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 being 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 hotter if they stop and look after each other instead. 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 sober 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, straight or bisexual
  • consent to contraceptive treatment. Even if you are under 16 you can consent if the health worker believes you understand what you are doing, but will advise you to involve your parents/carers
  • 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 an adult (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 and ask them about confidentiality, for example, whether 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 i6 is necessarily the right age for someone 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 decide to have sex just because your partner or friends are pressuring you.

It's your decision - every time
You can always choose whether or not you want to have sex, whoever you're with. Just because you've done it before, even with the same person, doesn’t mean that you have to do it again. 

Working out whether you're ready is one of life’s big decisions. You're the only one who can, and should, decide. 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 before you’re ready. There are lots of things to think and talk about, such as: are you both ready? Will you be having sex for the right reasons and not because of peer pressure?

Sex isn’t the only aspect 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 talking, meeting each other’s family and friends, going to gigs or the cinema, doing sport, walking, and listening to music.

Safer sex
When you decide to have sex, there's the possibility of pregnancy and/or catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Whoever you're thinking of having sex with, it's important to talk about contraception and condoms before you have sex. Both of you have a responsibility to have this conversation.

You need to use condoms to reduce the risk of catching an STI, whoever you are having sex with. If you're a boy/girl couple, it's a smart idea to use an additional form of contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy. You can get free condoms through the Your C-Card scheme

There are 15 different kinds of contraception, including the implant, injection and the pill. Most kinds of contraception are used by girls, but both of you have a responsibility to consider which you will use. A pregnancy will affect both of you.

Lesbian, gay or bisexual couples
If you are lesbian, gay or bisexual you can still get or pass on STIs. You still need to know about contraception in case you have penis-in-vagina sex as well.

How do I bring up the subject?
Starting a conversation about the different types of contraception could be a good way to start talking about other issues to do with sex, such as how you feel about it and what you do and don’t want to do. You could try saying, "I found out that there are 15 different types of contraception…If we were to have sex, which one should we use?"

And researching the options together will help both of you feel more confident and in control of the situation.

You can get free and confidential advice about sex, contraception and abortion at any time. Visit your local doctor or iCaSH Clinic.

Read the signs
Many 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 physcial contact, or suddenly tries to charm and flatter you, they might be thinking about sex, even if you’re not.

You need to decide whether you want to have sex. Don’t let someone else decide for you by just going along with it. Make the decision in advance and stay in control of the situation, especially if you've had alcohol, because you'll be less inhibited.

If you’re not sure that you can stay in control, avoid situations that could lead to sex, such as going to someone’s room or somewhere quiet.

Alcohol or drugs won't help
Many people have sex or lose their virginity when they’re drunk. After a few drinks, you're more likely to lose your judgement, and you may do things that you wouldn't do normally. You may regret your actions in the morning, and you won't be able to undo what you’ve done.

People are more likely to have sex without a condom when they're drunk, and this can lead to an STI or unintended pregnancy.

Questions to ask yourself

You need to have the confidence to work out how you want to respond if sex comes up, and how far to go. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable. Is it the right time, in the right place, and with the right person? Do you really trust the person, and do you feel the same way about one another?

Being in a relationship doesn’t mean that you have to have sex. Even if you’ve done it once or twice you still need to make sure that your boyfriend or girlfriend is as keen as you each time.

If you think you might have sex, ask yourself the following questions to help you make up your mind:

  • Does it feel right?
  • How do I feel about my partner?
  • Does he/she feel the same way about me?
  • Have we talked about using condoms, and was the talk OK?
  • Have we got contraception organised if pregnancy might be an issue? 
  • Do I feel able to say ‘no’ at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that?

If you answer yes to all these questions, the time may be right.

But if you answer yes to any of the questions below, it might not be:

  • Do I feel under pressure from anyone, such as my partner or friends?
  • Could I have any regrets afterwards?
  • Am I thinking about having sex just to impress my friends or keep up with them? 
  • Am I thinking about having sex in order to keep my partner?

It’s hard to stay in control if you’re drunk. You should never feel under any pressure to have sex, whether it’s from your partner or your friends. It’s a big decision and you need to feel ready.

Nobody has the right to make you go further than you want to, and you have every right to say no, at any point, whoever you're with. If you want to have sex but your boyfriend or girlfriend or friend doesn’t, you must respect their feelings.

Saying no
Try talking about the relationship. Communicating helps you to know when the time is right, and to know exactly how you both feel, rather than guessing.

