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If you are having, or thinking about having, sex the key thing to remember is that it should always be consensual.
In the eyes of the law, you are only old enough to consent to sex or sexual activity at 16. This is what’s known as the ‘age of consent’.
The law applies to everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is important to remember that the law is designed to protect young people from abuse, harm or being taken advantage of by adults. It is not meant to criminalise young people and there is no intention to prosecute people under the age of 16 where both mutually agree (consent) and where they are of a similar age.
What is consent?
Consent means agreeing to do something. When it comes to sex, this means agreeing to have sex or engage in sexual activity. This includes (but is not limited to) sexual touching and oral, anal and vaginal penetration.Read more about sex and consent
Consent to sex or sexual activity should be something you do freely and should be something you want and feel excited about. Whatever your age, it should never be something you feel scared, uncomfortable or pressured to do. And just because someone is over 16 doesn’t mean that consent is automatically given.
The law isn’t designed to punish people of the same age who both agree to sex (consensual sex).
Any sexual activity with someone aged 13-15 is against the law, but the law is there to protect young people who might be being abused or taken advantage of by someone older.
It’s highly unlikely you will get into trouble with the law as long as there is not a large age difference between you and your partner and you both agree (consent) to sex.
The most important thing to remember is that sex should be something you want and feel comfortable with.
Looking after your sexual health
If you are under 16, you are able to access sexual health services (like Brook) without getting in trouble. The services are there to support you, not to judge you or report you.This includes getting help and advice from a doctor, nurse or someone else in a clinic, accessing contraception, and getting tested and treated for STIs. Sexual health clinics will only pass on information if they think you or someone else is in danger. This means if they think you or someone else is being abused, being forced into sex or being taken advantage of.Read more about your rights when accessing sexual health servicesFind your nearest sexual health serviceRead more about having sex for the first time
In the eyes of the law, someone under the age of 13 is not seen as old enough to consent to sex. Any sexual activity with someone under 13 is illegal and viewed as rape, sexual abuse or assault.
You may be in a relationship and thinking about taking things further. Before you do, you might want to talk to someone you trust about this and whether it is really what you want.
If you want to talk to someone you don’t know, Childline is a great place to start. You can access lots of advice and information anonymously and speak with their counsellors on the phone or online for free.
If you need help, whatever is going on, you should try to speak to an adult that you trust. This could be someone in your family, but it could also be a teacher, midday meal supervisor, social worker or one of your friend’s parents. It should be someone that you have a good relationship with and someone who you think has your best interests in mind.
Brook services are able to offer you advice and support with all aspects of sex and relationships. Our friendly staff will not judge you or report you but will listen to what’s going on and see how they can help.
If you don’t have a Brook service in your area, you should be able to access help and support from any sexual health service.
There are lots of places that are able to offer help and support by phone or online:
If you (or someone you know) are experiencing or at risk of sexual abuse, assault or violence, you can call call 999 for an ambulance, the police or any other emergency service any time of day or night if it is safe for you to do so.The 999 emergency number covers all of the UK and is free to call from any phone.
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