The laws on sex and sexual behaviour are designed to keep everyone safe – especially the young and other vulnerable groups. Everyone has the right to be safe in their relationships, and free from physical or verbal violence or intimidation.
England and Wales
The age of consent for any form of sexual activity is 16 for everyone in the UK. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced a new series of laws to protect children under 16 from sexual abuse. However, the law is not intended to prosecute or punish mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.
Specific laws protect children under 13, who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. There is no defence of mistaken belief about the age of the child, as there is in cases involving 13 to 15 year olds.
Please note, other countries have differing laws.
It’s important that any sexual activity is consensual. This means that both of you agree to sexual activity and have the capacity to do so. Consent must be informed, sober and explicit. This means that to give consent, you must know what you are agreeing to, must not be under the influence of excessive alcohol or drugs and there must be no confusion around whether you are saying yes to sex or not. Remember, no means no and consent can be freely withdrawn at any time and should be respected.
Any competent young person in the United Kingdom can consent to medical, surgical or nursing treatment, including contraception and sexual and reproductive health. They are said to be competent if they are capable of fully understanding the nature and possible consequences of the treatment.
Consent from parents is not legally necessary, although the involvement of parents is encouraged (a parent is someone with legal parental responsibility – this is not always a biological parent).
Young people are owed the same duties of care and confidentiality as adults. Confidentiality may only be broken when the health, safety or welfare of the young person, or others, would otherwise be at grave risk.