Quite often when we feel uncomfortable about being asked to do something it’s because we know inside that we really want to say “no”. So why do we sometimes say “yes” then?! Especially, why might we agree to have sex with someone when we don’t really want to, maybe not forever, but at least not right now?

Well, we can say the opposite to what we mean for all sorts of reasons, - not wanting to offend the other person, thinking they might not like you anymore if you don’t have sex with them, and even just not knowing how to say, "no".

It might sound strange, but try practising saying no:

"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, gay or bisexual.

Forcing someone to have sex is a crime so the aim of the law is to ensure 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 if they have agreed to have sex and they are of a similar age. 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, straight or bisexual
  • consent to contraceptive treatment. Even if you are under 16 you can consent if the health worker believes you understand what you are doing, but they will advise you to involve your parents/carers
  • 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, even if you are under 16
  • see your medical records if you can understand them, even if you are under 16

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 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 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 Contraceptive and Sexual Health Clinic. It doesn’t matter how old you are or whether you are male or female.

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 everyone’s trying to push you into having sex: your friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend, magazines, films and TV. But it’s up to you when you have sex, and it’s OK to resist the pressure.

One minute you’re all playing kiss-chase in the playground and sex doesn’t come into it. The next minute, your friends are obsessed about who's 'gone the furthest', and when everyone will lose their virginity.

You might be thinking about sex, but the reality of it can be confusing. You’re not the only person who feels this way. It takes time to understand what sex is all about, and just because you want to know more doesn’t mean that you have to rush into anything.

If you’re feeling pressured into having sex, you’re not alone. You might feel like the only virgin, but the average age that teenagers start having sex in the UK is 16 years. This is true for boys and girls, gay and straight, so not everyone who says they’ve had sex is telling the truth.

You might feel pressured to have sex, but good relationships start with friendship, and trust builds from there.

What is peer pressure?
Peer pressure is the pressure that your friends and the people you know put on you to do something you don’t want to do, or don’t feel ready to do, such as have sex. 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 a virgin, you wouldn’t understand.”
  • Controlling peer pressure, such as, “You would do it if you loved me.”

Good reasons to wait
The pressure that your friends put on you is worse than the pressure you put on yourself. Most of us have to deal with it at some point, but it's difficult when friends brag about having sex and criticise you for being a virgin.

Not everything you hear is true. They could be exaggerating to make themselves look more experienced than you. Rushing into sex just to impress your friends or partner could leave you feeling like a fool because you didn’t make your own decision.

It might help you to remember that:

  • Being in love or fancying someone doesn’t mean that you have to have sex.
  • Not having sex is not a sign that you’re immature. 
  • Saying no to sex is not bad for anyone’s health.
  • If you don’t want to have sex, it’s fine to say no or to say that you want to wait a while, even if you've had sex before.

Making your own decision
Don't do something you’re not ready to do just to please other people. You’re more likely to regret your first time if you do it under pressure. You're also more likely to forget about contraception and condoms, which help to prevent pregnancy and protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia.

Having sex won’t make your boyfriend or girlfriend like you more, or stay with you. Your first time is important, so think carefully about it and take it slowly.

Everyone (girls, boys, lesbian, gay, straight or bisexual) deserves to make their own decision in their own time. Sex can be great when both people like each other and feel ready. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

No rush – no regrets!

Did you know that many young people who had sex before they were really ready for it, went on to regret it later? Some big surveys show that the younger someone is when they have sex, the more likely they are to say they wish they’d waited a while longer….until they were sure.

  • "I should have, like, saved it. I would like to be able to say that I was 16 and that it was nice."

– one young woman's thoughts on her 1st sexual experience

But even if you’ve had sex before it doesn’t mean you can’t decide not to have it this time round. It’s your choice whether you’re really ready to have sex - each and every time.

How to resist pressure
People who want to have sex might say things to try to get you into bed. Here are some ideas of what you can say in return:

They say: "Don’t you fancy me?"
You say: "Yes, but I respect you too," or "You’re gorgeous but I want to know you better."

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 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 and I don’t want to risk getting an infection."

They say: "Let’s just get it over with."
You say: "If we wait until we’re ready it’ll be much better."

They say: "If you loved me you’d want to do it."              
You say: "It’s because I love you that I want to wait," or "If you loved me you wouldn’t say 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 doesn’t mean I have to. I’ll decide when I’m ready."

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

  • you use condoms to protect yourselves from STIs, and
  • you use contraception to help prevent an unintended pregnancy.