The age of consent

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The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women. The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender.

It is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. However, Home Office guidance is clear that there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age.

It is an offence for a person aged 18 or over to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 if the older person holds a position of trust (for example a teacher or social worker) as this kind of sexual activity is an abuse of the position of trust.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides specific legal protection for children aged 12 and under 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.

Contraception and young people

Although the legal age of consent in England is 16, we educate young people about the law and what this means for them should they decide to be sexually active before this age. 

Contraception, including C-cards, are available to young people from the age of 13 because it's felt that it’s safer to provide contraception than not. This often raises questions for young people and adults in relation to the legal framework.

While giving a young person a C-card we engage them in detailed discussion to assess their competence. At times we may have safeguarding concerns while discussing sexual health and contraception and, although these sessions are confidential, with our priority on safeguarding, we will contact an involved professional and / or their parents. 

Let's talk about consent

Even as trained sexual health workers, sometimes discussions around consent, particularly around age, can be complex given the possible contradictions between the law and the sexual health support that young people can access confidentially.

We know that other professionals sometimes feel overwhelmed with facilitating these kinds of discussions. As a team, we're more than happy to be contacted for support and guidance on how to have these difficult conversations. 

This video ‘cup of tea’ can be useful when explaining sex and consent to young people.

Useful reference points

Family Planning Association: Law on Sex

Sexual Offences Act (2003)

Health for Teens – The Law and Consenting to Sex

Family Planning Association: Under 16s – Consent and Confidentiality in Sexual Health Services