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Sex and consent in relationships

If you are married or in a long-term relationship you still have the right to say no to any type of sexual activity with your partner whenever you want. 

Taking part in any kind of sexual activity with someone else should involve giving and getting agreement. This is also known as sexual consent. It is as important in a long-term relationship or marriage as it is in a one-night stand. 

Sex without consent is wrong and illegal, whatever the circumstances.  

If you are in a relationship where you feel pressured into having sex or doing things you don’t want to do, help is out there.  

Is sex important in a relationship?

Sex can be a fun, satisfying and bonding part of a romantic relationship. But sex is only one aspect of a good relationship and having sex is not proof of love or guarantee of fidelity. If your partner doesn’t want to have sex remember that they are saying no to sex, not to you. 

You don’t have to have sex if you are in a relationship – you still have the right to say no.  

This is true no matter what sort of relationship it is, whether you’re married or in a long-term relationship, or if you’ve had this type of sex with that person before. It is always ok to say no if you want to. 

Do you always have to have sex in a romantic relationship?

You always have the right to say no to any form of sex or sexual activity – it doesn’t matter who the other person is, what your relationship is, what you’ve done with them, or others, in the past.  

Agreeing to sex is also known as sexual consent.  

Giving your consent and getting your partner’s consent may feel awkward, and in long-term relationships people can forget to check. But the only way to really know what you’re both agreeing to is to keep communicating. Ultimately, sex is about communication and can and should be a positive and pleasurable experience when it’s based on mutual consent. 

Sex without consent is a crime whatever your relationship to the other person is.  

Sex should not be used to show strength: forcing someone to have sex does not make a man more manly. And having sex when you don’t want to is never something you should do to be a ‘good’ partner, which is something a lot of women have been brought up to believe. 

If you feel pressured to have sex or feel too afraid to say no, that’s not OK. This is called sexual coercion and it is a sign of an unhealthy relationship

Sexual consent

Should you have sex with your partner to please them?

Whether you have sex or not is your decision – and your decision alone. If any of these phrases sound familiar your partner may be pressuring you into having sex: 

  • “You would if you loved me” 

  • “Everyone else is doing it!” 

  • “It will make our relationship stronger” 

  • “You’ll have to do it sometime – why not now, with me?” 

  • “You’ll like it once we do it.” 

What about sex in marriage?

If you’re married to someone it doesn’t give them the right to do what they want to you – or you to them. If you say no to something, or show that you don’t consent, and your husband or wife ignores you then what they are doing is wrong.  

Consent quiz

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What do I do if my partner is forcing me to have sex or do things I’m uncomfortable with?

If your partner has sex with you when you do not want to, this is a crime. It is not ok if you are experiencing this but help is out there. 

It can be hard to talk about, but the first step is to tell someone you trust. They can help you get the support you need. It can also help to talk to people who have gone through similar things by joining a support group or an online forum. 

If your partner refuses to wear a condom or use birth control then it is a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional. There are lots of contraceptive options that you can use without telling your partner, and you can protect yourself from HIV by using PrEP.

Healthy relationships

How can I help someone whose partner is sexually coercive (controlling)?

Let them know that you think something might be wrong and you are ready to listen. But do not pressure them to speak until they are ready. It’s a good idea to research organisations and support groups that could help them so you have this information to hand. 

You could try speaking to them more generally about consent or asking them some of these questions to help them reflect on their situation.

Does your partner ever:  

  • touch you in a way you do not want to be touched? 

  • pressure you to have sex? 

  • make you feel guilty or scared if you don’t do what they want? 

  • make you feel like you need to change your behaviour because you're afraid of what they might do? 

Remember to listen and do not judge. The more supported someone feels, the easier it will be for them to open up. And don’t pressure them to leave their partner or go to the police, these are their decisions to make and not everyone will feel ready or able to do these things.  

If they do open up, acknowledge their bravery and strength for talking about what they are going through.  

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