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Autism and understanding consent

Consent means giving permission for something to happen.

It can also mean agreeing to do something and being comfortable with that decision.

According to the law, someone must be over 16 years of age to be able to give consent. If you have sex or sexual activity with someone under 16, it is against the law as they cannot give consent.

Consent must be given freely and no one can be made to consent to something. It’s not consent if someone does something because they feel like they have to. You can also never assume that someone is giving consent – you have to be sure, so ask them.

Both you and the person you’re with always need to consent before sex or any intimate activity.

If you want to do something sexual with another person, the responsibility lies with you to check for consent, not with the person to say ‘no’ if they don’t want to.

Take a look at our short animation to help you understand consent.

Some ways to talk about it….

  • ‘I would like to have sex with you, would you like to? It’s ok if you don’t, we don’t have to.’
  • ‘Have you ever thought what it would be like when we first have sex?’
  • ‘How do you think you will know when you/we are ready to have sex?’

Always remember – just because they said yes once, doesn’t mean they will always say yes. You always need to check the other person consents every time.

Body language

Body language can be difficult for autistic people to understand.

The person may tell you with words that they do or do not consent to sex, or they may show you through their body language.  Remember they don’t have to actually say the word ‘no’ and that they might communicate through body language as well.

Body language to be aware of:

  • The person may seem different, they may be nervous or frightened
  • They may stop kissing you, or not want to be touched or hugged
  • Their body may become very stiff and rigid or they may be very still

What to do:

These could be signs that they want you to stop, so don’t ignore them – stop what you are doing and talk to them. Ask them ‘Are you ok?’ or ‘Do you want to stop?’

There may be times that you feel very confused about consent, perhaps the other person is telling you they want to have sex but their body language makes you think they are not happy.

If you are ever unsure, you should stop what you are doing and talk to them about it, and only carry on if you are certain that they are consenting.

Take a look at our advice around autism, healthy relationships and sex here.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.

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