Sex, the law and you

Do you know what’s legal and what’s not?

It’s important to know what the law says about sex and young people. This will help you to know what's right and wrong so you can make safe choices that you are happy with.

There are lots of different laws in the UK that are there to protect you and some which ensure young people take responsibility for their actions.

Here are the answers to common questions young people have about the law in relation to young people and sex.

  • At what age can I have sex?

    The age you can have sex is called ‘the age of consent’. In the UK it is 16 years old. This means that according to the law, only those who are aged 16 or over are able to freely agree to any sexual activity, in full understanding of the consequences of having sex. This applies if you want to have sex with someone of the opposite sex, or the same sex.

    You can find useful advice about being ready for sex here and further information about sex and relationships on the Brook website.

  • What is consent?

    Consent is when a person freely gives their permission or agrees to something, after having carefully thought about whether or not they want to do it. This decision should have been made without that person being: pressured or bullied, encouraged to use drugs or alcohol to influence their decision, or manipulated or made to feel stupid.

    In the UK the law says that both people must give their consent before any physical closeness or sexual activity. This means that if you want to have sex, you should always make sure that your partner wants to as well.

    The law also says that to consent to sex a person must be over 16 and have the ability to make informed decisions for themselves.

    It is always a crime to have sexual activity with somebody without their consent. If someone does not feel free to make a choice (e.g. because they were pressured or threatened) then they have not consented, even if they don’t say no.

    Learn more about sex and the law here.

  • What is rape?

    The law in the UK says that rape is when a male forces his penis into the mouth, anus or vagina of another person when that person doesn't want him to do so; the law calls this 'without consent'.

    The most important thing to remember is that being pressured or forced to have sex when you don’t want to is a crime. If you have been raped it is important to remember it is not your fault.

    You should tell someone you trust about what has happened so that you can get the help and support that you need. You may want to get help from a friend, a parent/carer, teacher or youth worker.

    You can also speak to the police. Most police forces have specially trained officers. You can contact the police immediately by dialling 999. You can also call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or Brook on 0808 802 1234.

  • What is sexual assault?

    In UK law, sexual assault is a crime that can be committed by both men and women against men or women. Different types of sexual assault include:

    - Being forced or pressured to do a sexual act you don’t want to do

    - Objects or parts of the body (e.g. a finger) being put into someone's vagina or anus when that person didn't want it to happen.

    - Someone being touched in a sexual way that makes him or her feel uncomfortable or frightened. This could be through their clothes (like bottom pinching).

    - Someone being made to masturbate.

    - Any other form of physical closeness that happens without consent is known as sexual assault. It can also include; watching other people having sex, 'sexting' (sending sexual images), and forcing involvement in watching or making pornography.

    If you have been sexually assaulted it is important to remember it is not your fault.

    You should tell someone you trust about what has happened so that you can get the help and support that you need. You may want to get help from a friend, a parent/carer, teacher or youth worker.

    You can also speak to the police. Most police forces have specially trained officers. You can contact the police immediately by dialling 999. You can also call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or Brook on 0808 802 1234.

  • 'Indecent' images of under 18s are illegal. What counts as 'indecent'?

    No one has defined ‘indecent’ but basically if it’s naked, a topless girl, contains genitals or sex acts, including masturbation, then it will be indecent. It is illegal to take, possess or share 'indecent images’ of anyone under 18 even if you're the person in the picture. Remember - if you wouldn’t show it to your parents or your gran, you probably shouldn’t share it online!

    Find out more about the risks of sharing naked images and how to stay safe here.