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Sex and relationships can be difficult for young adults to navigate. It’s important to be clear on what consent is when it comes to sexual activity.

Consent in simple terms means choosing for something to happen. The legal definition says a person gives consent when they ‘agree by choice, and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice’.

For example, someone does not have the capacity to give consent if they are unconscious or asleep. They do not have the freedom to consent if they are forced to engage in sexual activity.

If someone doesn’t give consent, this could be sexual assault or rape. Consent needs to be given for any sexual activity or sexual touching, not just full sex.

You should never assume consent has been given – you should get consent before anything happens.

Remember – you should never feel forced or pressured into giving consent - it is absolutely your right to say no. And you have every right to change your mind about giving consent.

If you’re under 16, you cannot consent. If you have sex with someone over 16, they risk prosecution. See more in our factfile on Age of Consent.

This video from Thames Valley Police gives clear instructions about what consent is.

Barrister Abigail Husbands prosecutes and defends in serious sexual offence cases. She explains why the issue of consent can be complex legally too:

  • The legal definition of consent is whether you choose to do something. So if somebody agrees by choice then they've consented to it as long as they've got the freedom and capacity to make that choice - that's what the law says which practically speaking means that somebody's got to want to do it and choose to do it.
  • If somebody is so drunk that they're passed out drunk then they wouldn't have the freedom or capacity to choose to do something and so they wouldn't be consenting.
  • But there's a whole spectrum of consent. Nobody has to push somebody off, or scream, or shout or say stop, it's not as black and white as that at all - if somebody doesn't want it to happen then they're not consenting to it.

See our factfile on Rape for more information about what to do if you have been sexually assaulted.

Information and support for anyone affected by sexual abuse can be found here.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.

This factfile was updated on 6 November 2015