‘All in all it is just a judgement call’: issues surrounding sexual consent in young people’s heterosexual encounters

Geraldine Brady*, Pam Lowe, Geraldine Brown, Jane Osmond, Michelle Newman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the UK, there has been growing concern about young people’s understanding of sexual consent, with the views of young people themselves often lost in academic and educational policy debates. However, the focus on high rates of sexual violence has meant a lack of attention on the everyday negotiation of consensual heterosexual activity, leading to assumptions being made regarding young people’s lack of understanding of sexual consent. This paper emerges from a wider study of over 500 young people which sought to uncover their understanding of the issues. Drawing on data from workshops and the open text responses to an on-line survey the findings presented in this paper show that the majority of heterosexual young people understood the complexity of sexual consent as an embodied process, which can be difficult to define, talk about or practice uniformly. This complex understanding, in which sexual consent is a continuum rather than a dichotomy, has implications for sexual education initiatives. We argue that it is only by providing a closer understanding of how - within consensual sexual activities - young people understand and enact sexual consent through a range of embodied communication strategies that education surrounding sexual assault will become meaningful.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-50
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number1
Early online date4 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Youth Studies on 4/7/17, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/13676261.2017.1343461


  • gender
  • Sexual consent
  • Young people


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