Sex and the law

Sex, the law and consent 

In England and Wales, the legal age for young people to consent to have sex is still 16, whether you are straight, gay or bisexual.

The aim of the law is to protect the safety and rights of young people and make it easier to prosecute people who pressure or force others into having sex they don’t want. The law is not intended to prosecute sexual activity between two young people of a similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.

It is illegal for someone in a position of authority to have sex with a young person. This includes teachers, doctors, healthcare professionals, etc.

Even if you are under 16, you still have the right to confidential advice on contraception, condoms, pregnancy and abortion.

Forcing someone to have sex is a crime. No matter how old you are, you shouldn’t have sex until you feel ready. If you are worried that you have been raped or assaulted, please see our sexual assault page.

Read more about consent and the law here.

Sexual exploitation and grooming

Sexual exploitation & abuse

Sexual exploitation is when someone takes advantage of you sexually, for their own benefit, through threats bribes, violence, and humiliation or by telling you that they love you when they do not. People who exploit you sexually can have the power to get you to do things for their own or other people’s benefit or enjoyment.

It is important to remember that nobody has the right to touch you if you don’t want to be touched, or to persuade you to engage in sex if you don’t want to do it, even if you are flattered by the attention.

If you don’t want to have sex with somebody, try to say so, loud and clear.


Some adults try to draw young people into sexual relationships. At first they can seem loving and caring, and you might think they’re you’re boyfriend or girlfriend. But this isn’t always the case. This person may start to ask you for sexual favours for themselves or other people, or use deceitful behaviours to entice a young person into sexual acts. This is also called grooming.

Some adults will offer you somewhere to stay, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, food, money, a lift or other presents in exchange for sexual favours.

Most young people don’t recognise that they are being exploited while it is going on. But there are things you can look at for and places to go for help and support if you are worried. Have a look at this check list…

Risk check list:

  • you hang around with older adults or you have an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • you don’t always go to school, college or work when you should
  • you chat online to people you’ve never met, and might even meet up with them
  • someone gives you gifts for no reason
  • you stay out late or maybe don’t go home at all
  • you are offered a lift by someone you don’t know
  • you are offered alcohol or drugs by adults you don’t know well
  • you are given money or credit for your phone by someone you don’t know well
  • older adults take you to places you’re not familiar with
  • you are pressured into having sex or doing things you’re not comfortable with
  • an adult you don’t know well offers you somewhere to stay
  • you sometimes run away from home

If you think you might be experiencing sexual exploitation or grooming, you can get help and support from here.