What is it?
Underage sex means having sex when below the age of consent, which is the age at which you're legally allowed to have sex.
In the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) the age of consent is 16. This means you have to be 16 or older to have homosexual (gay) or heterosexual (straight) sex. This includes penetrative sex (inserting the penis), oral sex (a sexual act using the mouth) or masturbating together.
Underage sex is a criminal offence. This is because in the eyes of the law you are unable to give informed consent to (to agree to) have sex before you reach the age of 16.
Different people feel ready to have sex at different times, but the law has to generalise about the age at which most people are old enough to give consent. The law around underage sex is there to protect children. The age of consent exists to help protect people who are vulnerable because of their age from being taken advantage of.
A man or boy who has sex with a girl who is under the age of 16 is breaking the law, even if she agrees to have sex. This is because, according to the law, she is not old enough to give consent. If a man has sex with a girl who is under 16, he could go to prison. The sentence could be from two years (if the girl is aged 13 to 15) to life imprisonment (if the girl is aged under 13).
A woman, or girl aged 16 or over, who has sex with a boy under 16 is also breaking the law, and can be prosecuted for indecent assault.
It's legal to have sex once you get to 16, except with someone who's in a “position of trust” over you. This includes people like teachers, carers and doctors. It's illegal for them to have sex with people aged under 18 who are in their care.
Talking about sex
It’s not illegal to ask questions or talk about sex. You might want to find out how to do it or how to protect yourself against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so you’re prepared for when you’re old enough and feel ready to have sex.
You can find information about sex on the web, in books or magazines, or you might want to talk to somebody you trust.
While it might be legal to have sex once you get to 16, it doesn't mean you're ready.
You should do what feels right for you. It’s important to understand what sex is about and to find out about safe sex and contraception first.
However old you are, you shouldn’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.
Talk to us
Umbrella is always here for you, even if you’re under the age of consent.
While it’s against the law for you to have sex if you’re under 16, we can still provide you with free and confidential sexual health services. (The only way we’d tell anyone would be if we needed to share your details with other organisations because we thought somebody was at risk.)
We can help with contraception (to stop you becoming pregnant), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sexual abuse and more. If you’re worried about sexual health, please get in touch with us.
West Midlands Children and Young Persons Service is a one-stop service open to anyone up to the age of 17 who has been the victim of rape, sexual violence and/or sexual abuse.