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What Is the Legal Age of Consent?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2014
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The legal age of consent is the age at which one is legally considered capable of consenting to participation in sexual activities. In some legal systems, such as that of the European Union, this is referred to as the legal age for sexual activities. Engaging in sexual activities with individuals who have not reached such an age is generally considered to be against the law. This is because such younger individuals are not considered capable of making rational and mature decisions concerning their sexuality. The law seeks to protect them from those who would take advantage of their naivety and manipulate them into sexual activities.

There are many laws related to the legal age of offense. Most importantly, an individual may not have sex with someone who is below the age of consent. In some legal systems, such as that in the United States, having sex with an individual below the age of consent is considered to be a form of rape and can be punished as such. There also are laws in places where prostitution is legal that set age restrictions for engaging in such activity. Also, one who is below the legal age of consent is typically not legally allowed to participate in or view pornography.

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Individual legal systems sometimes define terms differently and make exceptions to what sexual activities are and are not acceptable with those below the legal age of consent. For instance, punishable sexual activity can be considered as simple as kissing or petting under some legal systems. In other legal systems, full sexual intercourse is the only act that one cannot legally engage in with someone who is below the legal age.

In some places, the legal age of marriage is lower than that of consent. Sexual activity within marriage is, in these cases, permissible. An exception is also made when an individual below the age of consent rapes an older individual; the older individual is not punished. In some systems, people of reasonably similar ages below or near the age of consent, such as a 16 year old and a 17 year old, can legally engage in sexual activities. Occasionally, the laws applied to homosexual couples are different from those applied to heterosexual couples.

The specific ages of consent vary somewhat based on jurisdiction, gender, and sexuality. Most countries have an age of consent ranging from 15 to 18 years of age. In some countries, however, the age of consent is as low as 12 or 13 years of age. The legal age of consent for homosexual activities, if such activities are legal at all, is often higher than the age for heterosexual acts.

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Discuss this Article

nicole17
Post 5

I am wanting to know if I can move out of my parents' home. I am 17 and getting ready to graduate in may. I will turn 18 in July but I don't think I can wait due to the people I live with. I am from Ohio.

galen84basc
Post 3

That's so weird that the legal age of consent is different for homosexual couples than heterosexual couples. I can sort of kind of understand where the logic behind that comes from, but still -- that' just weird.

FirstViolin
Post 2

What is the legal age of consent in Canada?

pleats
Post 1

I think it's really interesting how the legal age of consent in the USA is different from that of other countries. For example, the legal age of consent in France is 15, and the legal age of sexual consent in Japan is 13!

I don't really have an opinion as to which one is better, but it's just interesting to see the differences.

I would have never thought to even research it except I had to write this paper on the youngest legal age of consent -- that's when I started noticing all the differences.

Interesting world we live in...

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