Sex, Consent & Your Rights
What Is Sex?
Being a sexual being is an great thing - but like anything in life, there are risks. 'Sexual health' means having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences. It's up to you to have sex in a way that reduces the chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or having an unplanned pregnancy. Remember YOU are in charge of your body, your health and your decisions about sex.
- Sexual relationships are a special thing. Some good qualities in sexual relationships are trust and intimacy. But different people want different things out of a relationship. Some people want trust and intimacy and other people just want the opportunity to have sex. Others want both or neither.
The age of consent for sex in England is 16. This applies to men and women having sex together and also young people of the same sex.
Consent is about giving permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. Nobody has the right to make you go further than you want to. You also have every right to say no, at any point, whoever you’re with. If you want to have sex but your boyfriend or girlfriend or friend doesn't, you must absolutely respect their feelings.
Someone might agree to sex earlier on and then change their mind and everyone has the right to do this. Putting pressure on them or making them feel bad for changing their mind, means that consent may not be given.
Physical, emotional and psychological pressure may be used to force someone else into sexual activity. Just because someone does not hold you down and make you engage in a sexual act against your will or if you do not say ‘no’, it does not mean you have consented.
What if you’re in a relationship or married?
Going out with someone or being married to them does not give them the right to do what they want to you. You have a total right to bodily autonomy – meaning that it’s your body so you get to decide what to do with it – no matter what anyone else says.
What if you’ve had sex with them before?
Just because you had sex with someone before, doesn’t mean that you have to have sex with them again. It’s always up to you if you want to.
What if you’re having sexual contact (but not sex)?
Even if you’re OK with touching each other’s bodies and genitals, having sex without being asked is not ok. Consent to one thing isn’t consent to all things. You can stop sex at any time and for any reason. You can be fine having one type of sex but not want to try another way.
What if you’re drunk or high?
Legally speaking, people who are drunk or high can’t consent to sex – this includes any kind of sexual activity, like kissing or fondling. Having sex or sexual contact with someone when they are too drunk or high to understand what is happening is rape as they cannot consent.
What if you’re flirting or wearing sexy clothes?
Just because someone is flirting, has made an effort to look attractive or has laughed at the other person’s jokes, this doesn’t affect their right to consent in any way. Clothes are not consent, and neither is flirting.
What if you don’t actually say the word ‘no’?
Sometimes you might not say 'no' out loud but might say it in other ways, like 'not right now', 'I’m not sure', or by staying silent. Your body language might also signal lack of consent – for example, by turning away, by curling up, or by not responding positively to touching.
Just because you do not say ‘no’, it does not mean you have consented.
What if the other person thinks that you’re turned on?
Sometimes our bodies will be turned on even though we do not want to engage in sexual activity. Even if a vagina is wet – if you do not want to have sex, you do not have to. Neither of these things is an invitation to continue having sex with you or to make you engage in sexual activities of any kind. Our minds may want the opposite of what our bodies are doing and this is ok.
Sometimes you will feel turned on by someone’s touch even when you have not consented which may be confusing. If this happens, it does not mean that you have consented.
Sex should be enjoyable and must always be agreed to by everyone involved. One way to make sure this is always the case for you is to ask for and give enthusiastic consent. This means saying 'yes', freely and without being forced and by using body language which shows the other person that you are enjoying yourself and happy.
If you say 'no', or if someone else says 'no', through words or through body language, you must always respect their wishes. Respecting a 'no' is a bare minimum. Getting enthusiastic consent is important as it makes sure that everyone involved wants to engage in the sexual act and are free and happy to do so. If you’re not sure that the other person is consenting, just pause and ask them – it’s a good habit to get into.
Safer Sex - An Overview
All women regardless of whether you have sex with male's or female's need to use protection to prevent STI's, HIV and potentially unwanted pregnancies.
Condoms are the most familiar latex barrier. Condoms can be placed over the penis before sex to prevent semen entering the body of the sexual partner to prevent pregnancy and transmission of STIs. Condoms should also be used on dildos and sex toys to avoid the transmission of bacterial infections.
A dental dam is a square sheet of latex which is can be used as a barrier when performing oral sex on the vagina or anus. A dam prevents transmission of STI's as they protect against skin to skin contact and the exchange of bodily fluids. They are available in a range of flavours. The dental dam is placed over the area and oral sex can be performed through the dam. If needed, lube can be used on the side of the dam which will be on the body. Dental dams should be handled carefully so that you don’t forget which side of the dam was on the body and which side was on your mouth.
Lubricant, also known as ‘lube’, can be used during sex for safety as well as sensation. Lube reduces friction which will prevent irritation and potential cuts/tears in the skin of the vagina and anus. Lube is available in lots of different types and flavours, and you can get lube that can cause a warm, cold or tingly sensation. Bear in mind that lube that contains glycerin can cause vaginal yeast infections, and oil-based lube will break latex barriers such as condoms.