Age limits – sex, contraception, marriage and civil partnership

Sex

You may well have heard the phrase ‘age of consent’ – this means the age at which you can legally have sex.Throughout the United Kingdom, the age of consent for any form of sexual activity, heterosexual or homosexual, for both men and women, is 16.

The laws on age of consent are intended to protect young people. The laws include criminal offences, which vary slightly depending on whether you are in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Generally speaking, the law is not intended to prosecute teenagers under 16 who have sex if they both agree to it and are of similar age, and if there is not any abuse or exploitation; although in Scotland sexual activity between 13-15 year olds is a criminal offence, even if both parties agree.

In all parts of the United Kingdom, children under 13 cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity; this means that any sexual activity with them will be classed as rape.

Contraception

Even though the age of consent is 16 (see above), health professionals in the United Kingdom can give contraceptive advice and treatment to young people under 16, if in the professionals’ clinical judgement it is in the young person’s best medical interests and they are able to give what is considered to be informed consent – in other words, if they understand what is going on. This advice and treatment is given in the strictest confidence. See here for more information on contraception.

Marriage and civil partnership

The minimum age for marriage or civil partnership for both sexes is 16. You need permission from your parents or guardians if you’re under 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is much more information about marriages and civil partnerships on the UK Government website here.

You might also be interested in our pages on:

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Sex
Love
Contraception