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Age of Sexual Consent

What is the 'age of consent'?

Unprotected, cross-generational sex can increase the risk of HIV infection

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 about sex 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.

What is the legal age to have sex?

There is no international age of consent, and it also varies from country to country. Age of consent laws are usually complex and, in many countries, the legal age to consent to sex is different depending on certain conditions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Male or female
  • Anal sex
  • Vaginal sex
  • Partner age difference
  • A partner that represents a position of authority
  • Existing state, territory and federal laws
  • If partners are married or unmarried

Being aware of global variations in the age of consent is important to avoid breaking the law in countries that have laws different to your country of residence.

Follow the individual links below for information on the age of consent by country and any specific conditions that modify the age of consent.

Illegal sex

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.

Sex before the age of 15 years and among partners where there is a large age difference may increase the risk of HIV transmission. 1 2 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.

If you're a young person, and you want to find out more, read our page on teens, sex and the law. You might also like to have a look at our " Am I ready for sex?" page.

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', also called a 'silver daddy'. Boys and young men also have relationships with older women - known as a 'sugar mummy' or 'suga mamas'.

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 often leave education early, with the belief that their needs will be met by their older partner.

In countries where HIV prevalence is high, sex with a sugar daddy or sugar mummy contributes to new HIV infections amongst young people.

You should always use a condom when having sex. Although it can be difficult to insist on using a condom, especially if your partner gives you money and gifts, you risk becoming infected with HIV and other 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.

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. You should 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 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.

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.

Age of consent by country

AmericasEuropeAsiaOceaniaAfricaMiddle East
  Antigua and Barbuda  Albania  Bangladesh  American Samoa  Algeria Afghanistan
  Argentina  Andorra  Bhutan  Australia  Angola  Bahrain
  Aruba  Armenia  Burma/Myanmar  Brunei  Benin  Iran
  Bahamas  Austria  Cambodia  Cook Islands  Botswana  Iraq  
  Barbados  Azerbaijan  China - Hong Kong  Fiji  Burkina Faso  Israel
  Belize  Belarus  India  French Polynesia (Tahiti)  Burundi  Jordan
  Bermuda  Belgium  Indonesia  Guam  Cameroon  Lebanon
  Bolivia  Bosnia and Herzegovina  Japan  Marshall Islands  Cape Verde  Oman
  Brazil  Bulgaria  Laos  Mongolia  Central African Republic  Qatar
  Canada  Croatia  Malaysia  New Zealand  Chad  Saudi Arabia
  Cayman Islands  Cyprus  Mongolia  Papua New Guinea  Cote d'Ivoire  United Arab Emirates
  Chile  Czech Republic  Nepal  Tonga  Democratic Republic of the Congo Yemen
  Colombia  Denmark  North Korea  Tuvalu Dijibouti 
  Costa Rica  Estonia  Pakistan  Vanuatu  Egypt 
  Cuba  Faroe Islands  Philippines   Equatorial Guinea 
  Dominica  Finland  Singapore   Eritrea 
  Dominican Republic  Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia  South Korea   Ethiopia 
  Dutch Antilles  France  Sri Lanka   Gabon 
  Ecuador  Georgia  Taiwan   Gambia 
  El Salvador  Germany  Thailand   Ghana 
  Falkland Islands (Malvinas)  Gibraltar  Vietnam   Guinea 
  French Guiana  Greece  Western Samoa   Kenya 
  Greenland  Guernsey    Lesotho 
  Grenada  Hungary    Liberia 
  Guadelope  Iceland    Madagascar 
  Guatemala  Ireland    Mali 
  Guyana  Isle of Man    Mauritania 
  Haiti  Italy    Mauritius 
  Honduras  Jersey    Morocco 
  Jamaica  Kazakhstan    Mozambique 
  Martinique  Kuwait    Namibia 
  Mexico  Kyrgyzstan    Niger 
  Nicaragua  Latvia    Nigeria 
  Panama  Liechtenstein   Reunion 
  Paraguay  Lithuania    Rwanda 
  Peru  Luxembourg   Senegal 
  Puerto Rico  Malta    Seychelles 
  St. Kitts and Nevis    Moldova   Somalia 
 St. Lucia  Monaco    South Africa 
  St. Martin  Montenegro   Sudan 
  Suriname  Netherlands    Swaziland 
  Trinidad & Tobago  Norway   Syria 
  United States of America  Poland    Tanzania 
  Uruguay  Portugal    Togo 
  Venezuela  Romania    Tunisia 
   Russia    Uganda 
   San Marino    Zambia 
   Serbia    Zimbabwe 
   Slovakia    
   Slovenia    
   Spain    
   Sweden    
   Switzerland    
   Tajikistan    
   Turkey ( Northern Cyprus)    
   Turkmenistan    
   Ukraine    
   United Kingdom    
   Uzbekistan    
   Vatican State    

 

References

Page last reviewed: 
30/04/2014
Next review date: 
30/10/2015

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