The law is there to protect young people. Laws exist to help young people make decisions which are right and that they are happy with. No young person should be pressured, bullied or encouraged to do anything they do not feel comfortable with or which they know is wrong.
The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women. The age of consent is the same regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It is an offence for anyone to have sexual activity with a person under the age of 16.
A child under 13 years old cannot give consent to any form of sexual activity.
However, the Home Office recommends that teenagers under the age of 16 will not be prosecuted where they both mutually agree and where the young people concerned are of a similar age.
It is an offence for a person aged 18 or over to have sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 if the older person holds a position of trust, eg. school teacher or social worker.
As regards sexting, this is an increasingly common activity among young people where inappropriate or explicit images are shared on line or through mobile phones. It is a criminal offence to take, possess or share indecent images of anyone under 18 even if you are the person in the picture.
You may have heard or read about prosecutions for HIV transmission that have taken place in England, Scotland and Wales. Some people have been found guilty and sent to prison.
The law differs slightly in Scotland to that in England and Wales, however you can be prosecuted in all three countries. For example, in England and Wales you can only be prosecuted if you have actually passed on HIV. In Scotland, you can also be prosecuted for putting someone at risk through unprotected sex.
Read more about HIV and the law here
Prosecutions have happened, not just for HIV but also for sexual transmission of other infections - for example hepatitis B and hepatitis C. HIV is still the subject of nearly all investigations and prosecutions. However, much of the advice applies equally to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The information here is not a substitute for expert legal advice. If you are involved in a prosecution, particularly if you are being prosecuted, it’s extremely important to get expert legal advice, the Terence Higgins Trust can provide a referral.
Using a condom and making sure that your partner knows you have HIV, and that whatever sex you have is consensual within this knowledge is the best way to avoid prosecution. If you don’t feel able to tell partners about your diagnosis, you should use a condom when having sex to avoid passing HIV on.
If you find it difficult to use a condom, or difficult to insist that your sexual partner uses a condom, help and advice are available from your HIV clinic or local HIV support organisation