Age of consent is the age that you're allowed to have sex. So if you're thinking about doing it, you'd better check out the laws and guidelines here first...

Just because we've blown out 16 candles on our birthday cake, doesn't mean we're ready for sex

What is it?

The age at which you can legally have sex.

What are the rules?

In England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales we have to be 16 or older to have homosexual (gay) or heterosexual (straight) sex.

'Sex' means penetrative sex, oral sex or masturbating together.

What happens if you have underage sex?

The law sees it as sexual assault - it's a criminal offence. This is because in the eyes of the law we are unable to give informed consent to sex when still a child.

A boy who has sex with a girl under 16 is breaking the law. Even if she agrees.

If she is 13-15, the boy could go to prison for two years.

If she is under 13 he could be sentenced to life imprisonment.

A girl age 16 or over who has sex with a boy under 16 can be prosecuted for indecent assault.

The law isn't there to make life difficult, it's there to protect us. Everyone is ready for sex at different ages but the law has to generalise. This is to protect those who are most vulnerable, from exploitation.

There is no law against asking questions. Or finding out about sex. What it means, how to do it, how to protect ourselves from the consequences: pregnancy, STIs. And a broken heart.

So, once you're 16 it's OK to have sex?

It's legal, except with someone who's in a 'position of trust' over us. This includes teachers, carers and doctors, who we trust to look after us. It's illegal for them to have sex with under-18s in their care.

Just because you've blown out 16 candles on our birthday cake, doesn't mean you're ready for sex. Do what feels right for you. Just make sure you understand what sex is about and get clued-up on safe sex and contraception first, and don't do anything you're not completely comfortable with. Our Sex - Am I Ready? factfile may also help you.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.

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