Your Rights

Young people can access confidential sexual health services, even if they're under 16

Consent, confidentiality, the law, pressure and knowing when you're ready

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Consent is when someone gives their permission for something to happen, agreeing freely and because they want the thing to happen and not because they feel under any pressure to do it. If one person does not give their permission (their consent) to another person, then that decision should be accepted and respected.

Although we often talk about consent in terms of sexual activity in reality we are all giving or withholding consent to people on a regular basis: consenting to be examined by a doctor, consenting to be hugged by a friend, not consenting to dance with someone we don’t like the look of in a club. Sometimes we use words and actually say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, sometimes we use body language to communicate whether we want something to happen or not.
Anything a person does sexually with someone who has not agreed to it, which could be anything from touching and kissing to penetration, is against the law.
For more information about consent have a look on Disrespect Nobody which is a website dedicated to helping young people identify disrespectful behaviour and have happier and healthier relationships. It has a very good directory of support agencies.

Drugs, alcohol and sex
Drugs and alcohol can affect people's ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to be sexual with someone else. It can also be the case that although someone consents when they are drunk or high they may not remember this decision and later feel they have been taken advantage of, leading to accusations. If someone is really drunk, high or unconscious they cannot give consent. Anyone trying to be sexual with someone who is not capable of consenting is taking a big risk – even if they are also drunk or wasted themselves. In addition, any sex people try to have when they are really out of it is likely to be pretty disappointing and not worth remembering – if they can remember it. It’s much sexier to slow down and keep it gentle to build the tension. If they like each other they will find a much better time to get close if it’s what they both want when they’re clear-headed again.

If your friend is really drunk or high and is getting involved in something sexual it’s a good idea to get them away from that situation and let them cool off. Try your best to make sure that they are safe and keep them company until they know what they are doing again.

If it's the opposite situation and your friend is the one who is trying it on with someone drunk or high you should remind them what a bad idea it is. Exploiting someone who doesn’t know what they are doing is a crime and could be disastrous for both of them. It is also very unattractive and plain wrong.

If someone is unconscious or asleep they obviously cannot consent, at all. It doesn’t matter if they have had sex before with that partner, or even if they said they wanted to have sex, before they fell asleep or passed out. Consent is decided upon by both people, each and every time.

Do sex and alcohol mix?
The short answer is no. It might calm your nerves, but it doesn't make sex easier or better, particularly if it's your first time. Being drunk can make you feel confused or unwell, which can make the experience very unpleasant.

If you’re drunk, you might not even remember having sex. And you're more likely to regret it, especially if it’s your first time.

Drunk people tend to get carried away and suddenly feel like there is no need to use any protection, like a condom, even if it was talked about beforehand. Obviously this can lead to STIs being passed on and/or an unintended pregnancy to deal with. Of course sex can be brilliant and carefree – when you know you’re doing what you need to do to reduce any risks. You can let go and both enjoy it rather than worrying about consequences.

If you’re drunk, you’re less likely to be thinking clearly enough to talk to your partner about using condoms, or to use those condoms properly.

If you or your partner take the contraceptive pill and alcohol makes you sick, the pill is less likely to work, and there's a real risk of pregnancy.

Sexual assault
Being drunk also makes you vulnerable to sexual assault. This can happen to anyone, whether they are male, female, gay, straight or bisexual. If someone tries to have sex with you against your will, you always have the right to say no whether you are drunk or not.

Tips for staying safe
If you’re planning to drink alcohol, follow these tips to keep safe:

  • Stick with friends. Don’t go to parties alone, and ask your friends to watch out for you if you’re drinking alcohol. You can watch out for them too if they’re drinking.
  • Always travel home with your friends, and never take an unlicensed cab. Save the telephone number of a licensed taxi firm to your phone. Don’t drive if you've been drinking, or get into a car with someone who has been drinking.
  • Never leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from people you don’t know, in case someone puts drugs in them.
  • Make decisions when you are sober. Before you start drinking, talk to your friends, boyfriend or girlfriend about your boundaries (what you do and don’t want to do), so that you don’t get carried away and regret it later.
  • Be prepared. If you are ready to have sex, sort out your contraception (if needed) before you go out drinking, and always carry a condom. Find out more about all the methods of contraception and where you can get them.

Emergency action
If things don’t go according to plan and you have unprotected sex, you can lower your chances of having an unintended pregnancy by getting emergency contraception from your local iCaSH clinic, pharmacy or GP.

