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Sex, relationships and your rights

When it comes to sex and relationships, we all have rights. We have the right to stay safe and healthy, we have the right to have relationships and we have the right to have sex or, crucially, not to have sex, if we don't want to.

In this section you can find out more about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to relationships and sex.

Getting married

There are slightly different laws about getting married in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you can get married at 16 years old if you have your parent's permission. Once you are 18 you no longer need their permission.

In Scotland you can get married at the age of 16 without parental consent which is why some young people run away to Gretna Green in Scotland to get married.

For more information on your rights, contact Citizens Advice.

You can also get more information from Stonewall on same-sex marriage and civil partnerships.

An overview of the law in the UK is:

Couples of the opposite sex

  • From the age of 18, it is legal to get married in all areas of the UK. It is possible to get married from the age of 16 in Scotland, but in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Jersey, you need your parents' permission.

Same sex couples

  • From the age of 18, it is legal to get married in all areas of the UK except Northern Ireland. It is possible to get married from the age of 16 in Scotland, but in England, Wales and Jersey, you need your parents' permission. 
  • From the age of 18, it is legal to have a Civil Partnership in all areas of the UK. It is possible to have a Civil Partnership at 16 in Scotland, but in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Jersey, you need your parents' permission.

Having children

The age of consent for having sex in the UK is 16 so, in the eyes of the law, you shouldn't be having children under 16. However, the law recognises that young people under 16 do have sex, and they do have children, so it is highly unlikely you would get into trouble for having a baby.

It's worth bearing in mind that if you are under 16 you are not eligible for any benefits, even if you do have a child.

Gingerbread offer expert advice and practical support for single parents.

Find out more about what, if any, benefits you are eligible for.

You can also find more services to speak to on our other useful places pages.

Sex and disability

If you have a disability, you still have equal rights to a full sexual relationship. And you should have just the same access to sex and relationships education, contraception and sexual health care as any other young person.

If you have a disability, you still need to understand:

  • How you body works and grows
  • What changes to expect at puberty
  • The name of all the sex organs and how they work
  • Relationships and responsibility
  • How society expects you to act in public
  • Keeping safe
  • How to prevent an unwanted pregnancy
  • How to prevent STIs.

And you will need:

  • Social life with children or young people of a similar age
  • Friendship
  • Romance
  • To explore sexuality
  • Access to sex education
  • Privacy for private activity
  • Understanding of private and public areas of the body.

If your family or carers find it difficult to discuss sex with you, you may need to have someone you feel able to talk to about it, or help with starting conversations with your family or carers.

If you have a Brook service near you, you can talk to them and know that we won't tell anyone else. 

There are also organisations that might have more information, advice, support and networks for you to find out about.

Outsiders is a vibrant social and peer support network of disabled people. They also run a helpline.

In touch is a project run by Leonard Cheshire Disability which aims to improve access to sexual health education and services.

TheSite has information about sex for young people with disabilities.

Sex tips

The Huffington Post have produce an article Sex tips for avoiding pain or discomfort when you have a disability ar long-term health condition which provides really good tips and advice for anyone with a disability wanting to improve their sex lives.

Having sex

As a young person, you have rights and responsibilities when it comes to sex. Make sure you know what they are.

The age at which it is legal to have sex is called the age of consent. In the UK and Jersey the age of consent is 16 years old for everyone, whether they want to have sex with someone of the same or opposite sex.

Under the age of 16 any sort of sexual touching is illegal.

In the case of someone in a position of trust - like a teacher, for example - having sex with a young person they have responsibility for, it would be against the law if the young person was under 18.

Consent

Any sort of sexual contact without consent is illegal whatever the age of the people involved.

Sometimes people find themselves in situations where they don’t feel free to make a choice about whether they want to have sex. This might be because of the threat of violence or pressure from their partner. Sometimes people may not have the ability to consent, because they have a mental health disorder or because they are incapacitated by drink or drugs, or because they are asleep. If a person is in this situation, they are not considered able to give consent and the law protects them.

Prosecution

The aim of the law is to protect the rights and interests of young people, and make it easier to prosecute people who pressure or force others into having sex they don’t want.

If you are under 16 and you are having sex, it is less likely that you will get into trouble if there is not a large age difference between you and your partner, you both consent (i.e are happy to have sex) and there’s no evidence of any exploitation.