Consent – do you get it?

It’s Sexual Health Week and this year, we’re shining a light on consent – what it means, why it’s so important and what we’re doing to spread the word. From 13th-19th September, we’ll be exploring different consent topics – from common myths and ideas around consent to information on what to do if you need support with your sexual health.

The crucial thing to remember is that consent must be freely given (without any external influence) and that you can withdraw consent at any time.

What is Sexual Consent?

In the UK, the age of sexual consent is 16. Sexual consent is an agreement to a sexual experience – be it touching someone, kissing someone, or having full sex with them.

  • In order to give consent, a person must have both the freedom and the capacity to make a choice – this means that they’re not being pressured by external influences and they do not lack capacity (eg. through being intoxicated, drugged or unconscious)
  • Sexual activity without consent is a crime

In any sexual situation, it is important to know exactly what a person has said yes to and what a person has said no to, and to not take advantage of that person’s consent by pushing the boundaries beyond their comfort zone.

When is it a Yes?

A clear yes can include verbal responses such as “Yes” or “I’d like that”, even “Go on” or “Do it” but there are also non-verbal signs that help you understand that a person likes what you are doing such as leaning in to you, touching back and being in sync with your movements. If you are unsure then always get the verbal reassurance and keep asking “Is this ok?”

A person can say “yes” to kissing but “no” to sex, just like a person can say “yes” to lying next to you on a bed, but “no” to taking off their clothes. This consent doesn’t last a lifetime and for each sexual encounter with a person you must ask for this permission again. Also be aware that people can change their mind at any point and for any reason.

What if I’m unsure?

How do you figure out what to say yes to and what to say no to? Discuss your boundaries with someone and be honest about what you are comfortable with. Sexual activity doesn’t need to be full penetrative sex, and figuring out what lies within your comfort zone will help when talking to your partner. Remember you can say no to one thing but yes to something else. Sometimes you might not be feeling in the mood for sexual activity which is ok. Or you might be waiting for the right person. Giving consent is down to you only and having a mental tick list in your head for what you are comfortable with will enable you to be more prepared if you find yourself in a sexual situation.

Saying “no”

Understanding when and how to give consent is important – but it’s also key to recognise when someone does not give consent.

  • If someone says “no” to any type of sexual activity, they do not consent. Even if someone doesn’t say “no” out loud, that doesn’t automatically mean that they have consented to sex.
  • If someone seems unsure, stays quiet, moves away or doesn’t respond – this is not consent. Many people who have experienced sexual violence find that they were unable to move or speak – this is a common reaction.
  • If someone is asleep, unconscious, drunk or drugged, they cannot consent to sexual activity.
  • If someone is threatened, bullied, pressured or manipulated into saying yes, this is not consent.

If someone’s not sure whether you are giving your consent for something sexual, they should check with you.
If they can see or suspect you’re not 100% comfortable or happy with what’s happening between you, they should stop.