Sex & The Law

The laws on sex and sexual behaviour are designed to keep everyone safe - especially the young and other vulnerable groups. Everyone has the right to be safe in their relationships, and free from physical or verbal violence or intimidation.

Age of Consent

The term 'age of consent' means the age at which a person is legally allowed to decide to have sex. Sex includes oral sex or masturbating each other. In the UK, the age of consent is 16 for sex whether straight (guy on girl) or gay (guy on guy or girl on girl). If either person is under 16, then the person over 16 is breaking the law.

Sex between two people aged 13-15 is considered in law to be an offence even if they both consent (give permission). People under 13 are not legally able to give consent and anyone having sex with someone under 13 could be sentenced to life in prison. The rules are different if one partner is or has been in a position of trust over the other.


If you're under 16 and want contraception, a termination of pregnancy or tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the professional won't tell your parents or carer as long as they feel that you are not at risk of significant harm and that you fully understand the information given to you. They'll encourage you to consider telling your parents or carers, but they won't make you.You have the same rights to confidentiality as an adult. If they think you are at significant risk other professionals may need to be contacted to ensure you are safe, such as a social worker or the police. If this happens you will be made aware of that further contact and your parents may be informed.

Persons in a position of trust

If a person has sex (including oral sex or mutual masturbation) with someone under the age of 18, over whom they have a position of trust then this is an offence and could be punished with a prison sentence. A 'position of trust' means that they are a family member (they have parental rights or they are treated as a member of the family), they look after that person in a residential home or hospital or they are a teacher, trainer or youth worker.

Does someone having a Learning disability affect ability to consent?

The law relating to consent applies to everyone, including those with learning disabilities, and the rules around consent remain the same. IE consent requires someone to have the freedom and capacity to consent.

In brief, the issue of capacity requires someone to understand what it means to engage in sexual activity, and reasonably forseeable consequences of that activity.  Where someone is in care for example, and there are doubts regarding an individuals capacity to make a decision to engage in sexual activity then a capacity assessment may need to be carried out.

It is also illegal for a care worker to engage in a sexual relationship with someone with a mental disorder.

Rape and Sexual Assault

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 rape is defined as "penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth by the penis without consent" however, there is a range of sexual assault and abuse which does not fit with this legal definition of rape. Assault is defined as “penetration of the vagina or anus of another person with a part of the body or anything else”. When someone sexually touches another person without their permission, this is known as sexual assault and is also punishable by a prison sentence. Rape or sexual assault by someone you know is just as serious as rape by a stranger. If someone forces you to have sex, whatever their relationship to you, then they have committed rape.


You must give your consent every time you have sex or engage in sexual activity, if someone tries to have sex without your consent, this is classes as rape or sexual assault depending on the activity. If a person is unable to give their consent at the time because they are under the influence of drink or drugs then a rape has taken place. You cannot give your consent if you are unconscious, asleep, threatened with violence or coerced in some way (eg blackmailed). If somebody says 'no' that must be respected.


A really helpful link to explain consent can be found by clicking here

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse, whether physical or verbal, is assault. Domestic abuse can come from partners or ex-partners and can include physical, sexual or mental and emotional abuse.

  • Physical abuse can be by assault and physical attacks.
  • Sexual abuse includes acts which degrade and humiliate people and that take place against their will, including rape. 
  • Mental and emotional abuse can include threats, verbal abuse, racial abuse, controlling behaviour such as isolation from family or friends. 

For further help and advice, visit If you are in immediate danger call 999.

Infections and The Law

It is possible to be prosecuted for passing on certain infections HIV. If an HIV positive individual has unprotected sex with a partner who is unaware of their HIV status and HIV is passed on this is called “reckless transmission”. There have been successful prosecutions. It is therefore important to be able to discuss your HIV status with partners to protect both yourself and your partner. HSV the transmission of Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 has also been criminalised.There has been 1 successful prosecution. Again this is where a partner is unaware of the infection and the virus is passed on. It is important where possible to be able to discuss your HSV 2 diagnosis with partners.

If you would like further information please ask in clinic or contact us on