuse of power or trust
One person was dependent on another
One person uses force or power during sexual activity or contact
Someone won’t have capacity to consent if…
They are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
They are asleep or unconscious. You can’t assume that someone wants to carry on if they fall asleep or pass out.
They have a medical condition, mental health problem or learning disability
They aren’t old enough to consent
The law says it's legal for you to agree – or consent – to sex from the age of 16. There is however, much more to consent than just being of the legal age. Whether it is with an acquaintance, a friend, an ex or with a boyfriend or girlfriend, it is your right to say no to any form of sexual activity or contact at any age and at any time. This is the same no matter your gender or sexual orientation. This forms an essential part of a healthy relationship.
What do you need to know about consent?
No automatic invites. This covers a number of issues relating to consent. Consenting to one form of sexual activity or contact doesn’t mean someone consents to all activity. If a person is dressed in a certain way or is flirting, this is not an automatic invite. Similarly even if consent has been given for sexual activity in the past does not mean consent will automatically be given again
No verbal consent. Someone doesn’t actually have to say the word ‘no’ to show a lack of consent. Body language that can imply ‘no’ can include being tense, frightened or nervous or not wanting to be touched, kissed or hugged
No pressure. Consent has not been freely given if someone feels pressured into it. Being pestered, intimated, or threatened (physically or emotionally) or being called ‘frigid’, made to feel stupid/bad or encouraged to drink alcohol or take drugs are all forms of pressure
No commitment. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Yes, even mid activity!
Communication is key
You can never assume that someone is giving consent. The easiest way to make sure consent is given is simply to ask someone before sexual activity or contact occurs. If the person freely responds with ‘yes’ (without force or pressure) then this is consent.
Remember, it’s your body and only you can decide what you do with it!
If you think you have had sexual activity without giving consent - see our pages on sexual assault and rape for information and advice.
For more information about consent, you can visit the following websites: