In the UK, the legal age of consent is 16, for any form of sexual activity for both men and women. The age of consent is the same, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender. This means that people over 16 should not be having sex with anyone under 16.
However, not everyone who does something that is against the law is charged with a crime and prosecuted. It is up to prosecutors to decide whether it is in the public interest for this to happen.
When making this decision prosecutors have to consider lots of different factors. These include:
- How close in age and maturity levels those involved are
- The relationship of those involved
- Whether the person under 16 consented
- Whether the sexual activity was a normal part of the process of becoming an adult.
- Whether the person under 16 was aged 12 or under
Research suggests that the average age in the UK for people having sex for the first time is between 16 and 17. Although it may seem like everyone is having sex underage, the truth is the majority are not.
Choosing when to start having sex is a personal decision and should not be influenced by what your friends are doing. Research also suggests that young people who start to have sex later enjoy their first sexual experience more. Perhaps this is because they have better developed communication skills and feel more confident expressing their needs to a partner.