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Sex and the law

It is legal in England and Wales to have sex once you are 16. This applies to young men and young women having sex together and also young people of the same sex.

We know that young people under 16 do have sex, although the average age of first sex is 16. Prosecutions for having sex under 16 are rare as long as both people have consented, that there is no evidence of exploitation and there is not a large age difference.

If sex under 16 is illegal, how can doctors and nurses give contraception?

Although it is an offence to have sex under 16, it is not an offence for doctors and nurses to provide contraception advice and treatment to young people under 16. There is guidance for doctors and nurses to follow which is sometimes called Fraser guidelines.

These guidelines are designed to ensure that the young people being given the advice and treatment are mature enough to make the decision to have sex and use contraception and understand the treatment. The guidance will also encourage young people to involve their parents or a trusted adult if they feel able to do this.

Will the doctor or nurse tell my parents or others like social workers or police that I am having sex?

Doctors and nurses have to keep everything you talk to them about private, even if you are under 16. The only reason this would not happen is if they thought you were being seriously hurt in some way. Even if this was the case they should talk to you about what they were going to do before they did it.

Involving parents

Parents do not need to give their permission for you to access a contraception or sexual health service, but sometimes keeping things from your parents is difficult. Talking it through might be helpful and they might be able to support you.

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