You don't have to drink or have sex if you don’t want to. If you think you're ready, make sure you’ve got condoms with you rather than relying on your partner to have them. It’s up to both of you to be prepared.


As a young person you can:

  • receive confidential advice even if you are under 16. Confidentiality can only be breached if the health worker believes you or another person are being seriously hurt in some way
  • legally have sex once you are 16 whether you are gay, lesbian, straight or bisexual
  • consent to contraceptive treatment. Even if you are under 16 you can consent to treatment (e.g. have an implant fitted) if the healthcare worker assesses that you fully understand what you are doing. They will always advise and encourage you to involve your parents/carers, however this it is your decision whether to or not..
  • buy condoms whatever your age
  • visit your doctor on your own and consult another doctor if you don’t want to go to your usual GP
  • have an abortion but special rules apply about consent if you are under 16
  • see your medical records even if you are under 16 if you can understand them.

Talking about your feelings, worries and concerns can help. Friendly, approachable staff will try to ease any embarrassment you might feel at first, and should not:

  • be shocked
  • judge you
  • tell you off
  • tell anyone else
  • expect you to answer questions if you don’t want to.

You could also get help and advice by using a telephone helpline where you can talk to someone in confidence and don’t even have to give your name.

If you're under 16 and want contraception, an abortion or tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the doctor, nurse or pharmacist won't tell your parents (or carer) as long as they believe that you fully understand the information you're given, and your decisions. 

They'll encourage you to consider telling your parents or carers, but they won't make you. You have the same rights to confidentiality as someone who is 16 or over.

What you can get
If the healthcare worker feels that you understand the information and can make your own decision, you can get the following:

  • contraception
  • emergency contraception (the 'morning-after' pill or the IUD),
  • condoms
  • abortion
  • tests and treatments for STIs.

Even if the doctor, nurse or pharmacist feels that you're not mature enough to make a decision yourself, the consultation will still be confidential. They won't tell anyone that you saw them, or anything about what you said.

The only time a professional might want to tell someone else is if they believe you 're at risk of harm, such as abuse. The risk would need to be serious, and they would usually discuss this with you first.

The situation is different for people under 13 because the law says that people of this age can't consent (say yes) to sexual activity. Doctors, nurses and health workers might feel it's in your best interests to involve other people, such as a social worker, if you're under 13.

If you're worried about this, contact the clinic or service and ask them about their confidentiality policy. For example, whether their in-house rules mean they will tell anyone else if someone under 16 or under 13 asks about contraception.

Really Ready?

Sometimes it seems as if everyone is having sex all the time. People are talking about it, so they must be doing it, right? Not really.

Most people have sex for the first time when they're 16 or older, not before. If someone’s boasting about having sex, it’s possible that they’re pretending.

Although the legal age of consent is 16, it doesn't mean that once someone turns sixteen they are automatically ready and that it is the right age to start having sex. And if you are in a relationship there are no rules about how long you have to be going out with someone before you do it. Being ready happens at different times for everyone. But don't feel you have to have sex just because your partner or friends are pressuring you.

It's your decision – first time, every time, any time
You can always choose whether or not you want to have sex, whoever you're with. Even if you've done it before, even if it was with the same person, it doesn’t meanthat you have to do it again. 

Working out whether you really wan tot have sex is sometimes tricky because there can be a lot of different feelings and thoughts rushing around inside us. What will it feel like? I want to do it…… but I’m scared. Will I know what to do? Is my body OK? What if I get it wrong? What is it going to be like between us afterwards?

The checklist below was created by a group of young people to help with this decision. You might find it useful to think about each of the statements and figure out whether or not you agree with it. If you can answer yes to all - or at least most - of these, it may help you make a decision you are pleased about later:

  • You could say no if you wanted to.
  • You can have fun together without any sex being involved.
  • You each want to have sex for yourself, not for the other person or to fit in with friends.
  • You have considered talking to your parents/ carers about having sex.
  • You have discussed condoms and contraception and agreed what happens next and whether to tell your friends afterwards.
  • You have talked about what would happen if one of you got pregnant or got an STI.
      (from the young people of Calderdale and Jo Adams.)

      Whether you're thinking about losing your virginity or having sex again, remember the following tips:

      Talk about it
      It’s better to have an embarrassing talk about sex than an embarrassing sexual encounter, or a complete misunderstanding. There are lots of things to think about. Are you both ready? Will you be having sex for the right reasons and not because of peer pressure? Which one of you is bringing the condoms?

