Many young people think if they feel ready to have sex and they use protection, their decision has nothing to do with anyone else. But everyone needs to know why we have laws about sex and what the laws say.
The age of consent is the age when legally, you are considered mature enough to agree to have sex. In most countries, until you reach this age you cannot legally have sex with anyone, however old they are, even if you want to.
Sometimes, the law is slightly different when the partners are of a similar age, but still, there is usually a minimum age below which sex is illegal.
Teens cannot get around the laws for smoking, drinking or driving because their parents say so, and it is the same with sex.
The age of consent laws always apply; whether you are in love, have been together for long, and even if you have had sex before.
Age of consent laws are there to protect young people from being exploited by adults.
What the age of consent is, depends on where you live - there are different age limits in different places, and in some cases the age of consent is different for boys and for girls.
The law can also change depending on how old your partner is, and whether they are in a ‘position of authority’ – for example a teacher.
If you are under the age of consent and you choose to have sex with someone who is over the age of consent, then they can be charged with the crime of ‘statutory rape’.
Some countries have different names for this crime, and some call it ‘unlawful sexual penetration’ or just ‘rape’. This is when a person is pressured into any type of sexual contact that they do not agree to.
A forced marriage is where one or both partners have not or cannot give their consent to getting married.
This should not be confused with ‘arranged marriage’ where parents or family arrange a marriage, but both partners decide whether they want to get married or not. Forced marriage is against the law in many countries.
It is important to know the laws that are in place to protect you. If you are at risk, talk to an adult that you trust, or get in touch with an organisation that offers support and counselling.