The issue of consent to sex and teenagers is complex.
The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women, so that any sexual activity between an adult and someone under 16 is a criminal offence. The age of consent is the same regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal) and oral sex between young people aged 13–15 are also offences, even if both partners consent. A possible defence could be that one of the partners believed the other to be aged 16 or over.
There are possible defences if the sexual activity does not involve penetrative or oral sex. These are if the older person believed the young person to be aged 16 or over and they have not previously been charged with a similar offence, or the age difference is less than two years.
Guidance from the Scottish Government acknowledges that not every case of sexual activity in under-16s will have child protection concerns, but young people may still be in need of support in relation to their sexual development and relationships.
This is a little video about consent in sexual matters. It can be used to open a discussion about this important subject. While some people think the discussion about sex should be for parents alone, there is a valuable role for schools to play especially in teaching the science behind pornography’s impact. Parents need to stay apace of developments in this area too and have regular conversations with their children about it. Parents are the primary role models and authority figures in any child’s life, however rebellious they seem to be.
Consent to sexual activity is a very delicate matter, especially amongst adolescents and early teens. Everyone is talking about sex and many are competing with one another to see who will be first to try new activities. The widespread access to pornography via smartphones and tablets means that young people are learning about sex and ‘love’ from commercial porn performers in a way most parents would find abhorrent. Pornography today is not like soft core Playboy-type magazines of the past. Violence, aggression and sexual assault against women or feminised men are the norm in at least 90% of the videos freely available. Daily watching of this material for years before actually getting together with a real person can seriously warp a teen’s understanding, male or female, of what is safe, loving, consensual sex.
Girls want to be admired, seen as sexually attractive and are generally open to affection. This does not mean they are ready to have sex. They are just learning how to deal with their sexually-charged bodies. As they practice and try out new looks and behaviours, they can seem like a tease to guys. Learning about boundaries and making mistakes are a normal part of learning about communication. Said one 16-year old young woman,
“I don’t know what I want. I just want to be liked…I want to try out what everyone else is talking about and say they’re doing.”
She said too that she has been pushed into performing sexual acts that she had regretted afterwards. She doesn’t want to be shamed as a slut. Many girls think it’s “impolite” to stop a boy after they have started to ‘get up close and personal’. Women of all ages need to learn how to be assertive and establish clear boundaries about what they are comfortable doing.
Boys on the other hand have this powerful sexual energy that they want to test drive with a partner. They also want to be seen as real men in the eyes of other males. They can be very determined and single-minded about achieving those goals. Loyalty to the male group is usually much stronger than the desire to pair bond or couple up with a girl. They are just learning to control that new sexual force in their bodies too. They are also prone to making serious errors of judgement about what a partner is really consenting to.
So while the bodies may be exchanging strong, unconscious, sexual signals, it doesn’t mean the mind of each person is ready to engage with sex to the same extent as the other. Nor is it always the male who is the dominant force, many females take the lead in initiating sexual behaviour. This is where the delicate issues of consent, attempted rape and rape crop up.
Educating young people about communication in intimate circumstances is key to improving healthy sexual development.
This is a general guide to the law and does not constitute legal advice.