      Sex isn’t an essential part of a relationship, and there are other ways of enjoying each other’s company besides having sex. Discuss what you want and what you don’t want to do. You can do other things that you both like, such as playing games or sport, meeting each other’s family and friends, going to gigs or the cinema, walking, listening to music etc etc.

      Condoms and safer sex
      If you decide to have sex, it’s a good move to use a condom on a penis or a sex toy to reduce the risk of passing on a sexually transmitted infection (STI) whoever you are having sex with, whether you are straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. If it's a boy and girl situation, it's a smart idea to use another type of contraception as well as a condom to make the chances of an unplanned pregnancy even smaller.

      How do I bring up the subject?
      Starting a conversation about these topics can feel awkward. Chances are both of you are thinking about it and wanting to know how the other person feels. Talking about different types of condoms could be a good way to start talking about other issues to do with sex, such as what you like the sound of (and what you don’t!) and what you do and don’t want to try together. Maybe say that you want to be able to relax and enjoy it, which means not having to worry about STIs or pregnancy. This will probably start a conversation about how you can make this happen. If the person you’d like to have sex with isn’t very keen to talk about things like this it might be a clue they aren’t ready or are really only thinking about themselves.

      Read the signs
      Sometimes people are surprised when a situation leads to sex, so learn to read the signs. If someone suggests that you find a quiet place, or makes lots of physical contact, or suddenly tries to charm and flatter you, they might be thinking about sex, even if you’re not.

      It’s your decision whether or not you want to have sex. Don’t let someone else decide for you by just going along with it. Try to make the decision in advance and stay in control of the situation. Remember that if you've had alcohol you'll probably be more easily persuaded to go further than you planned – but at any point if one of you changes your mind, the other person must respect that decision.

      If you’re not sure that you can stay in control, avoid situations that could lead to sex, such as going somewhere more private.

      Saying No – or Not right now
      Sometimes we find it hard to say no to people we like – even to friends if they suggest something we don’t like the sound of but we don’t want to hurt their feelings. If it’s someone we fancy, it can be even harder to say no to them. But remember that saying ‘No thanks’ or ‘Not now’ doesn’t mean we’ll never say ‘Yes please!’ in the future, if we feel ready and it feels right.
      It might sound strange, but try practising saying no out loud:

      "No, I’m not ready."
      "No, I don’t want to."
      "No, it doesn’t feel right."

      Or simply:


      If you don’t want to have sex, anyone who really likes you will respect your decision even if you’ve had sex with them before.

The Law and Sex

Age of consent
In England and Wales, the legal age for young people to consent to have any form of sexual activity is 16, whether you are straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Forcing someone to have sex is a crime and the aim of the law is to ensure that the rights and safety of young people are protected.

Although the age of consent is 16, it is not intended that the law be used to prosecute teenage sexual activity between two young people aged 13, 14 or 15 if they have freely agreed to have sex and they are of a similar age and maturity. The reason that someone may be prosecuted is if it involves abuse of a young person or exploitation.

You still have the right to confidential advice on contraception, condoms, pregnancy and abortion, under the Sexual Offences Act, even if you are under 16.

Specific laws protect children under 13 who cannot legally consent to any sexual activity. There's a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

As a young person you can:

  • receive confidential advice even if you are under 16. Confidentiality can only be breached if the health worker believes you or another person are being seriously hurt in some way
  • legally have sex once you are 16 whether you are gay, lesbian, straight or bisexual
  • consent to contraceptive treatment. Even if you are under 16 you can consent to treatment (e.g. have an implant fitted) if the healthcare worker assesses that you fully understand what you are doing. They will always advise and encourage you to involve your parents/carers, however this it is your decision whether to or not..
  • buy condoms whatever your age
  • visit your doctor on your own and consult another doctor if you don’t want to go to your usual GP
  • have an abortion but special rules apply about consent if you are under 16
  • see your medical records even if you are under 16 if you can understand them.

Even if you're under 16...?
Health professionals, such as doctors or nurses, can provide both contraceptive advice and treatment to young people under the age of 16 without your parents/ carers knowing, as long as the professional is satisfied that you are able to understand fully the implications of any treatment and to make a choice of the treatment proposed.

A doctor or nurse can refuse you contraception but this is unlikely. The fact that you have asked for contraception shows that you have made a mature decision. Doctors do have to follow guidelines if you are under 16 years of age and may suggest that you talk to your parents/ carers about this.

