Healthy lives for young people
Sex

Consent myths and facts

It’s important to remember that you always have a right to say no to any form of sex or sexual activity – and/or to withdraw your consent – at any time.

It’s important to remember that you always have a right to say no to any form of sex or sexual activity – and/or to withdraw your consent – at any time. 

It doesn’t matter who the other person is, what your relationship with them is, or how far you’ve gone with them or others in the past. 

Sometimes people don’t really understand what consent means in different situations. Here are some common myths about sex and consent. 

“If two people have had sex with each other before, or are in a relationship, it’s always OK to have sex again.”

Just because you had sex with someone before, doesn’t mean that you’ve automatically given consent to have sex with them again. This includes if you are in a relationship. 

It’s always up to you if you want to have sex and consent must be sought and given every time. You can’t assume that someone wants to have sex at any given time – you have to ask and listen to the response. 

“You only need to consent when it comes to penetrative sex.”

There are many different ways to have sex with someone, many of which don’t involve penetration. You need consent for all types of sex.  

People of all genders need to ask for consent, and consenting to one sexual activity does not mean you have consented to everything. 

“If your body is turned on, then you are giving consent.”

Sometimes people’s bodies will be turned on even though they do not want to engage in sexual activity. It is common to get an erection at times when you don’t want to have sex (read more about erections here).  

Even if your penis is erect or your vulva is wet – you do not have to have sex if you do not want to. Physical changes in the body can be a sign that someone is aroused, but this is not always the case. Also, someone might be feeling aroused but still not want to take part in a sexual activity, and this is fine.  

Physical arousal is not an invitation to have sex or a sign that someone gives their consent. 

“It’s fine to have sex with someone if they are drunk or high.”

It is possible to negotiate consent when you have been drinking or taking drugs, but not when you are too drunk or high to know what is happening.  

Having sex or sexual contact with someone when they are too drunk or high to understand what is going on is sexual assault or rape, as they cannot consent. 

“Women cannot be raped or sexually assaulted by other women.”

In law, rape is defined as non-consensual penetration with a penis. This means that, legally, only people with a penis can commit rape. Any non-consensual penetration with anything other than a penis is defined as ‘sexual assault by penetration’.  

However, this definition can feel restrictive and unhelpful to survivors of sexual violence. Lots of people use the word ‘rape’ to apply to some forms of sexual assault, usually any form of sexual assault by penetration, and non-consensual vaginal or anal sex. 

This means that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of sexual assault, so a woman can sexually assault another woman.  

Galop provides support for members of the LGBT+ community who are victims/survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Find out more and seek support on the Galop website.

“Men don’t get sexually assaulted.”

The majority of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men against women. However, men can be victims of rape and sexual assault; Safeline states that 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual violence in the UK. 

You can find out more about sexual violence against men and seek support from the Safeline website and the SurvivorsUK website

“People who flirt and wear revealing clothes are ‘asking for it’.”

There is no excuse for sexual violence and it is never the survivor’s fault. Whether or not someone is flirting, looks attractive or has laughed at the other person’s jokes is irrelevant when it comes to consent.  

It doesn’t matter how long you have flirted with someone, how attractive you think they are or how much you think they fancy you – someone flirting with you or looking attractive does not mean that they consent to having sex with you. 

“You can’t consent if you are under 16.”

This one is complicated. In the eyes of the law, you are only old enough to consent to sex or sexual activity at 16. This is what’s known as the ‘age of consent’. The law applies to everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

However, it is important to remember that the law is designed to protect young people from abuse, harm or being taken advantage of by adults. It is not meant to criminalise young people and there is no intention to prosecute people under the age of 16 where both mutually agree (consent) and where they are of a similar age. 

Read more on our page I’m 15, can I have sex?

The Sexual Offenses Act 2003 states that a child under 13 does not have the capacity to consent to sex under any circumstances. Any sexual activity with someone under 13 is illegal and viewed as rape, sexual abuse or assault. 

According to the law, sexual activity between someone under 16 and someone over 16 is considered statutory rape and is illegal. It is also illegal for a person in a position of trust (like a teacher, youth-justice worker, care worker, social worker or doctor), to engage in any sexual activity with a person under the age of 18, even if consent is given. 

Remember: Consent to sex or sexual activity should be something you do freely and should be something you want and feel excited about. Whatever your age, it should never be something you feel scared, uncomfortable or pressured to do. And just because someone is over 16 doesn’t mean that consent is automatically given. 

Find out more about the age of consent here.  

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