Age of Consent

There are some important laws regarding sex and young people, which often vary in different countries or states. This article is written mainly for adults.

What does the age of consent mean?

The age of consent is the age at which a young person is legally able to understand and agree to consensual sex. In most countries, until you reach this age it is illegal for somebody to have sex with you, however old they may be. Sometimes the law is slightly different when the partners are of a similar age, but there is usually still a minimum age below which sex is always illegal.

Why do we have the age of consent?

Although some young people may feel that they are mature enough to engage in a sexual relationship, others may lack the emotional development to deal with this or to feel confident enough to say ‘no’. Age of consent laws are there to protect young people from being sexually exploited by adults.

What is the age of consent?

The age of consent is different, depending on where you live, and in some places, the age of consent is different for boys and for girls.

Does the age of consent apply to gay men and lesbians?

Yes. In some places there are different age of consent laws for gay men and lesbians, and in other places this type of sexual relationship is illegal.

What counts as ‘sex’?

This, too, is different, depending on the laws in the place where you live. Some places count things like kissing as sexual contact, and other places only count sexual intercourse. Check out the laws in your state or country.

What is statutory rape?

Statutory rape is the crime that someone can be charged with if they have sex with a person who has not reached the age of consent but who agrees to have sex. Some countries have different names for this. Some states in the US for example call it ‘unlawful sexual penetration’ or just ‘rape’.

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is the term for an adult using their age or authority over a young person to make any type of sexual contact. There is a difference between this and two young people who are in a consenting relationship. If you are a young person involved in an abusive relationship it is important to talk to someone about this.

If you are worried because you know of a young person who you think is in an abusive sexual relationship, you must think carefully about what would be the right thing to do. Telephone helplines and sources of help in your country will be able to advise you.