If a doctor does refuse to give you contraception you can ask why or you can try another doctor or visit your local integrated Contraceptive and Sexual Health (iCaSH) Clinic. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what gender you are.

Young people are entitled to confidentiality even if they are under 16.

Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are not allowed to pass on any information about individual patients without their consent, whatever your age, unless they believe you or someone else is at risk of harm.

Under Pressure

Sometimes it can feel like we’re under a lot of pressure – online and in real life too. Even when we’re just trying to relax by watching TV the adverts tell us we are supposed to look and behave a certain way. Learning to deal with the pressure of other people’s opinions is a really useful survival skill.

Being able to tune into how we feel about something helps us to trust our instincts. This helps us to not get pressured into doing something we don’t really want to do, just because – apparently - everyone else seems to think it’s OK.

What is peer pressure?
Peer pressure is the pressure that comes from friends, acquaintances and sometimes from a boyfriend or girlfriend to do something we don’t want to do, or don’t feel ready to do. This might be as simple as sharing something online which we don’t really rate but we share it because everyone else is into it. But sometimes it might be more serious, like getting hassled to send sexy pics of yourself to someone. Or feeling like we have to do something sexual that we really don’t like the sound of.

If you ever feel under pressure remember that a real friend won’t ditch you or make you feel bad for not doing something. And if it’s a new boyfriend or girlfriend then they need to earn your trust, just like you need to earn theirs.

Even if you think you know someone really well, it can still be a good idea to go slowly. If you both genuinely care about each other then it will feel even more exciting if you do eventually decide to take things further. But if one person is really just playing along they might lose interest by having to wait, and the other person could avoid a situation which makes them feel sad or used.

There are different types of peer pressure:

  • Obvious peer pressure, such as: Everyone’s doing it, so should you.
  • Underhand peer pressure, such as: You’re still a virgin, you wouldn’t understand.
  • Controlling peer pressure, such as: You would do it if you loved me.

A Word about Sexting

If you’re thinking about sending someone a sexy pic – beware! If you are under 18 this is against the law. Plus, it can very easily get out of hand. For wise words have a look at Disrespect Nobody

Good reasons to wait

Don’t believe everything other people are saying about what they get up to. A lot of it is exaggeration to seem more experienced. Sex is not something to do just to try and fit in with your mates or impress them. And anyone who threatens to dump another person if they don’t have sex doesn’t deserve to have sex with anyone!

But maybe the pressure isn’t coming from someone else – are you feeling too sexy for your own good? Sometimes if we really fancy someone we can easily get carried away and go much further than we planned to.

Plus sometimes we are just so horny and curious that we are tempted to jump at any chance we get, even if we don’t really know, like or trust the other person. This can end up hurting someone, sometimes us.

In both cases, try to cool yourself down and remember that this won’t be your only opportunity. Any kind of sexual activity is more likely to be something you’ll enjoy and will want to remember if you are feeling really sure about it.
It might help you to remember that:

  • Being in love or fancying someone doesn’t mean that you have to have sex, or send a sexy pic.
  • Being really turned on isn’t the same thing as being in love!
  • The opportunity to have sex will happen again.
  • Not wanting to do something sexual is not a sign that you are immature.
  • If you don’t want to have sex, it’s fine to say no or that you want to wait a while - even if you've had sex before, even if you’ve had sex with that same person before.

How to resist pressure
Sometimes if we aren’t sure what we want, other people will try to persuade us to do what they want. Here are some ideas of what you can say in return

They say: Don’t you fancy me?
You say: Yes, you’re gorgeous but that doesn’t mean I want to jump into bed with you straight away.

They say: My friends think we should have done it by now.
You say: They don’t know what’s best for us.
Or you say: You should care more about what I think!

They say: We don’t need to use a condom.
You say: I’m not ready to be a parent.
Or you say: Sure. Once we’ve both been checked out at the clinic. Otherwise, we’re using one.

They say: Let’s just get it over with.
You say: Sounds like a chore. When I’m ready, I want to enjoy it!

They say: If you loved me you would do it.
You say: If you loved me you wouldn’t say things like that.

They say: If we don’t do it soon, I’ll explode!
You say: You need biology lessons...It’s not bad for you to wait.

They say: But you’re 16.
You say: Just because it’s legal it doesn’t mean I have to do it! I’ll decide when I’m ready.

If you both agree you want to have sex, make sure that:

  • you talk about using condoms to protect yourselves from STIs
  • you use contraception if there might be a pregnancy - unless you want a pregnancy!