Consenting to sexual activity

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Learn about what it means to give consent for sexual activity and the laws to consider when determining whether a sexual relationship with someone is safe and appropriate.

Key points

  • Sexual activity can happen by yourself or with another person and can include everything from kissing to sexual intercourse. Only you can decide when you are ready to become sexually active.
  • Consent means giving permission. Both partners must always give consent, each and every time.
  • If someone performs a sexual act on another person without their consent, it can be considered a crime.
  • You can take back your consent at any point before or during sexual activity.

What is sexual activity?

"Sexual activity" can mean many things. Sometimes, sexual activity happens with just ourselves. This is called masturbation. Some sexual activity happens with another person or partner, and this can include everything from kissing to sexual intercourse.

When it comes to sex, consent is everything

Deciding to become sexually active is a very important decision in your life. Sex can be fun and show love for your partner, but it can also lead to things you may not want such as being pregnant or getting an infection. Most importantly, sex must always be your choice. Only you can decide when you are ready to become sexually active.

What does it mean to give consent for sex?

Consent means giving permission. No one is allowed to touch your body without your permission. During any kind of sexual activity, both partners must always give consent, each and every time. When someone performs a sexual act on another person without their consent, this may constitute a crime such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and battery or rape.

Can I take back my consent?

If at any point before or during sexual activity you can change your mind and no longer want to have sex. That is OK. Tell your partner that you have changed your mind and you want to stop. Similarly, if your partner tells you that they no longer want to have sex, you must respect that and stop any sexual activity immediately.

Remember: It is never OK to perform a sexual act on someone who is unconscious, who does not have the ability or capacity to give consent, who has said no, or who has changed their mind or taken back their consent.

How old do I have to be to consent to sex?

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a person must be at least 16 years old to consent to sexual activity. A person under 16 years old cannot consent to sexual activity; a person who engages in sexual activity with a person under 16 years old has committed a criminal offence called statutory rape.

There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • A 12- or 13-year-old may consent to have sex with someone who is less than 2 years older than them, that is 14 or 15 years old, respectively.
  • A 14- or 15-year-old may consent to have sex with someone who is less than 5 years older than them, that is 19 or 20 years old, respectively.
  • A 16- or 17-year-old cannot consent to have sex with someone in a position of authority or trust such as a teacher, coach or employer.

There are many factors to consider when determining whether a sexual relationship with someone is safe and appropriate. It is important to consider your partner’s age, your age and the difference in age between you; how the relationship developed; and whether the older person in your relationship may have controlled or influenced the younger person.

Last updated: November 10th 2021