To consent means to agree to something. The word can be used in many different situations and if you consent it means you have given permission.

When it comes to sex specifically, to consent means to agree to have sex or sexual activity.

Sex or sexual activity without consent is illegal regardless of the age of the people involved. In the UK, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16.

Although the age of consent in the UK is 16, it is illegal to take a photo or video of someone aged 18 or under engaging in sexual activity.

Although it might seem like everyone is having sex, only about half of high school students have ever had sex, and the average age when people start having sex is about 17. You might feel like you’re the only one of your peers not having sex, but chances are that’s far from true.

Remember you should never feel scared, controlled or forced in to doing things that you don’t want to do.

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

Consent is an essential part of healthy relationships and it’s really important to know what it is, understand how consent works, what the law is and where you can get advice and support if you feel you have not consented.

Consent isn’t complicated but you do need to think about a few things:

  • Consent must be freely given – its not ok to pressurise, trick or threaten someone into saying yes. And you can’t give consent if you’re drunk, high or passed out.
  • Consent is reversible – it’s ok to say yes and then change your mind (at any time!). Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
  • Consent means being informed – you can only consent to something if you have all the facts. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
  • Consent should be specific – saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’re saying yes to other things (like having sex).

Both you and the person you’re with always need to consent before sex or any intimate activity.

Engaging in a sexual act without the person’s consent is sexual violence and is a criminal offence.

The age of consent is 16 and having sex under this age is against the law. 

It makes no difference what your gender or sexuality is, the law will be the same. 

What if you, or the person you want to sleep with, is under it?

The facts and law about under-age sex in the UK can be found on The Mix website.

The Mix is a UK based charity that provides free, confidential support for young people under 25 via online, social and mobile platforms.

Consent means saying ‘Yes’s or using words such as' Keep doing that', 'I love this', 'Don't stop'. You also need to pay attention to body language and non verbal cues. If you think the other person is uncomfortable or unhappy you should stop.

Words such as 'No', 'I don't want to do this', 'I'm drunk, please stop.' are not consensual. Body language such as avoiding eye contact and pushing you away are also not consensual. If there is any element of doubt that it is not consensual, stop. 

Remember, consent needs to be sought every time you have sex and throughout every encounter, including when you want to try a new activity. Consent can be removed at anytime. 

If you are asleep, unconscious (passed out) or so out of it that you can’t make a decision for yourself then you cannot consent. Whatever anyone does to you while you are in this state is done without your permission and that makes it a crime.

Brook has some really useful information on how to give and get consent.

Some people find it easier to talk to their school nurse rather than a teacher or parent about any concerns they may have. School nurses see children/young people in school following a referral from parent or carers, professionals or the young person themselves when they have the capacity to make decisions about their care.

As with adults, young people have a right to confidentiality, if they are not placing themselves or others at risk of harm.

The only reason why your school nurse might have to consider passing on confidential information without your permission would be in very rare circumstances to protect you or someone else from serious harm.

If you have questions or worries you can speak to an adult you trust such as a parent or carer, teacher or school nurse.

If you feel you’re in immediate danger, call the police on 999 straight away.

There are further guides and support for young people from Childline

  • Healthy and unhealthy relationships - advice on the signs of unhealthy relationships and consent.
  • Relationships - advice for young people starting relationships. 
  • Sex - how to know when you're ready, consent and safe sex.
  • Sexting - advice for young people on sharing and sending nude images.