What is sexual consent?

Consent happens when all people involved in any kind of sexual activity agree to take part by choice. They also need to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

We all have the right to not want sex or any other kind of sexual activity

We also all have the right to change our minds at any time. Or to consent to doing one sexual thing with someone but not another.

Many of the myths surrounding consent and sexual violence can make victims and survivors feel as though they are somehow to blame. It can also make them feel that what happened to them wasn’t ‘real’ sexual violence.

Without consent, any kind of sexual activity is sexual violence

If someone seems unsure, stays quiet, moves away or doesn’t respond, they are not agreeing to sexual activity. In fact, it’s really common for people who have experienced sexual violence to find they are unable to move or speak.

Someone doesn’t have the freedom and capacity to agree to sexual activity by choice if:

  • They are asleep or unconscious.
  • They are drunk or ‘on’ drugs.
  • They have been ‘spiked’.
  • They are too young.
  • They have a mental health disorder or illness that means they are unable to make a choice.
  • They are being pressured, bullied, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying ‘yes’.
  • The other person is using physical force against them.

If someone’s not sure whether you are giving your consent for something sexual, they should check with you. If they can see or suspect you’re not 100% comfortable or happy with what’s happening between you, they should stop.

What consent looks like

  • Enthusiastically saying ‘yes!’.
  • Talking to the other person about what you do and don’t want, and listening to them in return.
  • Checking in with the other person – for example, asking ‘is this okay?’, ‘do you want to slow down?’ or ‘do you want to stop?’.
  • Respecting someone’s choice if they say ‘no’. And never trying to change their mind or put pressure on them.

Consent does not look like

  • Feeling like you have to agree to sex or other sexual activity because you’re worried about the other person’s reaction if you say ‘no’.
  • Someone having sex with you or touching you in a sexual manner when you’re asleep or unconscious.
  • Someone continuing with sexual activity despite your non-verbal cues that you don’t want it to continue or you’re not sure – for example, if you pull away, freeze or seem uncomfortable.
  • Someone assuming that you want to have sex or take part in other sexual activity because of your actions or what you’re wearing – for example, flirting, accepting a drink, wearing a short skirt.
  • Someone assuming that you want to have sex or take part in other sexual activity with them because you’ve had sex or taken part in other sexual activity with them before.
  • Someone assuming that you want to take part in one type of sexual activity because you wanted to take part in another.
  • Someone removing a condom during sex after you only agreed to have sex with one (what is known as ‘stealthing’).

Please know, however, that these are just a few examples of what consent doesn’t look like. If you didn’t want something to happen then you didn’t give your consent. You also didn’t give your consent if you weren’t capable of deciding whether or not you wanted it – for example, if you were a child or if you were drunk.

If there was no consent then it was sexual violence

If you’re in a sexual encounter with someone and they ask you to stop and you don’t stop, you’re committing a sexual offence.

If you think you might have been raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused, you can talk to us. We will listen to you and believe you, and you can take the conversation at your own pace.