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Sexual consent in practice

Giving consent

Consent to sexual activity requires communication to make sure you and your partner understand each other and are in agreement. Giving consent and asking for consent is all about setting your own personal boundaries and respecting those of the other person.

It is not okay for a person to pressurise someone else to have sex.

If someone asks you to have sex, you always have the legal right to choose; this includes choices around, if you have sex, when you have sex and what type of sex you want to engage in. This applies whether you have sex with a new or existing partner.

At any point, both you and your partner have the right to change your mind and withdraw consent.

Being sexually active with someone when they don't fully understand and agree to what's going on isn't consensual sex.

Drugs and alcohol can affect a person's ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to have sex; this means they can't give consent.

Neither can somebody consent if they don't have the intellectual capacity to fully understand what they are being asked to do and the possible consequences.

Getting Consent

Many people think they know if their partner is consenting to sex by their behaviour, but in reality the only sure way to know is if you talk about it and they agree to have sex.

It is also important to get 'active, on-going consent', even after someone has agreed to have sex with you.

You can do this by asking them:

  • if they are ok to carry on.
  • if there is anything they want to do or don't want to do.
  • if what you are doing feels ok.
  • if they want to stop or change activity.

Even if someone verbally agrees to sex but their body language is signalling something else, you should stop and check in with them.

Examples of body language that can mean someone isn't comfortable with what is going on can include:

  • pulling or turning away from you.
  • their muscles stiffening.
  • not responding to your touch.

If there is any confusion on your side or you are not sure if your partner wants to carry on then you should stop immediately and talk about it.

Sexual activity should be consensual and pleasurable.

If you and your partner are concerned about your mutual enjoyment, it is more likely that you will want to check in with each other to make sure that the activity is working for you both.

For more information on the law around sexual consent and the circumstances in which people cannot be said to have consented see the section on Consent and the law