Age of consent laws determine the minimum age in which youngsters are legally able to consent to sexual activity. Although the age of consent varies from state to state, it is always between 16 and 18 within the U.S. Age of consent is more complex than just a hard cutoff, however. The consent laws in many states include age-gap provisions or an "affirmative defense" clause, which account for consensual teen sex within a certain age range--usually 3 years. When sexual activity occurs with a person below the age of consent, the older partner can be charged with statutory rape, sexual misconduct with a child, sexual assault, or other similar crimes. In the case of an "affirmative defense" clause, charges can still be brought, but usually aren't. In all states, it is legal to hug, kiss, hold hands, and date at any age. However, some states consider fondling or groping, even through clothing, sexual activity and the parties must be over the age of consent or within the allowable age gap. Some states also allow a "mistake of age" defense, which is when the older party had legitimate reason to believe that the minor was over the age of consent-- such as if the minor produced fake identification. Within states that allow this defense, some only allow it over a certain minimum age, preventing adults from using it to defend against sex with young teens.

Age of Consent by State

Alabama 16 Alaska 16 Arizona 18 Arkansas 16 California 18 Colorado 17 Connecticut 16 D.C. 16 Delaware 18 Florida 18 Georgia 16 Hawaii 16 Idaho 18 Illinois 17 Indiana 16 Iowa 16 Kansas 16 Kentucky 16 Louisiana 17 Maine 16 Maryland 16 Massachusetts 16 Michigan 16 Minnesota 16 Mississippi 16 Missouri 17 Montana 16 Nebraska 17 Nevada 16 New Hampshire 16 New Jersey 16 New Mexico 17 New York 17 North Carolina 16 North Dakota 18 Ohio 16 Oklahoma 16 Oregon 18 Pennsylvania 16 Rhode Island 16 South Carolina 16 South Dakota 16 Tennessee 18 Texas 17 Utah 18 Vermont 16 Virginia 18 Washington 16 West Virginia 16 Wisconsin 18 Wyoming 18