Healthy lives for young people

Sex and consent

Consent means agreeing to do something. When it comes to sex, this means agreeing to have sex or engage in sexual activity.

Sex or sexual activity can include sexual touching, oral, anal and vaginal sex with a penis or with any other type of object.

If someone does not give consent or feels pressured, scared or is drunk or high, and a person still engages in sex or a sexual activity with them, this is sexual assault or rape.

Any sort of sexual activity without consent is illegal whatever the age of the people involved and whatever their relationship.

If someone forces you to do something you do not want to do of a sexual nature, it is never your fault and it is not OK. If this has happened to you, you should report it or speak to someone you trust to get help and support.

You may be aware of coverage and discussions about consent in the media. You may even have learned about it in relationships and sex education. But why it is important?

Well, while consent is something we need to be aware of throughout our lives, there is evidence that young people are more likely to experience sex against their will.

Research shows that:

  • 1 in 10 women have experienced non-consensual sex
  • 1 in 71 men have experienced non-consensual sex

This means that women and girls are much more likely to be faced with a situation where they have felt pressured or forced to have sex.

The average age that someone most recently experienced sex that was non-consensual sex was:

  • 16 for men
  • 18 for women

This means that if someone has been in a situation where they have felt pressured or forced to have sex, it has been as a young person.

Understanding what consent is and having the confidence to discuss it, ask for it and give it ultimately makes sure that we’re all having safer and better sexual experiences.

What does the law say?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 for England and Wales says that a person consents to something if that person:

“agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”

It could be argued that the law doesn’t adequately distinguish between ‘agreeing’ to something and ‘wanting’ it.

It also says there must be freedom and capacity to make that decision, but doesn’t really explain in detail what that means other than to say the following:

  • If someone is asleep or unconscious they are unable to give their consent
  • If they are threatened or forced, they do not have the freedom to consent
  • If they are drunk or high, then they may not have the capacity to consent to sex and this includes any kind of sexual activity, like kissing or fondling

Engaging in a sexual act without the person’s consent is a criminal offence and is considered sexual assault or rape.

Read here to find out about the legal age of consent.


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