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What is the Age of Consent to Sexual Intercourse?

What is the 'age of consent'?

A young couple under the age of consentThe age of consent is the age at which a young person is legally able to agree to having sex.

In most countries, until you reach this age it is illegal for somebody to have sex with you.

Sometimes, the sex age laws are slightly different when the partners are of a similar age, but there is usually still a minimum age below which sex is always illegal.

What is the legal age to have sex?

There is no worldwide age of consent, as it varies from country to country. However, the most common age of sexual consent is 16. 1

Age of consent laws are usually complex and, in many countries, the legal age for sex is different depending on certain factors, such as:

  • Your gender
  • Your orientation (heterosexual or homosexual)
  • Type of sex (e.g. vaginal, anal or oral sex)
  • Age difference between you and your partner
  • If one partner has a position of authority, e.g. a teacher 2
  • Existing state, territory and federal laws
  • If you are married or unmarried 3

Being aware of global variations in the age of consent is important to avoid breaking the law in countries that have different laws to where you live.

For example, homosexual sex is still illegal in 76 countries, and elsewhere it may carry a higher age of consent. 4 5

"So, how old do I have to be to have sex?" Find the answer by going to your country's government website!

Why is sex below the age of consent illegal?

Age of consent laws are there to protect young people from being sexually exploited by adults.

Although some people under the age of consent 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'.

"Refuse offers from sugar daddies" - a billboard in TanzaniaSex before the age of 15 and among partners where there is a large age difference may increase the risk of HIV transmission, as an older person is more likely to have been exposed to HIV. 6 7

Governments can, to some extent, reduce the risk of HIV infection among young people by ensuring the age of consent for sex, and also marriage, is not too low.

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. 8 You should check out the laws in your state or country on your government's website.

What is statutory rape?

Statutory rape is the crime that someone can be charged with if they have sex with a person who is younger than the age of consent, but who agrees to have sex.

Some countries have different names for this. Some states in the USA for example call it 'unlawful sexual penetration' or 'rape'.

What is child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse is the term for an adult using their age or authority over a young person to have 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. Telephone helplines and healthcare professionals in your country will be able to advise you.

What are 'sugar daddies' and 'sugar mummies'?

Girls and young women who have relationships with men much older than themselves are said to have a 'sugar daddy'. Boys and young men also have relationships with older women - known as a 'sugar mummy'.

Sugar daddies and sugar mummies are much older than their partners, providing them with money and gifts in exchange for company and sexual favours. Young men and women in this position often leave school and education early, with the belief that an older partner will meet their needs.

In countries where HIV prevalence is high, sex with a sugar daddy or sugar mummy contributes to a greater probability of HIV transmission to the young person. 9

You should always use a condom when having sex. However, it can be difficult to insist on using a condom, especially if your partner gives you money and gifts. Unfortunately, you risk becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if condoms are not used all the time.

Some people have long and happy relationships when there is a large age difference between them. The law is just there to protect the younger person if they are under the age of sexual consent.

Remember... sex without the consent of those involved is illegal and counts as sexual assault, regardless of a person's age! 10

References

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Page last reviewed: 
07/10/2014
Next review date: 
07/04/2016

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