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Safety & Consent

The legal age of consent for sexual activity in Scotland is 16. The laws around sending explicit images state that it is illegal to send, possess or distribute an explicit image of anyone under the age of 18. However, consent is about more than just age. As well as knowing about the law it’s a good idea to support young people to understand their rights and responsibilities around any sexual activity (including online sexual activity) and intimacy.

In Scotland consent around sexual activity means “free agreement” There are lots of situations in which “free agreement” can NEVER be present. These include if someone is too drunk or under the influence of drugs to give permission, if someone is asleep or if threats or coercion are involved.

This can often be confusing for young people who may find it difficult to identify what constitutes consent (eg. is just not saying no a yes?) and how to seek it, give it, or say no.

A recent Scottish Government publication highlights the following key messages for adolescents around consent:

  • Positive sexual experiences are mutually consensual, respectful and enjoyable.
  • Consensual sexual activity means feeling safe and happy.
  • You need consent every time you engage in sexual activity whether you’re with someone you have just met, or in a relationship.
  • If someone changes their mind and no longer gives consent you must stop what you are doing immediately.
  • No one can ever give consent for somebody else.
  • Consent is freely given, not as a result of pestering, wearing someone down or making someone feel like they ‘owe’ something. Never try to persuade, pressure or encourage someone into doing things they do not want to do.
  • If someone says the word “yes” when they have been pressured, talked into it or feel they can’t say no, then they are not giving consent.
  • You need consent every time you have sex, even in a relationship and even if the person has consented before.
  • If you have consented to something sexual before, you can decide not to do it again, and so can the other person.
  • You can always change your mind when you are doing something sexual. Sometimes in the moment you want to change your mind. It is never too late to stop.
  • If the person you’re with doesn’t consent, or changes their mind, you might feel disappointment, but you do not have the right to make them feel bad or try to persuade them to do something they don’t want to.
  • A person is not able to give their consent if they are incapable because of the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or because they are asleep or unconscious. Any sexual activity in these circumstances is sexual assault or rape. If you’re not sure, you do not have consent.
  • Consent can be expressed verbally or non-verbally (known as body language). It’s important that you both continue to pay attention to each other and ensure you are still happy, comfortable and enjoying the sexual activity you’re having. If you are not sure that the other person is happy and comfortable, you do not have consent.
  • Pay attention to the person you’re with. People will use both verbal and non-verbal cues (body language) to indicate consent. Examples might include; pulling someone closer, direct eye contact, smiling, actively touching someone, nodding yes, saying things like ‘that feels good’ or ‘I still want to’. Good communication is part of good sex.
  • If you think the person you are having sex with is not sure or is unhappy or worried or frightened, or that they want to stop, then you must stop. The other person does not have to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ because they can say what they feel with their body or actions. So pay attention. If you are not sure, you do not have consent.

Anyone supporting young people should familiarise themselves with this publication, the full document around Healthy Relationships and Consent can be found here:

Consent – Key Messages