Consent, simply, means agreeing to do something. With regards to sex, consent means freely agreeing to a sexual activity.
Legally, the definition of consent in England and Wales, according to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, is when someone "agrees by choice…and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice."
Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar laws.
What’s important to note here are agreement, and choice.
Age of consent
The legal age of consent is 16 and it’s an offence to have sexual activity with someone under that age (or 18 if the other person is in a position of trust or authority).
However, the law isn’t intended to punish sexual activity between two young people of similar age and understanding, where both of them have freely agreed to the activity, unless it involves abuse, exploitation or harm.
Children aged 12 and under cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity.
Other things to consider
Other things to consider around giving or receiving consent including:
- whether you or the other person are too young
- if drugs or alcohol have been consumed
- if someone has additional learning needs
- whether fear and manipulation is involved – it's not consent if someone has sex because they're pressured into it or scared what will happen if they don't.
Someone cannot consent if:
- they don’t legally have the capacity to consent
- they’re asleep or unconscious
- they're too drunk or high
- they don’t have the freedom to consent.
The above is a helpful starting point, but it doesn’t cover everything. We should recognise consent as nothing less than an enthusiastic “yes”.
Someone should be willing and happy to engage in sexual activity with you. If they’re not – stop what you’re doing, and check how they’re feeling. Never try and pressure anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. If someone feels bullied or threatened into sexual activities, that's not consent.
If they’ve consumed drugs or alcohol and are very intoxicated, wait until the next day when they’ve sobered up to engage in any sexual activity.
There should never be a “grey area” in consent.
Always make sure you have a partner’s full, happy, and enthusiastic consent before engaging in any kind of sexual activity, every time. Just because someone has said “yes” before, it doesn’t mean they say “yes” to every instance or every act.
If you ever feel unsure of how to say "yes" or "no" we have a series of examples of ways to explain how you’re feeling. You’re always allowed to say “no” or to say that you want to stop. It doesn't matter how far things have gone, or what you've agreed to in the past.