Sex and the law

Read our legal information about COVID-19 coronavirus.

Sex and the law

The basic laws about sex are that people can’t have sex together if:

  • one of them is under the age of consent
  • one person doesn’t want to
  • they are in the same family.

If you have sex with someone underage or against their will it is a serious crime, called a sexual offence.

Under the age of consent

The law sets clear age limits for having sex. The age limits are designed to protect young people from being taken advantage of by older people.

There are also special rules about people responsible for young people, including teachers and youth workers.

Sexting – sending SMS messages containing sexual images showing anyone aged under 18 – is an offence. You could be charged with producing or distributing child pornography.

When one person does not agree to sex

As well as age limits, the law says that two people can’t have sex unless they both freely agree (consent). If you don’t freely agree and someone threatens you to engage in a sexual act or touches you sexually or indecently they are breaking the law.

Sexual offences include rape, incest, sexual assault against both adults and children.

It may also be a sexual offence if:

  • you agreed but then changed your mind, and the other person did not believe on reasonable grounds that you continued to consent to the act
  • someone has sex with you or touches you sexually when you are asleep, unconscious or so affected by alcohol or drugs that you are not able to agree.

Help and support is available to victims of sexual assault.

Contraception and pregnancy

If you are a young person thinking about having sex, you need to understand your rights and the law. This includes how to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and what you can do if you do get pregnant. Find out more about how the law applies to contraception and pregnancy.

More information

Age of consent

Sexting and child pornography

Sexual assault

Get help

Find out how you can get help with sex and the law.

Was this helpful?