You will have heard lots of people talking about consent, and maybe the term “informed consent” recently but what does this actually mean?
Let’s get a few things straight first
- Consent means consent to any sort of sexual activity, in this context.
- Any sort of sexual activity under the age of 13 in the UK is illegal. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape and assault by penetration.
- The age of consent to sexual activity in the UK is 16, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or anything else.
- The law recognises that young people aged between 13 and 15 can physically have sex and there can be consensual sexual relationships between young people aged between 13 and 15 and so the police wouldn’t look to prosecute those young people in healthy, consensual relationships however if there is any concern at all about an imbalance of power in that relationship the police may take a different approach.
- Sexual activity between someone aged 16 or over and someone aged between 13 and 15 is illegal.
- Informed consent means that both the people are choosing to have sex and both have exactly the same choice, based on the freedom and also the mental capacity, and maturity to make that decision, so there is an equal balance of power in that relationship and that decision.
There’s a brilliant description of what consent is on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGoWLWS4-kU Have a look at it. It’s only a couple of minutes and it’s really clear and simple. They use the analogy of a cup of tea. Some people say only the English would talk about sex in terms of tea(!) but it does show exactly what consent looks like.
If someone feels pressured by the other person in any way to have sex, and just to be clear when we say “have sex” we mean take part in any sort of sexual activity, then it is not informed consent, because the other person has put pressure on them. If you don’t freely agree then it’s illegal.
The important thing to think, whichever of the two people you are is, is there an equal balance of power in this relationship? If you think someone is agreeing to have sex with you for the wrong reasons, stop and think. You may be breaking the law. It’s just as important to get it right if you are that person, so talk to the other person and make sure they are comfortable and not feeling any pressure.
Sex and intimacy between two consenting young people in a happy, healthy relationship can be a wonderful thing but sex is also used by some people as a powerful tool to exert pressure over someone else – “I’ll only be your boyfriend if you have sex with me”, “Marisha said she will suck me off, so if you won’t, I’ll just go out with her”. If you then agree, that is not informed consent because you have been given an ultimatum.
In healthy relationships boys and girls/men and women talk about these things and always make sure that the other feels comfortable and safe. That’s what consent is.