The age of consent for any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women in England and Wales. Regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person, or whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender, the age of consent is the same.

Health professionals in the UK may provide contraceptive advice and treatment to young people under 16 if, in their clinical judgement, they believe it is in the young person’s best medical interests and the young person is able to give what is considered to be informed consent.

The various sexual offences laws in force in the UK do not affect the ability of professionals to provide confidential sexual health advice, information or treatment. Each specifically states that it is not an offence provide information, advice and/or treatment if it is in order to protect the young person’s sexual health, physical safety or emotional wellbeing.

Age of consent

Sexual activity with a person under the age of 16 is an offence. However, Home Office guidance  is clear that there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age.

It is an offence for a person aged 18 or over to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 if the older person holds a position of trust (for example a teacher or social worker) as such sexual activity is an abuse of the position of trust.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides specific legal protection for children aged 12 and under who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Enthusiastic consent

We like to talk about Enthusiastic Consent. Enthusiastic consent works on the idea that both partners should be engaging in any sort of sexual activity with enthusiasm. It should be “Yes… Yes… Yes…!” and not “Yeah ok… Erm...”. If in any doubt always ask… give your partner the chance to say ‘Yes!’. Ask your partner and listen, ‘is this OK?’, ‘what would you like me to do?’ There is nothing greater than knowing that your partner loves what you are doing because you have asked.

Further guidance:

NHS guidance

FPA guidance