Consent: What it is and why it is important

Alex Gray, Childline service manager, explains what consent is and the law that surrounds it.

Understanding and talking about what is meant by consent can be a confusing and sometimes awkward topic for young people. However, although you may find it uncomfortable to discuss, it’s important to have an understanding of what it means.

What is consent

Sexual consent is when you agree to take part in anything sexual without feeling pressured, scared or drunk. This includes sex, touching and taking pictures.

However, some young people are unaware of this and contact Childline as they are unsure if they consented to sexual activity.

One young person* who contacted Childline said: “I went to my friend’s house party a few months ago and I hardly knew anyone there. It was my first house party so I got very drunk and kept falling down the stairs and being sick and stuff.

“There was this boy there who ended up helping me walk up the stairs and we went into the bedroom. He started kissing me and I did it back but then he started touching me so I just sort of stood there. I was so drunk he had to help me stay stood up. I am the legal age to consent but I’m not sure if I consented because I was too drunk.”

Consent isn’t permanent

When deciding to take part in anything sexual, it is important that you remember that consent isn’t permanent. People can stop giving their consent at any time and just because someone said yes to doing something sexual they may change their mind later.

Flirting is not classed as consent

It is also important to distinguish the difference between consent and flirting. If someone is flirting with you, this does not mean that they have consented to having sex.

Respect other people’s decisions

Finally, it is also vital to be respectful and understanding of other people’s decisions. Some people may say no to doing certain things and that’s ok. No one should be made to feel guilty for saying no to something they don’t feel comfortable with.

Consent and the law

It’s illegal to have sex or carry out sexual acts with anyone without someone’s full consent. The age of consent is 16 years old and it is illegal to have sex with anyone younger than this.

If you feel under pressure to have sex

Whether you’ve had sex before or if it’s your first time, it is important to remember that no young person should be made to feel like they should have sex until they feel ready.

If you think you are ready to have sex

However, if you are thinking about having sex it is important to consider the following things first. Do you have contraception and know about safe sex, can talk to your partner about having sex, will your partner will support you if you decide not to have sex? If the answers to any of these questions are no you should re-consider if you are ready.

If you want more advice about sex and consent

We understand that you may not feel comfortable talking about sex and consent, it is normal to have questions about sex and no one should feel embarrassed about this.

If you feel uncomfortable talking to a parent, guardian or trusted adult about this you can always talk to one of Childline’s counsellors.

Young people can call Childline free and confidentially 24/7 on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk for further advice.

* All names and potentially identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the child or young person. Quotes are created from real Childline contacts but are not necessarily direct quotes from the young person.

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