Age of consent

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Age of consent is a term referring to the age at which a person becomes competent to consent to sexual acts with an adult. In the vast majority of jurisdictions this is set at 18, but ages as low as 16 and as high as 21 also exist rarely. There are also sometimes exemptions from this law allowing children below the age of consent to have to sex with other people below a certain age, but not above that age, known informally as "Romeo and Juliet" laws.


In the United States prior to 1900 many states had ages of consent as low as 10. However by 1920 most states had raised their age of consent to 18, although ages as low as 14 still existed until the 1990s. Currently all states set the age of consent at 18.

Age of consent in law

In law the age of consent is the age at which a person is deemed to be competent to give consent to an activity, such as sexual intercourse or medical treatment, which would be otherwise be unlawful without informed consent.

The age of consent is one of several legal principles that govern the rights and responsibilities of minors in common law systems, such as:

  • The age of license is the minimum age that a person must obtain to be permitted to undertake an activity, such as driving a motor vehicle on public roads.
  • The age of criminal responsibility is the age at which a person is deemed to be fully responsible for their criminal actions.
  • The age of majority is the age at which a person is deemed to have the rights and responsibilities of an adult and the age at which parental rights and responsibilities cease.

American States/Territories and their Corresponding Age of Consent

Puerto Rico sets the age of consent at 18 and all 50 US states have an age limit of 18. Some states have "close in age exemptions" which allow those under the age of consent to engage in sexual activity with teenagers close to their age (if the age difference between the partners is small, for example 3 or 4 years or if the older partner is younger than a specified age, usually 18 or 21).

See also