The age of consent
When you’re considering getting naked with someone you really fancy probably one of the last things on your mind is the law – obviously there are the rape laws when a person forces someone to have sex – however, when you’re both horny and fancy the pants off each other, what’s the law got to do with it?
In this section we will look at:
- The age of consent
- Accessing sexual health services (especially when you are under 16)
Well in this country there is a legal age limit as to when you are allowed to have sex: 16 years old – this is called the age of consent. The law says that you are not old enough or mature enough to make that decision for yourself as you are still legally a child, so it makes that decision for you and it automatically says No.
Part of the problem is that it creates pressure to do it before you’re 16, because some people think rules are for breaking. It also creates pressure for people who are 16 with the expectation that you should be having sex because you legally can. So people rush to get it over with, when in actual fact they might not be ready yet.
Why have a law?
So what is the point of having a legal age if it just causes some people to do it before they’re ready simply to fit in or to be considered cool? As a law it’s pretty hard to enforce anyway. It’s not like we have the ‘Sex Police’ that hide under every teenager’s bed ready to jump out and get you. In actual fact the law is not there to stop underage teens from having sex together, it’s there for protection, to prevent paedophiles. By having a legal age, we can prosecute those people who take advantage of children and abuse young people.
Unfortunately by putting an age limit on things we don’t take in to consideration people’s maturity. You’ll know yourself that some people mature earlier than others. We don’t have perfect laws, but they’re in place to protect people
The fact is you won’t go to bed the night before your 16th birthday thinking I’m not ready yet and then next day blow out your candles and POW – suddenly you’re ready! The only person who can tell you you’re ready – is you – not your partner, not your folks not your friends and ultimately not a policeman (see Am I Ready?).
Sexual Health Services and The Law
Despite the fact it is not technically legal to have sex until you are 16, you can still have access to sexual health services even if you are below the age of consent. So for example there is nothing to stop you visiting your doctor, or a sexual health service and ask to be put on the pill or to get a bag of condoms, or even just to have a chat if you fancied. You are able to do all these things or even to access emergency contraception and have an abortion without your parent’s knowledge or consent.
It may be illegal to have sex when under the age of consent, however, we have a set of guidelines that allows us to help and support young people, regardless of their age.
Simply put these guidelines mean you have the right to access sexual health advice and treatment without your parent’s knowledge or consent. It is completely confidential, so the doctor won’t get on the phone to your folks and tell them why you’ve been in the second you leave the room. However, most decent health professionals will encourage you to try to talk to your folks about your relationships, or if not your parents they’ll encourage you to find someone you can confide in, as having a good chin wag is the most important protective factor for your emotional health.
See the video on Confidentiality
© Going off the Rails 2012. Adapted from ‘Playing Downstairs’ by Jonny Hunt