What is the Age of Consent?

How old does a person have to be to have sex legally? How old can their partner be? Does the difference in ages matter? What is meant by "the age of consent"?
These questions have complicated answers, as they vary by country, and in the United States they vary by state. The consequences for getting the answer wrong can be a sex crime charge that may brand you for life. It could impact your ability to enter the career of your choice as well as what people think of you.

Age of Consent

The age of consent is the age at which you can legally enter in to contract or agreements, including saying "yes" to having sex. In the United States, this age varies. The age of consent is 16 in the majority of states, but these are states with lower populations. In eight states the age of consent is 17: Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Wyoming.
In 12 states the age of consent is 18: Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin. However, the age of consent is subject to change by regulation and you should check for the current age in your state.

In Canada, the age of consent was raised to 16 in 2008, but it should be noted that anal intercourse is illegal under the age of 18 except by married couples. The age of consent in the United Kingdom is 16, as it is in their dependencies. Keep in mind these laws are subject to change.

Age Gap Laws

To confuse the issue further, 30 US states have age gap laws, so that if two people under the age of consent have sex but they are close in age, the activity may be legal or have reduced penalties.

It can depend on the age of the younger person, the older person, or the difference in age. As a rule of thumb, it may be presumed that someone over the age of 18 having sex with someone under the age of 18 is at legal risk of being charged with statutory rape.

Statutory Rape

The name of the criminal charge may vary from state to state, as may the consequences.

It doesn't matter how much the minor appeared to willingly engage in a sexual act, they are incapable under the law of giving consent and therefore the act is illegal. The punishment is usually on the older partner, who may have a sex crime charge or conviction follow them for life.
This term has three different possible meanings. A couple of those meanings hinge on the age of majority, which is the age at which a person can legally engage in conduct such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or voting. That age is commonly 18 or 19 in countries around the world.

Usually: someone over the age of consent having sex with somebody who has not yet reached the age of consent.
More Commonly: a person at or over the age of majority having sex with somebody under the age of consent.
Can Also Mean: a person at or over the age of majority having sex with someone who has not yet reached the age of majority or having sex with someone who is 4 or more years younger.

Sexual Acts

Traditionally, when a law refers to sex it meant sexual intercourse between a male and a female. Some countries and states don't define sex in these terms, instead referring to "sexual acts" that include a variety of sexual activities.

There may be laws or age restrictions for oral sex, anal sex, or any sexual contact between people of the same gender. As laws are continuously changing, it pays to check the current legal status before you engage in these.

Age of consent laws may also set a higher age for engaging in commercial sex acts or performances of a sexual nature. What may be legal to do in private may be illegal to do in public or for pay.

Parental Consent
Another wrinkle in age of consent laws is that some may stipulate a different age if the parents agree that the young person may have sex.

Bottom Line on the Age of Consent

Do your research by location as the laws are changing continuously. Don't assume that what you were told by a friend, parent or sibling is correct information. If you get this wrong and you or your partner are charged with statutory rape or another sex crime, it can follow you for life.

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Love Magazine: What is the Age of Consent?
What is the Age of Consent?
Understanding the Age You Are Legally Allowed to Have Sex
Love Magazine
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