The accepted wisdom tells us that the age at which a person can legally consent to sex in the US
is eighteen. Before this line of demarcation, a person is "jailbait" or "chicken." On their
eighteenth birthday, they become "legal." But in the majority of states, this isn't the case.
It's up to each state to determine its own age of consent. Only fifteen states have put theirs at
eighteen, with the rest going lower. Eight have set the magic point at the seventeenth birthday.
The most popular age is sixteen, with 27 states and Washington DC setting the ability to sexually
consent there. (Hawaii's age of consent had been fourteen until mid-2001, when it was bumped
Of course, as with anything regarding the law, there are considerable shades of gray. For one
thing, these laws don't apply if the lovers are married. The age of consent for marriage,
especially with parental permission, is usually lower than the age of sexual consent.
The Constitution of the State of South Carolina says that females aged fourteen and up can
consent to sex, but state law appears to set the age at sixteen.
In a lot of states, the age of the older partner is a consideration. For example, Tennessee doesn't
consider sex with someone aged thirteen to seventeen to be statutory rape if the elder partner in
less than four years older. So a nineteen-year-old could get it on with a sixteen-year-old without
breaking the law. The most extreme example of this rule is in Delaware. If you're 30 or older,
boffing a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old is a felony. But if you're 29 or younger, it's perfectly
And let's not even get into Georgia's Public Law 16-6-18, which outlaws sex between anyone
who isn't married, no matter what their ages or genders.
Then, of course, we have the laws regarding same-sex relations, which are completely illegal in
fifteen or so states. In almost all of the others states, the age of consent for gay sex is the same as
that for het-sex. Two exceptions are Nevada and New Hampshire, which both allow sixteen-
year-olds to consent to a member of the opposite sex, but set the limit at eighteen for those who
go the other way. Somewhat startlingly, even though New Mexico's age of consent for straights
is seventeen, it's thirteen for gays and lesbians.
The situation around the world varies even more than within the US. The age of consent in the
UK is sixteen, except in Northern Ireland, where it's a year older. Various territories in Australia
set the age at sixteen or seventeen, and in Canada it's universally fourteen. The lowest age — in a
few countries, such as Chile and Mexico — is twelve. Only one country is known to have set the
age above eighteen — Tunisia, which feels that twenty is the acceptable age.