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Consent for young people

What is Consent?

All sex has to be consensual. Otherwise, it is a crime.

Consent means giving your permission or agreeing to something, in this case sex. Consent is the same for all genders and sexualities: if you want to do something sexual with someone, then both of you must agree.

 

When we talk about sex

We mean any sexual activity. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex, masturbation of yourself or someone else, touching someone’s genitals or body in a sexual way, sexual touching on top of clothes, foreplay and kissing. The Brook website has a lot of information about sex and consent.

The law says that consent has to be freely given. This means no one should make you or pressure you to have sex. If you feel frightened, threatened or intimidated, then you cannot freely consent.

Often someone’s response to threat and sexual violence is to ‘freeze’. This is something which people don’t have control over. Just because someone has ‘frozen’ does not mean they are consenting.

The law also says that people need capacity to consent. This means that people must be awake and in a state where they can make an informed decision for themselves. If someone is asleep, or has had too much to drink or taken drugs to the extent that they can no longer make choices, then they cannot consent.

If someone has learning difficulties, they might not be able to consent either – it depends on their understanding of what is happening.

All of this means that everyone has the responsibility to make sure that the person they want to have sex with is really consenting and is making this choice without any pressure or fear.

 

Can I have sex legally?

I am 18 or over: Once you are 18, the law considers you an adult and you can have sex with people aged 16 and over, as long as it is lawful and consensual. There are some things to look out for in terms of positive sexual relationships (see below). If you are being hurt sexually or threatened/intimidated/manipulated into having sex, then this is wrong. Contact Galop for help and advice.

I am 16-17:  The law says that people aged 16 and over can legally have sex. However, 16 and 17 year olds are still legally children, so they are given more protection in law.

  • It is illegal for an adult in a position of trust or responsibility (like a teacher, sports coach, youth leader) to have sex with a 16 or 17 year old
  • It is illegal to take, show or distribute a sexual photo of a child in any circumstances. This includes images you make of yourself. It is illegal to send someone a sexual image of yourself if you are aged 16 or 17.
  • It is illegal to pay a 16 or 17 year old for sex. Children can’t do sex work and the law would see this as child abuse.

I am aged 13 – 15:  The law says that sex by and with children aged 13, 14 and 15 is illegal. The law says that you should not have sex if you are this age. Whether you get into trouble if you do will depend on the circumstances and on consent. The law is there primarily to protect you from abuse, so if sex is consensual and between people of a similar age, you may not get into trouble. However, this cannot be guaranteed so it’s good to get advice. You can contact us to talk about your situation or contact:

Brook – healthy lives for young people

The Mix – essential support for under 25s

I am aged 12 or under: If you are 12 or under you cannot consent to sex in any circumstances. Sex with children aged 12 and under is illegal and anyone having sex with you is committing a serious crime.

 

Should I have sex?

Even if sex is legal, you don’t have to do it. There is a reason why we have an age of consent and an age when you become an adult. Sex requires some physical and emotional maturity for you to engage with it in an empowered way. It can be easy to think everyone is having sex but that isn’t the case.

As an LGBT+ young person, you should feel free to grow into your sexuality and gender identity at a pace and in a way that suits you. Being LGBT+ does not depend on having sex – someone can never have sex in their whole life and still be LGBT+.

Some young people and adults will define themselves as asexual and this identity should be understood, respected and validated. If anyone tries to make you have sex because you are asexual, this is abuse.

You can contact us if you’re worried about any of these things. We will listen and understand.