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Want to know the secret to good sex? Consent. Find out how to practice consent in your relationships and sexual activity.
To consent means to agree to something, and the word can be used in lots of different situations. When it comes to sex specifically, to consent means to agree to have sex or engage in sexual activity.
What is sexual activity?
Sex or sexual activity can include kissing, sexual touching, oral, anal and vaginal sex with a penis or with any other type of object.
To consent to sexual activity means to agreeing freely and with full capacity to engage in that activity. This means that someone has to be able to agree to sexual activity with full understanding of what they are agreeing to, and no pressure to say ‘yes’. Find out more about what ‘freedom’ and ‘full capacity’ means in the context of consent.
Another way of thinking about it is consent is someone saying ‘yes’ only when they REALLY mean ‘yes’ because it is something they genuinely want to do, not because they feel like they should or don’t understand what it is they are agreeing to. This is sometimes called ‘enthusiastic consent’.
It’s important that everyone involved in sexual activity is consenting at all times – no one should ever feel they have to do something they are not comfortable with or don’t want to do. Just because you have consented to one thing doesn’t mean you have consented to something else, and it’s completely OK to say no or stop at any point if you don’t want to continue. It doesn’t matter who the other person is, what your relationship with them is, how far you’ve gone with them or others in the past: you always have a right to withdraw your consent at any time.
Physical, emotional and psychological pressure may be used to force someone else into sexual activity. Just because someone does not hold you down and make you engage in a sexual act against your will or if you do not say ‘no’, it does not mean you have consented.
Find out more about consent here.
Talking about sex can be difficult, and feelings of awkwardness when talking about sex can put people off having conversations about consent. However, good communication is key to understanding and expressing what you and your partner want.
This means it is important to practice ways of asking others for consent, listen to their response, and pause to check in on their wellbeing. It is also crucial to do the same for yourself!
Giving and getting consent doesn’t have to be a stiff, awkward, formal conversation. It can (and should) be a continuous dialogue about what you want, don’t want, like and don’t like.
There are practical ways of negotiating consent. This starts with good communication. It doesn’t have to be verbal but it does involve:
The more practice you have talking about sex, desire, relationships, pleasure and your body, the less awkward it will become and the easier it will be to communicate with your partner(s) healthily.
And remember: no matter how bumpy or stilted these conversations may be, practicing consent every time you have sex or sexual activity is always the right approach.
Practicing good consent involves checking in with yourself and thinking about your feelings, emotions and body.
Although our bodies give us cues, we always need to take our thoughts and emotions into account as well. Just because your body is responding in a certain way, such as your penis becoming erect or your vulva getting wet, doesn’t mean you have to have sex if you don’t want to.
You have the right to withdraw consent at any time and, when you do, you partner(s) should respect your wishes immediately and without question. Just because you have consented to one thing doesn’t mean you have consented to something else, and it’s completely OK to say no or stop at any point if you don’t want to continue.
You don’t have to explain to your partner(s) why you have withdrawn consent if you don’t want to. And you can give consent again if you’re feelings change and you want to continue.
Practicing consent doesn’t have to interrupt the flow of sex. It means paying attention to your partner’s actions, words and sounds every time you have sex and throughout each sexual encounter.
Remember, you should always check what they want and enjoy.
Take a moment to:
Here are some examples of the sorts of questions you might ask your partner to establish what they want and how they feel.
The absence of a ‘no’ doesn’t equal consent. Sometimes ‘no’ is hard to say. Pay attention to your partner and pick up on what they might be trying to say. If you aren’t sure, double check and keep communicating. Never assume!
Remember, if you say ‘no’, or if someone else says ‘no’, whether through words or through body language, you must always respect their wishes immediately, and they must respect yours.
You also pay attention to non-verbal cues.
These signs might show consent at that moment, but remember: consent needs to be sought every time you have sex and throughout every encounter, including when you want to try a new activity.
Always stop any sexual activity if you notice any of these signs.
If someone forces you to do something sexual that you do not want to do, it is never your fault and it is not OK. If this has happened to you, you should speak to someone you trust to get help and support and report what has happened. Find out how to report sexual violence.
If you need help, whatever is going on, you should try to speak to an adult that you trust. This could be someone in your family, but it could also be a teacher, midday meal supervisor, social worker or one of your friend’s parents. It should be someone that you have a good relationship with and someone who you think has your best interests in mind.
Brook services are able to offer you advice and support with all aspects of sex and relationships. Our friendly staff will not judge you or report you but will listen to what’s going on and see how they can help.
If you don’t have a Brook service in your area, you should be able to access help and support from any sexual health service.
Find a service near me
There are lots of places that are able to offer help and support by phone or online:
For general help and support with anything, people under 19 anywhere in the UK can contact Childline online or by calling 0800 1111.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse, assault or violence, you can get support from Victim Support or Rape Crisis.
For medical advice, you can contact NHS 111 by dialling 111 (England and parts of Wales) or NHS 24 call 08454 242424 (Scotland).
If you (or someone you know) are experiencing or at risk of sexual abuse, assault or violence, you can call call 999 for an ambulance, the police or any other emergency service any time of day or night if it is safe for you to do so. The 999 emergency number covers all of the UK and is free to call from any phone.
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