Age of consent

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Age of consent by country in Europe
     – 14
     – 15
     – 16
     – 17
     – 18
The age of consent is the age at which a person can legally have sexual intercourse.


Historically in England and Wales the age of consent for heterosexual intercourse for girls was 12, there was no lower age limit for heterosexual intercourse for boys, buggery (but not other forms of gay sex) was illegal between men and boys at any age, and there were no explicit laws about lesbian sex.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 raised the age of consent for girls to 16, and also introduced the offence of gross indecency between males, effectively making all kinds of gay male sex illegal, irrespective of age.

The Sexual Offences Act 1967 legalised sex between men in private, with an age of consent of 21. It did not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, where gay sex was still illegal. In August 1971 young members of the Gay Liberation Front organised a public rally in London to protest at the age of consent for gay men. [1]

Equivalent legalisation happened in Scotland with the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, and in Northern Ireland two years later through the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 reduced the age of consent for sex between men to 18, and legalised anal sex between men and women, also with an age of consent of 18.

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 introduced a common age of consent of 16 (17 in Northern Ireland) for both males and females, and for both heterosexual and homosexual acts.

The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey have their own legal systems, and changes in the age of consent happened at different dates as shown in the table below.

Suggestions for further lowering of the age

In May 2013 the barrister Barbara Hewson should be lowered to 13 to stop the "persecution of old men".[2] Peter Tatchell, while supporting a lowering of the age, has criticised Ms Hewson, saying that 13 is too young.[3]

In November 2013 Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said there should be a national debate on lowering the age of consent (presumably for both gay and straight sex) to 15, as this would make it easier for 15-year-olds to get sexual health advice from the NHS.[4]

Timeline of age of consent legislation

The following refer to same-sex activity between men.

Timeline for Age of Consent Legislation
and Wales
of Man
Before 1967IllegalIllegalIllegalIllegalIllegalIllegalIllegal
1967 Sexual Offences Act 196721IllegalIllegalIllegalIllegalIllegalIllegal
1980 Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 19802121IllegalIllegalIllegalIllegalIllegal
1982 Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982212121IllegalIllegalIllegalIllegal
1983 Sexual Offences (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law, 1983212121IllegalIllegalIllegal21
1990 Sexual Offences (Jersey) law 1990212121IllegalIllegal2121
1992 Sexual Offences Act 1992 – Isle of Man212121Illegal212121
1993 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 1993 – Irish Republic21212117212121
1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 199418181817212121
1995 Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 199518181817211821
2000 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 200016161717211821
2000 Sexual Offences (Amendment) (Guernsey) Law, 200016161717211818
2001 Criminal Justice Act 2001 – Isle of Man16161717181818
2006 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2006 – Isle of Man16161717161818
2007 Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 200716161717161618
2008 Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 200816161617161618
2011 Sexual Offences (Bailiwick of Guernsey) (Amendment) Law 201116161617161616


The ages for Jersey relate to only to sodomy (referred to as "sodomie" and meaning anal intercourse). For all other homosexual acts the age of consent was the same as for heterosexual acts.

Dates are the dates referenced in the official names of the Laws or Acts: in some cases this may be later than the date when the law was agreed by the legislature in question; in other cases there may have been a further delay before the law, or part of it, came into force.

"Guernsey" relates to the Bailiwick of Guernsey; Alderney and Sark (included within the Bailiwick) were covered by the 1983 and 2011 Laws, but not by the 2000 Law.

The age of consent in the Irish Republic is still 17 (as previously in Northern Ireland) for both heterosexual and homosexual acts.

In 1984 the gay band Bronski Beat released an album entitled The Age of Consent. Its inner sleeve listed the age of consent for gay sex in different countries of the world.

See also

External links


  1. Williams, Clifford (2021) Courage to Be: Organised Gay Youth in England 1967-1990. The Book Guild Ltd. ISBN: 9781913913632
  4. BBC News 17 November 2013